What Wines Pair Best with Classic Thanksgiving Dishes?

What Wines Pair Best with Classic Thanksgiving Dishes?

This text is adapted from Big Macs & Burgundy, Wine Pairings for the Real World.

I’m Vanessa Price, writer of Big Macs and Burgundy, a book based on my New York Magazine column. Born and raised in Kentucky, I got my start in wine working in a small winery down south. I got together with Parcelle around this holiday season to match their wines with my Thanksgiving favorites. I hope you enjoy.

Leftover Thanksgiving Sandwich + Cab Franc

If you’re like me, you have stuffing on the brain. Thanksgiving is the meal I most look forward to all year, and that’s largely because of the leftovers sandwich that comes the next day. In my house, we go classic: toasted white bread, turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, a crucial layer of mayonnaise, and a touch of black pepper. It’s the best sandwich of the year, and it’s critical to honor it with the right drink: cabernet franc.

Chinon is a region in the Loire Valley that yields some of the world’s best cabernet franc. It’s related to the more widely known cabernet sauvignon, but the grape is relegated to second-fiddle status in blends in places like Bordeaux. Thanksgiving, and especially the day after, is perhaps the best time to give cabernet franc its due.

The loudest flavor in any Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich is cranberry sauce, so you want a wine that has enough acid to play along with that trumpet. Cab franc also has enough fruit and structure to buttress the gravy and mayo. And cab franc’s tannins are softer than those in cab sauvignon, so when they bond with your protein as you swallow, the bird’s even milder next-day flavor won’t get snuffed out. The hallmark of cabernet franc is its pyrazine aroma, which in this case is a very good thing, since every leftovers sandwich is better with a few grinds of pepper. The earthy notes of the stuffing also help to amplify the wine’s natural herbaceousness, which means both the sandwich and the wine get knocked into a higher bracket when you drink them together— something for which even the pickiest family member can give thanks.

Mashed Potatoes + California Chardonnay

California Chardonnay is the Yanni of the wine world: big in the nineties, largely ignored now, but in this case super popular with women over sixty-five. I’m here to tell you that they’re better than you remember (Yanni less so). California Chardonnay was one of the first wines to prove America’s wine-making prowess, but by the mid-nineties, producers had adopted a heavy, buttery, super-oaked style. It rode that fashion for a while, but many wine drinkers moved on to other, more interesting things. These days, California Chardonnays are much more balanced and less heavy handed, and they’re not just for girls’ weekends in sarasota anymore.

There are a number of appellations making great Cali Chard today. notable are Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Anderson Valley for richer (but still elegant and balanced) styles and Carneros and Santa Barbara for wines that are a little leaner.

These contemporary, more sophisticated styles also tend to maintain the higher alcohol content that’s one of the trademarks of Cali Chard. in the same way that higher acidity can help amplify flavors and textures in food, so too can the presence of more alcohol. When mixed with the starchy holy grail of mashed potatoes, that extra alcohol enhances the sensation of richness in the palette, which also bolsters the savoriness and herbaceousness of any toppings you might add. Chardonnay’s natural salinity squares up like a linebacker with the sweet/savory notes, much like the football gracing your tv screens (the other classic pairing for turkey day). But even better, thanks to a winemaking process called malolactic fermentation, which makes wine seem richer and creamier (and yes, often buttery), that Cali Chard completes a smooth fade to the end zone of melted butter on top.

Cranberry Sauce + Jura Reds

Who has actually had a cranberry when it wasn’t in your obligatory sauce on that one special day a year? These small, round berries are largely masked by acidity when they are fresh which is why they are usually cooked and sweetened to a sauce, jam, juice or sauce form. Their sweet and tart juxtaposition make them a staple red fruit aroma note in red wines from Gamay to Pinot Noir and beyond. The cooler the climate they come from, the more the wine borders on bitter cherry to cranberry. The warmer the climate, the more the cranberry hedges towards strawberries. So when it comes to pairing the real deal, think cooler climate the better.

Since we can all universally acknowledge that whether you pour the cranberry sauce over anything from turkey to stuffing to green beans, it all pretty much tastes like cranberry sauce, this means the literal flavor profile is what we want to match. Enter the reds of Jura in eastern France, near its border with Switzerland. The wines of the Jura region are classically light, fresh and easy drinking, all while maintaining a complexity that has caused red-hot intrigue in this previously little-known region.

When you find wines that blend the three grapes used to make red wines here, Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir, you find yourself with a unique amalgamation of earth, sour cherries and you guessed it…cranberries. The ultimate congruent pairing, this like-with-like matches tart for tart, red fruit for red fruit with enough twinge of tannin to work with anything from vegetables to protein you may choose to adorn with this fruity red sauce.

Pumpkin Pie + Aged Sauternes

Pumpkin pie might be responsible for creating a cottage industry of pumpkin-spiced shamelessness, but when that pumpkin and the corresponding spice are left where they belong—in the pie—is there any better way to end an imperialist Pilgrim feeding frenzy? There actually is, and it’s to eat that pumpkin pie with some equally iconic Sauternes. An appellation located in the broader region of Bordeaux, the grapes used are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle (not to be confused with Muscadet, which is an appellation in the Loire Valley made using a grape called Melon de Bourgogne!). These wines are made following a process that seems counterintuitive to people new to winemaking. Most vintners want clean, healthy grapes at harvest time—the less rot and disease the better—so they can make great wines from the best possible fruit. But in Sauternes, they pray for rot, specifically a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, lovingly referred to as “noble rot.” This very special condition acts to dehydrate the grapes and, in the process, concentrate their sugar and acidity. The final wines aren’t just sweet; they have levels of complexity and savoriness that lift them up with the angels and prevent them from tasting like grape sherbet.

There are other regions that use the same method of producing dessert wines, but none have quite captured the élan of Sauternes. And yet even in France, the winemaking can be hit or miss, as the conditions needed to spur the rot at harvest are fickle. The complexity these wines can achieve only improves with age, many taking fifteen to twenty years plus to come around. As they develop their profile changes from toasted baking spices, honeyed apricot notes, dense citrus, and layered minerality to the 4.0 versions and beyond.

Aged sauternes is one of the few wines that can do justice to all the deep pumpkin pie flavors of toffee, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, and sweet baking spices, with a corresponding note of each. Since dessert wines gain color as they age, their color progresses from a lemon-gold to deep amber to eventually rusty maroon. The vibrantly-hued Frenchie also has the nutty, buttery, candied fruit smells produced by oxidation, which will amplify the same in the filling and the crust.

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