The only thing I like more than the holidays is drinking during the holidays. With its vice-like fixation on Champagne, New Year's Eve is the culmination of a six-week period in which I do my best to keep a constant low buzz. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving, by far the most challenging wine-pairing holiday of the year, is up first.
Thanksgiving presents both a form and a function problem where wine is concerned. The traditional foods of Thanksgiving are rich and often sweet, making it hard to find a single wine that can work well with everything at the table. There's always the option of having multiple wines open at once, but with large groups at the table, it can be challenging to communicate which wines go with which dish in the free-for-all of a big meal. My own family's dinner can easily reach 15 attendees, making it nearly impossible to have anything but the most basic of libations. (A fifth of Malibu Coconut Rum in Mamaw's punch works well enough for us.)
But if you've made it this far and remain undaunted, here's the best advice I can give you on finding the right wine for this day:
KEEP IT CHEAP AND CHEERFUL
Thanksgiving, especially when you have a large group, isn't the holiday for pulling out the prized wine collection. It's perfectly fine to buy relatively inexpensive wines — people are going to be far too busy eating and talking to notice that you didn't open the Grand Cru Burgundy.
STAY AWAY FROM TANNINS
Big, tannic reds like cabernet sauvignon and merlot will drown out the subtleties of turkey and stuffing, and they'll taste downright nasty when paired with sweeter sides like yams or sweet potatoes. If you want a red at the table, look toward the lighter grapes. A fruity American pinot noir or French Beaujolais will serve you well here.
EMBRACE ALSATIAN WHITES
Located near the French border with Germany, Alsace produces some of my favorite white wines in the world. Look for grapes like gewurztraminer and pinot gris from producers like Pierre Sparr and Maison Trimbach for inexpensive, food-friendly wines that even your picky Aunt Marge will like. These are what I'll be serving this year at a pared-down celebration.
SPARKLING WINES WIN
Inexpensive sparkling wines can also be a great pairing while giving the day an extra air of festivity. For Thanksgiving, I prefer the vaguely sweet Italian Proseccos. They're not as dry as most French or Spanish bubblies but don't encroach on actually being sweet. Bonus points if you can find a magnum (1.5L bottle). There's something special about opening big bottles on the holidays.
PUNCH IT OUT
Writing a wine column means that I'm obligated to recommend wines, but, in all honestly, making a punch can be an easier and most cost-effective way to ensure everyone has something to drink. The internet abounds with easy recipes, and your guests will appreciate the no-fuss, self-serve punch bowl in the corner. I know I always do.
As always, you can see what I'm drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to email@example.com