Picking out a bottle or three of wine for Thanksgiving dinner can be daunting. So we asked the experts for their best advice.
One of the easiest ways is to make Thanksgiving dinner less stressful is to stop overthinking the wine. I spoke with three professionals with deep knowledge and experience—Ray Isle, executive
wine editor at our sister brand Food & Wine and author of The World in a Wineglass; Katja Scharnagl, beverage director at the acclaimed restaurant Koloman in New York City; and ChaMcCoy, a certified sommelier and the founder of The Communion Wine +Spirits, a shop and event space in Syracuse, New York. They all said, in essence, that we can chill about the vino. Whether you’re hosting or bring-ing a bottle to the festivities, here are their tips.
“Ignore the food, and think about the people.” That’s Isle’s philosophy when choosing wine for Thanksgiving. Instead of expending brainpower on figuring out which grape goes best with macaroni and cheese and stuffing and cranberry sauce, consider your guests. “If you’re doing the feast with your tattooed, pierced nieces and nephews, that asks for different wine than a formal holiday where your grandfather is wearing a coat and tie and saying grace at the head of the table,” Isle says. Seek out something unusual for adventurous guests, like an orange or natural wine, and something classic for more traditional guests, like a Sonoma Chardonnay. “Short version: Pick wines your audience will like, and don’t worry if it goes with turkey, because turkey goes with everything!” Isle says.
Start with Some Bubbles
It’s always fun to see where experts agree and where they don’t. In this case, everyone said the same thing when I asked what to serve as a welcome drink: a sparkler! Not only are fizzy wines festive, they also open up the palate for the feast, Scharnagl says. And that doesn’t have to mean Champagne.“ For value, look to crémants from France or Sekts from Germany or Austria,” she advises. And it’s never a mistake to offer Prosecco or Cava.
Choose a Bright, Dry Wine
If you’re serving appetizers, like a cheese board, feel free to just stick with the bubbly, Scharnagl says, or try a dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, or Albariño. “The trick is that if the wine is bright, dry, and mouthwatering, it will continue to open up your appetite,” she says, and you can serve these wines throughout the meal. McCoy leans toward Pinot Gris from the French region of Alsace: “It’s a popular option with good texture.”
For Red, Think Light and Crisp
“Pinot Noir is my Swiss Army–knife, solve-every-problem red varietal,”Isle says. Scharnagl and McCoy agree, and McCoy also likes Gamay, the grape used to make Beaujolais. The common denominator here is lightness, Isle says. “I look at it this way: You’ll be eating a giant meal and probably going into a food coma afterward. Why drink something heavy?” he says. Still, if you know your Uncle Roy prefers a stick-to-the-ribs red, Scharnagl says, then Grenache and Zinfandel will also work with the meal.
Don't Assume Pricier Is Better
Watching your bottom line? Consider a good boxed wine, like Bota Box, which contains the equivalent of four bottles and typically runs around $20. Decant it into a pretty carafe and watch your guests enjoy every sip. If you feel comfortable paying $15 to $20 a bottle, “there’s a huge amount of good wine out there in that price range,” Isle says. Don’t be shy about asking for tips at your fave wine shop or just look for one of the varietals mentioned in this story. You should be able to find bottles of most for under $20.
McCoy recommends having one bottle for every three drinkers. But adjust based on your gathering: If your event starts at noon and ends after three rounds of feasting, you may want a couple of extra bottles on hand. Are you a guest? Yay! Consider bringing more than one bottle to show your host just how grateful you are.
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