It's that time of the year when the phone starts ringing and the emails starting arriving. Everyone wants to know what wine to pair with turkey. Let me preface my answer with there is no single correct match; there are many acceptable matches; and that most people stress way too much about the subject.
And before I go any further, just let me state that Pinot Noir is the universal food wine. When in doubt, Pinot Noir.
Delving into the subject a bit further, you must realize that the turkey in itself does not drive the pairing decision, for it's about as mild a meat as you can encounter. Driving the pairing decision are all those myriad side dishes, some very aggressively seasoned and some very sweet or sweet and sour.
When in doubt, Pinot Noir.
With all the fruity sweet and sour going on at Thanksgiving, I like a wine that can stand up to the fruit. There are five categories of wine that I have paired very successfully with a full Thanksgiving meal and those are rosé, sparkling wine, fruity unoaked whites, lightly oaked light red wines, and fruit-forward reds.
Rosé. In general, rosé wines pair with a lot of difficult dishes; you'll find cranberry notes in many that will work well at Thanksgiving. And as most of these wines are made for immediate consumption, I like to empty my cooler of the remaining rosés of the current vintage at this time of year.
Sparkling Wine. Champagne is the LBD (little black dress) of the wine world. It's almost always appropriate and goes with so many things. But while Champagne works pretty well, the sweetness of a lot of Thanksgiving dishes may turn it a little sour or tinny, so I look to other more fruity bubblies this time of year. Now is the time to consider a gorgeous rosé Crémant d'Alsace, a sparkling Shiraz from down under, or a sparkling Chenin Blanc such as Vouvray.
Fruity Unoaked White. My preference in Thanksgiving wines runs to reds, simply because of the weather. Cold weather has me seeking a red wine. But I always have a bottle or two of fruity Riesling, Alsatian Pinot Blanc, or Gewürztraminer open for those who prefer white. These are all great turkey wines.
Light Red Wines. Because turkey is such a light meat, I don't want the wine to overpower it. This eliminates Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and so forth from the running. This is the time of year that I love to serve a delightful Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, or maybe even a lightly oaked light red from Italy, such as Sangiovese or Nebbiolo.
Fruity Red Wines. Thanksgiving dinner is one of the spiciest meals most people will eat during the year; many dishes are loaded with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Another approach to selecting a wine is to complement these spices with a spicy wine such as a Zinfandel, Shiraz, Syrah, and other spicy fruit-foward wines or wines with soft tannins. I really like a fruity Grenache for its spiciness.
Oh yeah, when in doubt, Pinot Noir.
So what am I pouring at Thanksgiving? Lots and lots of choices of the wines I've discussed above so that everyone has something and hopefully so that people will try something new. And what's in my glass? Do you have to ask?
When in doubt, Pinot Noir.