The ideal wine for the big dinner? Don’t overthink it

Cheyenne Cohen/Katie Workman via APThere are plenty of good wines to choose from to accompany your Thanksgiving dinner, from rieslings to grenaches to pinot noirs.

For many of us who love to cook and host on Thanksgiving, one central mystery remains: What to pour?

Before I turn to the experts, I’ll offer up three things I do know about wine on this holiday:

1. You don’t want to run out.

2. Opinions vary on what tastes delicious.

3. Do not make yourself crazy by trying to pair individual wines with individual courses because a) there really are no individual courses, b) the variety of flavors on the plate is wide, and c) not everyone is helping themselves to the same foods at the same time.

I like to put out an assortment of bottles and let the wine gods speak to the guests as they like.

Josh Wesson, partner and wine director at Suprema Provisions in New York City, confirms my laissez faire attitude.

“Stop fretting over wine-and-food matching,” he said. “Given the wild riot of flavors and textures on the Thanksgiving table, it’s wiser to forgo precise pairings in favor of supple, easy-drinking bottles (color doesn’t matter) that play well with a wide range of foods.”

Paul Grieco, manager at the New York wine bar Terrior, does think about pairings, but in a loose fashion.

“Let’s acknowledge that the foods that generally share space on the Thanksgiving plate, while super-yummy, are generally not things we would put together if we were truly being thoughtful about things,” he said. “And by things, I mean ... do they work with the same wine?”

He points out that “a turkey day plate contains bland (turkey); sweet (sweet potato or yams); bitter (some green thing, maybe Brussels sprouts); umami (the gravy or the stuffing); sweet and sour (cranberry sauce); and the oddity (whatever family food heirloom finds its way onto an already stuffed plate).”

So, what to drink with all that? Grieco is devoted to riesling, a generally perfumey, acidic white wine, and thinks Thanksgiving dinner is a perfect time to use it. He chooses U.S. wines for this American holiday, recommending rieslings from the coasts, specifically New York, Washington, Oregon and California.

Wanda Mann, a writer and founder of the wine-lifestyle website The Black Dress Traveler, agrees that the “explosion of savory and sweet” at Thanksgiving makes it challenging to find one ideal wine.

“You can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true pairing of the Thanksgiving meal with a pinot noir,” she said. One of its charms, she said, “is that it is a lighter-bodied red with no aggressive tannins that will compete with the heavy meal.”

The Burgundy region in France is considered the benchmark for pinot noir, she said, but if you’re looking to stay domestic, you can find “superb” pinot noir from Oregon.

Sparkling wines should also be on the table, Mann said.

“The right sparkling wine can be served throughout the meal, and a brut (dry) rosé sparkling wine is an elegant and unexpected Thanksgiving pairing,” she said. “The red fruit flavors in the rose will not only pair well with turkey, other meats and sides, but the crispness and lively acidity of these wines cut through the fat.”

Mann also recommends my current favorite sparkling wine, lambrusco. It’s a fizzy red (yes, red!) that is served chilled, from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

“When things get heated around the dinner table, a nice chilled wine can save the day and the meal,” Mann said. “Toss aside old memories of sticky sweet mass-produced lambrusco. Now more than ever, you can find beautifully made dry Lambrusco. And that little bit of fizz keeps your palate perky and primed for the next serving of your favorite dish.”

Mann said that one trick for finding the right wine for the Thanksgiving meal is to look toward wine-making regions like Spain and France with a rich and varied gastronomic tradition. Grenache is one such wine, ranging in style from fresh to complex, generally “luscious with good acidity that will help your palate avoid fatigue from the many flavors of the turkey day feast.”

And even riesling fan Grieco said that “you must have a red wine, or there will be a mutiny.” He stays domestic with Rhone-styled wines from the West Coast, such as syrahs or cinsaults, and agrees with Mann that grenaches are also good choices.

Alice Feiring, author of “Natural Wine for the People,” advises: “Look for organic viticulture, and then no additives. Simple.”

With root vegetables, look for acid and earthiness in wine, she said. Seek out wine with savory, briny and bitter notes.

The natural wines coming out of the Finger Lakes and Vermont are excellent choices, Feiring said, as well as high-elevation areas like California’s Sierra Foothills.

She is also a proponent of orange wines, which are whites made like reds so they have tannins.

“They’re kind of a fad now, but they’re so good, they won’t go away,” she said. “But if you’ve never had one, you have to forget everything you know about white wine (fruity, intense aromas) and have faith; food-friendly and versatile.”

Talk to your local wine store manager to see what they have in stock.

Wesson notes that rich, potent potables can quite literally knock out your guests before they reach the pumpkin pie, so he suggests looking for young wines with good acidity, bright fruit and alcohol levels below 14%.

He also recommends choosing something that isn’t too complex (or expensive).

“At this most boisterous of holiday meals, the real stars are the food, friends and family,” he said. “Best to save your precious and pricey bottles for a more intimate gathering and stick to offerings under $25 you can buy in quantity.”

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