Wine with Thanksgiving dinner seems well discussed these days. Personally, for an all around suggestion when asked I tend to recommend Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Salmon Run Riesling.
There are three levels to the classic Thanksgiving dinner as far as a see it. The first are the immutable dishes that absolutely must be included no matter what else you do: roasted turkey, gravy, horrible canned cranberry jelly (other versions are great but nothing has the insane acidity combined with sweetness of the can-shaped blob), stuffing (which varies regionally), and fluffy white mashed potatoes. In the second level are the standards that round out this meal and are interchangeable but will appear in variations: sweet potatoes (roasted with glaze or mashed and topped with marshmallow), green beans (almandine, baked with onion crisps, steamed), creamed pearl onions, green salad, and way too many other ingredients and preparations to go on listing. The third level is one I heartily endorse as long as it does not attempt to replace any of the core five components; it is comprised of the foodie items. Here is where truffle whipped potatoes will show, great in addition to mashed but not a good substitute. Orange-glazed grilled acorn squash can sit right next to sweet potato purée or replace it, but must sit proudly next to the simple, straightforward traditional roast turkey dinner. In my opinion, you can fancy yourself a foodie all you like and try new things with your family and strive to impress, but to impress me make a better turkey than I have ever had; perfect the flavors, don’t replace them.
Over the years I have tried many wine parings to this traditional meal. I have had the very American and egocentric “if I like drinking it, I will like food with it” dinner in which mostly Bordeaux was served. We did the all rosé dinner and the champagne/rosé champagne dinner. I’ve been to the “only vitis grape indigenous to America is Zinfandel” dinner (really indigenous to Croatia by the way), and have tried the always-a-failure “Beaujolais Nouveau with turkey” dinner. In the long run, I have come to feel that the best parings are aromatic whites: they handle the tartness of cranberries, the richness of mashed potatoes, draw out the subtlety of well roasted turkey and stuffing, and stand the best chance of pairing with the thousands of other dishes that will appear over the years.
Having been through all the Alsatian versions, the German versions, the Austrians and the Americans, I have a couple of standbys: Austrian Grüner Veltliner is quite good; in France go with Pinot Gris or Blanc; and in Germany go with the earliest of the Rieslings, Kabinette or Spatlese. As far as America goes, I wanted it to be the home of the perfect wine for the American holiday but had found most of the aromatic whites of America to be overwrought and/or cloying. Then I tried Salmon Run and the other Rieslings of the Finger Lakes region.
Salmon Run is the second label of Dr. Konstantin Frank, the man credited with bringing viticulture to the Finger Lakes. His is a fascinating story well worth learning, but has little to do with pairing wine to turkey. His wine though is my favorite for gifting, bringing, suggesting, and drinking (at least till the crowd forces the move to red) for Thanksgiving dinner.
Autumnal by nature, dry Riesling is pretty well suited to the Thanksgiving meal. Salmon Run benefits from being local – American if that’s you, and New York for me. I have sampled the current vintages over the last five years and have found them, in spite of vintage variation, to be light, minerally and steely, with driving acids enough to contrast well while having enough autumnal fruit and spices on the nose to compliment. And best of all, since a reasonable amount of any one wine for my family gatherings is at least a case, it is very fairly priced ($12.99 on the website).
Start the way I did, add one bottle to that collection of under twenties we all end up mixing into a case with bright ideas like California Sangiovese and see how it suits you.