By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
Thanksgiving can be quite an intimidating meal to cook. On the other hand, Ben Mackall, wine curator for The Hungry Moose Market & Deli, says a Thanksgiving table is one of the most approachable holiday spreads to pair wine with.
“You don’t need to get too pretentious with the wine,” he says. “Ultimately, everyone is there to just enjoy the meal, enjoy each other. Wine’s just a nice sauce on top.”
That being said, Mackall, a Certified Wine Specialist postnominal, provides a few tips and a bottle selection to guide your holiday wine pairing.
For most people, Mackall says, Thanksgiving is a smorgasbord.
“There’s oftentimes such a dizzying array of textures and flavors and spices … that it becomes difficult trying to nail down a wine to work with one specific element of the table,” he says. “The rule of thumb with pairing Thanksgiving wines is that you want something that’s going to be simple enough that it’s going to basically go with the entire meal.”
While the instinct may be to break out a complex, showy bottle, Mackall suggests keeping it simple and in turn, keeping it affordable. A guiding principle for portioning wine for a big dinner is about a bottle per drinking guest. In Mackall’s Thanksgiving wine spread, all the bottles ranged between $15-40.
Two classic Thanksgiving wines are Pinot Noir and Beaujolais Nouveau, the latter made from Gamay grapes which are harvested in the fall and sold right around Thanksgiving. Common choices for their ability to “ride through the whole dinner without any one dish overshadowing it or vice versa,” Mackall says, these are easy Thanksgiving go-tos.
For his selections, however, Mackall stayed away from the easier pairings and omitted Pinot Noir and Beaujolais altogether.
Below are five of Mackall’s Thanksgiving selections, both classic and innovative in character.
Groundwork: Picpoul carbonique
Paso Robles, California / $23
Visibly vibrant in a clear glass bottle, Groundwork’s picpoul carbonique is an orange wine out of California. Orange wines, though perhaps strange at first glance to a Napa Cabernet loyalist, are gaining popularity for their adaptability. Made from white wine grapes with the skins still attached, orange wine delivers an “unexpected flavor,” according to Mackell. While the taste and aroma may be out of the ordinary, he adds, this picpoul carbonique is an approachable organe wine to ease into, and one that will complement features across the table.
“You get the lightness of the white wine and the freshness and the acidity to wash away rich dishes,” Mackell says, “but you get this great kind of autumnal grip and this depth of flavor and aroma to it.”
Besides, this orange wine can serve as a great conversation piece over dinner.
Broc Cellars: Love Red Blend
North Coast, California / $23
For those looking for that simple, fruit-driven wine to sail through the evening, “this is where natural wines really shine,” Mackall says. Natural wines, another burgeoning trend and discussion starter, are all about “letting the grapes speak for themselves,” Mackall says. Mostly unrefined and unfiltered, these wines are made without chemicals, pesticides or flavor additives. Broc Cellars’ Love Red Blend is a successful example of this method, and one that will play nicely throughout the evening.
“It’s just this really crushable, easy drinking, plugging style,” Mackall says. “It’s fresh, it’s fruity, it’s fun.”
Another benefit: taking big, commercial additives and expensive oak barrels out of the mix keep this wine affordable.
Bonny Doon Vineyard: Le Cigare Volant
Santa Cruz, California /$20
The product of a vineyard defined by innovation, Le Cigare Volant is grown at one of California’s first vineyards to adopt biodynamic and organic practices. Mackall, who says he drew much of his passion for wine from his father, says this wine is a regular on his family’s Thanksgiving table.
“It’s like crunchy and bright red fruit but it has that kind of depth of flavor,” Mackall says.
When stepping outside the box, Mackall says it’s good to find grapes that act similarly to more traditional Thanksgiving pairings. This red blend from Bonny Doon is made in part with Grenache grapes, which in many ways mimic a Pinot Noir.
“It has this light to medium body with lots of red fruits and white pepper and almost oil aromas but it’s not super complex,” Mackall says. “It’s usually very fruit driven very down the middle. And it makes it kind of a chameleon with food.”
Green & Red Vineyard: Zinfandel
Napa Valley, California / $31
Zinfandels are known for their fruit-forwardness, Mackall says, but also sometimes a peppery component that pairs well with complex Thanksgiving spices. This Zinfandel in particular, grown in Green & Red’s Chiles Canyon Vineyards, is complete with brambly red and black fruits and a streak of black pepper.
“Particularly for those who are deep frying turkeys or even smoking turkeys in particular, or if you’re introducing some sort of other protein onto the table, sometimes having a slightly darker wine is a good thing,” Mackall suggests.
If you’re breaking out a honey ham or tenderloin this year, this red may be the best pairing.
Cleto Chiarli: Vecchia Modena Lambrusco
Emilia-Romagna, Italy / $16
Breaking the trend of California wines, Mackall suggests the Lambrusco as refreshing bubbles to add into the mix. For those who have poor memories of guzzling the cheaper, sweet sparkling red wine in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Mackall invites you to try this reimagined dryer Lambrusco.
“Bubbles act as that perfect, almost like mouthwash in between bites” he says. “So when you’re stuffing all this really complex, rich savory food in your face, it’s kind of nice to have a palate cleanser in between each.”
While champagne may be too acidic and harsh to use in such a way during the meal, the dustier flavor of Lambrusco may find its niche.