For wine geeks (you know who you are, or maybe you know one), Thanksgiving may be one of the most dreaded meals of the year. Not because of the dry turkey, or the tryptophan overload, or the gaggle of relatives crowding the table, and that one cousin who always brings up politics. It’s because the cacophony of the traditional Thanksgiving feast, with all those flavors on our plates at the same time, is supposedly anathema to wine pairing.
To which my riposte has always been, “open one of everything.” Almost any wine will go well with something on the table. A sampling of different bottles will also satisfy divergent palates, and can even become an experiment in wine-and-food pairing when the conversation runs off the rails.
That advice doesn’t seem appropriate this year. Many of us will be having a quieter, more intimate Thanksgiving because of the pandemic and soaring positivity rates. Some have felt the economic pain, as states and cities shut businesses to help curtail the virus’s spread. All too many families will have an empty chair at the table. Thanksgiving this year may be more reflective than festive. We may even wonder why we should feel thankful at all.
Wine is good for that type of reflection. A fine wine is itself a reflection of a vintage, a place and the vintner who made it. It also symbolizes the meaning we give it and the mood we bring to it. It can lift our spirits, if only temporarily, and give us a glimpse of a better world. It has, in the words of the British writer Hugh Johnson, “the power to banish care.”
So this Thanksgiving may be a good occasion to splurge on a special wine, if your finances permit. But this isn’t really about price. Your wine needn’t be expensive to be special. Your wine is special because of what you bring to it, not what you spend on it.
In past years, I’ve recommended various strategies for Thanksgiving. There are the food-friendly grapes — pinot noir, barbera, riesling. There’s the all-American theme for the all-American holiday. Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration, so why not drink the wine of the recent harvest — beaujolais nouveau, which conveniently goes on sale each year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. You could choose a wine from the country of your heritage, or an American bottle made by a winemaker who shares your heritage. There’s always the “drink local” option. And, of course, bubbles go with everything — foods, as well as moods, at the table. Bubbles to share with those in your bubble.
All this still holds, but this year I encourage you to make your Thanksgiving wine choice more personal. Maybe a memory — a bottle from your favorite winery visit years ago, or the first winery you visited this summer when restrictions eased. Remember how liberating that felt?
Almost everyone has at least one wine they’re saving for a special occasion that never seems to come. Perhaps this is it. Why defer the pleasure, when 2020 has demonstrated so clearly that the future cannot be taken for granted? Pop that cork.
Or maybe there’s a wine that reminds you of a loved one who will not be with you this year. Opening that bottle can reestablish the connection, at least for a little while.
Try to reserve a sip, or three, to savor after the Zoom chats with absent friends and family, after the pies and the football and the cleanup. Let the wine remind you of when you first tasted it, where you were and whom you were with. Let it remind you of better times and what you are thankful for. Let it, for just a few moments, banish care.