A balancing act

It's no secret many wine enthusiasts consider the traditional Thanksgiving feast a daunting challenge for wine. The combination of savory and sweet aromas would seem to contradict normal assumptions about food and wine pairings.

Truth be told, though it's tricky, the Thanksgiving feast is a rare opportunity to focus on the most important aspect of any good wine match: balance. 

At my Thanksgiving table, there are always several wine options with one thing in common: bright, juicy fruit that delivers an impression of sweetness even though the wine is essentially dry. This holds for sparkling (think brut rose), rose (you want it to be dry but fruity), white (full-bodied and rich, which makes chardonnay, riesling or pinot blanc ideal) and red (there's a reason that Beaujolais is the go-to red for many a Thanksgiving feast, but pinot noir is a more-than-adequate substitute). 

I try to avoid powerful young red wines, such as cabernet sauvignon from a recent vintage, due to the likely clash with sweet and/or spicy side dishes. For that same reason, I generally pass on tart whites, such as sauvignon blanc or gruner veltliner. 

It's a balancing act, to be sure, but the good news is that turkey, generally the main event at Thanksgiving, is versatile. White wines work just as well as red wines, and the right dry rose can be equally satisfying. 

I plan to take the balanced approach and serve one of each on the big day. 

Best Value 

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine. 

Chateau de Julienas 2015 Julienas, Beaujolais, France ($19.99) -- This cru Beaujolais from the exceptional 2015 vintage is meaty and full-bodied. It has layers of ripe blueberry and blackberry, as well as a floral back note. It shows impressive body and texture from ample tannins, but the palate remains smooth and supple. Drink it now, or hold it for another year or two. Rating: 91. 

Tasting Notes 

Clos des Quatre Vents 2015 Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($21.99) -- One of the most elegant cru Beaujolais is Fleurie, and the Clos des Quatre Vents epitomizes that characteristic. Refined and delicate yet packed with flavor, this vintage is a stunning example of the beauty of Fleurie from this property. On the palate, this wine personifies the mantra "flavor without weight" that is a marker for high-quality red Burgundy and Beaujolais. Rating: 94. 

J Winery 2016 Pinot Gris, California ($20) -- Few wines in this price range can boast the level of consistency demonstrated by the J pinot gris vintage after vintage. The 2016 offers up juicy notes of melon, citrus and tropical fruit that are balanced with mouthwatering acidity. It's another excellent effort from the team led by winemaker Nicole Hitchcock. Rating: 92. 

Donnafugata 2016 'Lighea,' Sicilia DOC, Italy ($20) -- If you're looking for something delicious to shake up the holiday party, Donnafugata's Lighea should be at or near the top of your shopping list. The grape variety is the little known zibibbo, a zesty fruit bomb with an impressive streak of minerality. On the nose, the moscato vein is intensely floral. However, it changes direction on the palate, showing notes of orange blossom, citrus and melon. And it's bone-dry. Rating: 91. 

La Crema 2015 Pinot Noir, Shell Ridge, Sonoma Coast ($50) -- The fruit on this pricey pinot from La Crema is front-loaded. There's plenty of red-berry goodness, and the wine shows impressive weight on the palate. The rub for those who would rush home and open it tonight is that the finish is a work in progress. This wine needs another year or two in the bottle for the finish to lengthen. If you can be patient, you've got a winner. Rating: 90. 

Morgan 2015 Pinot Noir 'Twelve Clones,' Santa Lucia Highlands ($35) -- Proprietor Dan Lee has been making the Twelve Clones Pinot for a number of years, and he's just about perfected the style. It is elegant and fruity. It shows fresh red berries, a hint of wood spice and soft, supple tannins that make for immediate enjoyment. Rating: 90. 

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Food

There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 
There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 

More and more of us are looking beyond the wine in our glass and demanding to know how the wine is made. Whether we want wines that are "natural," biodynamic, organic or sustainable, increasingly we want to know that winemakers are doing their best to protect the environment and not relying on chemicals to ripen their grapes. And the wine...
The morning after Thanksgiving, let them eat . . . cookies
The morning after Thanksgiving, let them eat . . . cookies

A handful of fresh cranberries, part of a can of pumpkin puree, extra chopped nuts and a lone apple that didn't make it into pie - after hosting a holiday feast, it's inevitable that you will wind up with tasty odds and ends like these. But instead of throwing them out, contributing to the shocking 27 million tons of food wasted each year (as per a...
The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner
The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner

Does Thanksgiving make your mouth water, dreaming of your favorite pumpkin or sweet potato pie recipes? Are you ready to pull out your crowd-pleasing stuffing recipe or are you a cautious cook easing into the kitchen for the first time?  No matter what your culinary skill level, it's easy to make a delicious Thanksgiving meal on a budget. Just...
6 easy side dishes anyone can make for Thanksgiving Day
6 easy side dishes anyone can make for Thanksgiving Day

Although the turkey will surely take center stage at your Thanksgiving table, a few unforgettable side dishes can't hurt. These simple sides won't take very much time or effort to pull together, but look (and taste) like a million bucks. This Thanksgiving Day, give your family a feast they won't forget by including a few of these easy-to-make dishes...
The stuffed-pumpkin dish that will make vegans and everyone else happy
The stuffed-pumpkin dish that will make vegans and everyone else happy

If you're cooking for vegetarians at Thanksgiving, it's hard to resist the stuffed-pumpkin idea. The vegetarians have their main dish, everyone else has another side, and all is right with the world. As tempting as it is to stuff a single large pumpkin, though, the degree of difficulty rises along with the poundage. A jack-o'-lantern-size specimen...
More Stories