What to drink

How to Pick the Right Wine for a Thanksgiving Dinner Unlike Any Other

Whether you're hosting a small gathering or getting together via Zoom, here are some tips on what wines to pour this Thanksgiving.

By Bob McGinn November 17, 2020

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by recently arrived European religious separatists and the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The settlers (at Plimoth Plantation, re-enactors discourage the use of the term "pilgrim") were familiar with wine, but it did not travel well on their voyage, so they consumed beer. But it seems the beer supply on the Mayflower was getting low, which likely caused them to land at Plymouth rather than Virginia. With their beer rations exhausted, they had to create their own with pumpkins, and hard cider from apples.

This year's Thanksgiving won't be nearly so difficult, but it will be like no other in recent memory. While we have much to be grateful for, we should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and not travel great distances or host large gatherings. Visits with family or friends may simply be virtual. Perhaps, like the first Thanksgiving, you might even eat outdoors. In either case, a glass of wine will ease stress and promote relaxation and digestion.

What wine would that be? If you celebrate virtually, the concern is no longer yours. Your guests can drink what they like and so can you. Champagne, domestic sparkling wine, or Italian prosecco are all excellent wines to start the celebration. Or, you may want to sip a light white such as Vouvray or a light red like Beaujolais. Not only are these great pre-prandial wines, but they balance a meal with turkey very well. If, however, a roast or other red meat is in order, a cabernet sauvignon or merlot would be an appropriate selection.

Should you be hosting a small group for Thanksgiving, the previous suggestions would apply, but asking guests to bring their favorite wines might ease your decision making and add to the enjoyment. It might be fun, if your guests chose a different wine (virtually or in-person), to compare and get a better understanding of their tastes. Try to avoid old maxims like “red with red meat and white with white meat.” I have relatives who drink white zinfandel with everything.

And don’t be concerned about the wines being bad. That's highly unlikely. To ease any trepidation, choose wines with screwcaps. They are easy to open and are rarely tainted. Also remember that each bottle contains four to five glasses, so having more is better than not enough. A good idea would be to have a bottle of red and one of white for four people and adjust accordingly for more guests.

An even easier way to celebrate Thanksgiving would be to dine at a local restaurant. Many restaurants have created exciting options and guests can have their choice of entrée (perhaps not turkey) and their own selection of wine by the glass. Or you can do carry-out. Some restaurants, like Michael’s on East, will even include an appropriate wine. The Capital Grille will make all the side dishes to take out so you can just heat them up while you cook the turkey. Whatever shape your plans take this Thanksgiving, make it a memorable one.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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