Every year as we head into the holidays, we’re always looking for advice on wine pairings, particularly for classic holiday dishes like turkey and sweet potatoes. To get us started, we asked Greg Rubin, owner of Horseneck Wine & Spirits, to share his best, foolproof tips. Greg is a dad of two and a certified Sommelier. “Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most fun and challenging meals to pair wines successfully. Not only do you have a very diverse menu but often you have a very diverse group of family at the table. My Grandfather’s palate is very different from my twenty-something sister’s,” explains Greg.
He says he first thinks about what most people at his table will like, and then about which styles of wine will pair with the flavors he’s serving. “In that respect the broad strokes to keep in mind are: Richer foods want bigger wines, match acid with acid (more on that later), and match sweet flavors with ripe wines,” says Greg. “All of that said, some classic wine pairings for a classic Thanksgiving dinner are Beaujolais, Syrah, Zinfandel, and whites from the Loire Valley.” Here’s a bit more from Greg, with specific recommendations your whole family will love, for everything from the cheese plate to the pumpkin pie.
Cheese Plate/Appetizer Course
I like starting off with high acid whites and a chillable, low alcohol juicy red to kick things off (slow and steady wins the race!). The bright crispy style of high acid whites wakes your appetite up and a fruit-forward red can act like chutney or honey when paired with some seasonal cheeses.
2018 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc – $32
Loire Valley, France
Chenin Blanc is one of the most overlooked grapes amongst us Americans. It is always bright, rarely oaked, and has a natural beeswax aroma to it that makes it a perfect cheese pairing wine. Romain Guiberteau is in the Loire Valley, on the hill of Brezé which is hallowed ground amongst Chenin Blanc lovers.
2018 Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet – $85
White burgundy at its most perfect. 100% Chardonnay with just the slightest kiss of oak from two brothers who hold some of the most desired parcels of vines in all of Burgundy. This is as good a cheese pairing wine as there is.
2019 Canaille Winery Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir – $33
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara receives more sunlight per year than any other wine region in the country. All that sun translates into a juicy Pinot Noir and in the right hands, like this wine from Canaille, the wine retains balance, lift, and lightness. This wine is an exclusive to Horseneck as only 3 barrels were made and we’re in love with it! Put it in the fridge for 20 minutes before you pop the cork and enjoy it with your cheese and apps.
Turkey/Sweet Potatoes/Green Beans
Here’s where things get tricky. Everyone’s Thanksgiving table is slightly different but let’s assume that everyone has some version of: turkey, cranberry sauce, some greens, and some potatoes and/or sweet potatoes. So the keys here are the richness and slight game-birdiness (is that a word???) of the turkey, the acidity and flavor of the cranberries, and the herbaceousness and green garden-vibe of the side dishes.
2019 Kivelstadt Cellars Indian Spring Ranch Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc – $24
Sonoma Valley, California
I’m personally not really a big New Zealand Sauv Blanc guy and if I’m being honest, that style is a bit too tropical for Thanksgiving dishes. Sonoma offers a great option for slightly more balanced and herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc and the Kivelstadt family’s single-vineyard bottling is an absolute star.
2019 Sohm & Kracher Niederösterreich Gruner Veltliner – $24
Gruner isn’t exactly a household name outside of Austria but if you’re looking for a crisp, herbaceous white not named Sauvignon Blanc to pair with greens, this should be your jam. This is an easy, “down the fairway” Gruner from Austria-native and Beverage Director of Le Bernardin, Aldo Sohm. If it’s good enough for the most accomplished Austrian Sommelier in the world it’s good enough for me!
2019 Marcel Lapierre Morgon – $42
Some time ago, when we were all children, the adults of the time got hooked on this idea that they should drink the brand new wine coming out of Beaujolais at Thanksgiving time. For many Americans this “Beaujolais Nouveau” wine cemented an incorrect idea of what Beaujolais can do with their native grape Gamay. In fact, there are 10 “Cru” towns in the area, most famous of which is Morgon, whose not famous producer is Marcel Lapierre. This is crushable, easy drinking red. Perfect for anyone with an addiction to cranberry sauce like me.
2018 Pax Mahle Sonoma-Hillsides Syrah – $55
Sonoma Coast, California
Syrah is the grape I turn to when there are a LOT of flavors on the table, including some herbs, some spice, and some rich game birds or red meat. Syrah, when made well, shows off dark fruits (plums, blackberry, black cherry), a touch of spice (dried violets, black tea, cardamom, black pepper), and a bunch of savory elements (bacon, cigar, cedar, char/grill smoke). This bottling (and really anything Pax makes) hits every single note world-class Syrah should hit (so much so that it earned him 100 points the first year he made it!).
Pumpkin Pie/Pecan Pie/Dessert Course
Wine pairing rule #1047: The wine should be sweeter than the dessert. As hard as Thanksgiving dinner can be to pair with wine, Thanksgiving dessert pairing is a cinch. I always go with an ice cider or a wine made from raisenated grapes. These styles have an inherent “pecan-ness” to them and usually spend enough time in barrels that a toasted, vanilla, caramel profile comes through as well. Just drive straight for “Decadent” and don’t look back.
2002 Wôlffer Estate Late Harvest Chardonnay – $34 (375ml)
Long Island, NY
Keep it local! Yes Wôlffer makes one of our favorite rosés every year but they also happen to be blessed with a climate just mild enough that allows some of the grapes to hang out on the vine well into the fall. Their 2002 Late Harvest is exactly what you want with your pecan, apple, and pumpkin pies.
2005 Chateau Guiraud 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes – $40 (375ml)
The classic dessert wine. Sauternes hits all the notes you want when you’re working with nutty, spiced, and fruit-based desserts. There’s always a pure fig and pecan flavor in good Sauternes, and the 2005 Giuraud certainly counts as that. You could go for broke and get some d’Yquem but this bottle will work just as well.
After Dinner Drink
After dinner my main focus is figuring out how I’m going to function as a human for the rest of the day. My taste buds are perfectly happy so what I’m really craving is something that will make me settle into a chair to watch some football and not feel like I’m going to explode. My personal preference is for an amaro, which is Italian for “bitter”. It was originally used prescriptively to settle upset stomachs and they have exploded in popularity. Pour two ounces of an amaro and call me in the morning!
Fernet Branca – $39
Fernet is very much on the medicinal side of the Amaro spectrum. If you’re someone who loves their root beer really root-y and their gins very juniper-y you’ll like Fernet. The recipe is a family secret but its taste shows off chamomile, quinine, rhubarb, peppermint, and gentian.
Forthave Amaro – $28 (375ml)
Brooklyn, New York
One of the most exciting amaro producers outside of Europe, Forthave is owned and operated by two friends of mine, one of whom is an expert in Eastern medicine and homeopathic ingredients. Their Amaro is much more on the “Non-medicinal” side of the spectrum which notes of cinnamon, eucalyptus, honey, and fresh mint. It’s on my bar at home and will certainly be in my glass after I’ve eaten way too much this Thanksgiving.
This story is sponsored by Horseneck Wines & Spirits. Visit them at 25 E. Putnam Ave. or call 203 869 8944.