by Jordan Salcito
According to historian Kathleen Curtin at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, wine, more than any beverage besides water, is the most probable libation that Pilgrims and Native Americans consumed at the original Thanksgiving, in 1621. Hard cider, later a New England staple, hadn’t materialized yet (no one had planted apple orchards), and beer likely wasn’t present given that the Pilgrims hadn’t had time to cultivate grains or build breweries. Curtin posits that some of the first European settlers imported wine, on the other hand, in trunks. Those very bottles may have become the first Thanksgiving toast!
Generally speaking, our modern-day Thanksgiving feast has a bounty of wonderful wine-pairing options. Rather than bombard you with too many, here are a few select recommendations broken down into three categories – the light red, the nuanced and refreshing aromatic white, and the effervescent and ever-so-slightly sweet red. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
Category One: The Light Red
Cru Beaujolais is the “Light-bodied red’s” glorious poster-child. It is the home-run, no-fail Thanksgiving Day wine. Cru Beaujolais is not at all the same thing as Beaujolais Nouveau. And to make things more confusing, “cru” in this context refers to one of 10 “cru,” or “villages” that are the stars of the Beaujolis region, which sits just south of Burgundy and north of the Rhône Valley. These ten villages boast brilliant soil, aspect and climate, and the growers here tend to think about production in terms of quality instead of quantity, unlike other parts of the region. Cru Beaujolais is made entirely from the Gamay grape. The wines are bright, fresh, and light-bodied. They taste like fresh cranberries with hints of tart cherry and granite. And they are delightful to drink on their own, with turkey, and with anything else on that table.
Other subtle options that boast fresh acidity and elegant tannins include Austrian red wines, such as Zweigelt and St. Laurent. They are less known at the moment - but they’re tasty, elegant, and will pair well with your Thanksgiving feast. Pinot Noir is a no-fail option, too.
Category Two: The Nuanced and Refreshing Aromatic White
Thanksgiving, like any holiday, is an excellent excuse to drink Riesling. Rieslings, contrary to popular belief, can be but are not always sweet. There are beautiful, dry Rieslings from Alsace, Austria, and, increasingly, Germany – and these wines are taught and toned enough to stand up to burley side dishes like sweet potatoes, squash, even gravy. Their bright acidity cuts through all that richness, cleansing your palate so that you can enjoy another bite.
Other wines in this category that will pair well with your Thanksgiving meal are Alsatian Pinot Gris (which is more full-bodied and spicy than Pinot Gris from Oregon or Pinot Grigio from Italy), and Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
Category Three: The Effervescent and Ever-so-slightly Sweet Red
Bugey-Cerdon, an obscure and delightful wine in this category, is produced in a tiny region in France, Bugey, situated between Lyon and Geneva. Primary grapes in these gently bubbling bottles include Gamay (a trend in this blog post) and Pinot Noir, as well as two varieties native to the area, Mondeuse Noire and Poulsard. One of Bugey-Cerdon’s most intriguing attributes involves its production method, “Méthode Ancestrale.” The technique is used to make slightly sweet, slightly sparkling wines that are bottled before fermentation is complete. It’s also the oldest sparkling wine method currently known. Fresh strawberries and red flower blossoms are prominent flavors, and the wine retains a refreshing acidity on account of the calcareous soil in which grapes are grown. The wine is very light bodied and low in alcohol, which makes it an excellent aperitif, a low-risk option for your “thirsty” great-aunt, and most importantly, a wine whose attributes marry perfectly with dishes that naturally embody a bit of sweetness, like roasted carrots, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. Even better, it carries right into dessert.
Other options in this category include Brachetto d’Acqui, the red sibling of Moscato d’Asti. It’s a bit sweeter and more full-on dessert, but it’s light and refreshing nonetheless – a perfect counterpoint to the rest of the meal.
Try some of these wines if any of these descriptions tickle your curiosity. If nothing else, they’re sure to transport you, for a moment, to the beautiful regions in which they’re grown and add even more texture to what is sure to be a wonderful holiday with friends and family.