For hosts, Thanksgiving is the most paradoxical of holidays: It brings the warmth of gathering and feasting with close friends and/or family, but oh, those logistical and labor apprehensions! When juggling the meal and table preparations, the last thing we need to be fretting about is the beverage portion of the meal.
Well, we’re here to help. Actually, “we” in this case are several local chefs who happen to possess some expertise in the wine world.
And if there’s a consensus of sorts among our folks, it’s that the wines should be light (no cabernet or amarone) and — surprisingly given that the ostensible star of the meal is poultry — for the most part red.
“Maybe white and a few beers are out to greet people as they arrive,” said Alex Roberts, chef/owner of Restaurant Alma, Cafe Alma and Brasa, “but that’s just buying time for the big show. For us it’s always red wine with the meal.”
Those reds are predominantly pinot noir and Rhône blends. Still, the most popular grape among these chefs is gamay, particularly from Beaujolais. And no, this is not the Nouveau that hits the streets in mid-November every year and is meant more for sun than food, but rather a table wine with at least a year, preferably more, of age on it.
“I’m a sucker for gamay,” said Thomas Boemer, chef/owner at In Bloom and Revival. “Not only does it pair well, perfect for turkey and great for wild rice, which I have to have on Thanksgiving, but the acidity cuts through the richness [of gravy and other dishes] beautifully. You can drink well through the courses. There’s not a better time of year to drink it.”
Boemer augments his gamay with cava and ciders, which he calls “an incredible addition. I like the Basque ciders, which are lighter and funkier, and the French ones that are almost like bruised fruit turning a little, great with squash or yams.”
Bringing an even wider selection of libations to the table is Bardo chef/owner Remy Pettus, whose array of red and white, sparkling and still, dry and sweet, has one unifying quality: “I go for food-friendly wines that pair with multiple dishes.”
In the red-wine realm, Pettus favors “aromatic, lighter-bodied wines, like trousseau or counoise, maybe red Burgundy, but always something light and versatile. I tell people to save their cabs for Christmas with prime rib. If I want a slightly bigger red, it’s Sangiovese, which goes really well with the cranberries.”
On the white side, Pettus said the most food-friendly options are high-altitude dry riesling and Muscadets. “These are aromatic and fuller-flavored, but not flabby like a big chardonnay or super-linear like sauvignon blanc can get.”
The riesling grape is also his entree into the sparkling world on T-Day. “A sparkling dry riesling is an inoffensive way to get everything you love about Champagne for less money,” Pettus said. “Chenin blanc is another great sparkling wine for Thanksgiving. You’ve got enough acidity but not too much, a great balance between aromatics and flavors.”
He finishes with sherries, “which really get overlooked” as food-friendly wines.
While Pettus trots out quite the assortment of vinous treats, Todd Macdonald, late of Red Rabbit and now with Cov Edina, takes pretty much the opposite tack with a somewhat surprising varietal.
“It’s an inherently American holiday, so we always stick with American wines,” Macdonald said, and for the most part that means merlot from producers like Duckhorn. He says it even marries well with a staple his family demands: White Castle stuffing.
Macdonald augments the biggish-but-approachable merlot with a sparkling red from Lambrusco, “where you get some hints of cherry and orange, and the bubbles help cut through how rich that food is.”
Favoring a different kind of red from northern Italy is Spoonriver chef/owner Brenda Langton. She adores Valpolicella ripasso, a juicy cousin to that subregion’s massive, raisiny amarones. She also called herself “a huge fan of the grüner veltliners,” a variety that fits even if the ever-difficult asparagus, broccoli or Brussels sprouts are part of the festivities.
Langton’s annual get-together includes longtime regulars who generally bring a bottle to share, “such a variety of pinot noirs.”
In other words, the kind of lighter, versatile-at-the-table wines that shine at these incredibly wide-ranging feasts.