What Wine for Thanksgiving? A Machiavellian Approach
One upside to no longer having a regular wine column is that I didn’t have to write a piece this year recommending wines for Thanksgiving. The annual Thanksgiving round-up is a staple of American wine journalism, and it is also an exercise in futility. Thanksgiving is a meal that just doesn’t lend itself to tidy wine pairings; too many dishes, too many contrasting flavors. Then there is the gluttony factor: On a day devoted to excessive eating, how much attention is really going to be paid to the wines, anyway?
It occurred to me some time ago that we—wine writers—have done readers a disservice with all this fussing over what goes best with turkey and the trimmings. Instead of framing Thanksgiving wine pieces around food pairings (a square peg, round hole problem), I think it would be much more helpful to offer tips on matching wines to the guests. And let’s be honest: if you are a wine enthusiast, what you opt to pour on Thanksgiving is probably determined in part by who’s joining you, how much they know and care about wine, how much they are apt to drink, and how well they hold their alcohol.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for Thanksgiving wine/guest pairings—just some very basic, Machiavellian guidelines for ensuring that the appropriate wines end up on the table:
-if your guests have little or no interest in wine, keep the wines relatively cheap
-if your guests are going to be drinking hard liquor during cocktail hour and are likely to be flush in the face and very exuberant by dinner time, make the wines even cheaper (as in Yellow Tail cheap)
-if alcohol is likely to fuel an argument (you know how families can be), go with lighter, lower-octane wines, such as Beaujolais or German Riesling
-if, on the other hand, everyone gets along better when tanked, serve an inexpensive but potent Zinfandel and pour it early, liberally, and often
Of course, apart from the Beaujolais and the Riesling, these are not very appealing options for a wine geek who wants to drink well on Thanksgiving, which brings me to a delicate issue that almost all oenophiles confront at some point: Is it ever okay to follow Richard Nixon’s example (and talk about a Machiavellian figure!) and secretly serve yourself one wine while serving your guests another? I have certainly wrestled with this question; because my wife occasionally visits here, it would not be in my best interest to disclose how I answered it. I will only say this: if you choose to go the Tricky Dick route, the wine that you open for yourself should be very carefully hidden, and make sure its color doesn’t contrast too sharply with the color of the plonk that you are pouring for the rest of the table. That, or dim the lights sufficiently so that no one will notice.
So do you pair Thanksgiving wines only to the food, or do you also try to match them to the guests? Any strategies you wish to share? And while it is hypocritical of me to ask this question since I wouldn’t answer it myself, I’ll ask anyway: have you ever served guests one wine and yourself another, better one?