Finding the perfect wine for your pandemic turkey table

2020 has been a strange year. Fortunately, many of us are lucky enough to still have wine and turkey to count our blessings with tomorrow.

As I literally spent my Thanksgiving last year in wine school, I thought it appropriate to list some tips for choosing a wine for the holiday this year.

1. Try a risky wine that is outside your comfort zone. Your table is likely a lot smaller this year. In my case, it’ll be capped at two humans and two cats. Why not take a risk with something unusual or funky that you wouldn’t normally consider? You can always keep a backup on hand in case the experiment goes bust.

An orange wine could be an unusual option if it’s not something you drink regularly. The grape skins are normally removed when making white wine, but with orange wine, sometimes known as skin contact wine, the white wine spends time on the skins. This is similar to the process used to make red wines. The grape skins impart tannins and also contain wild yeasts that can create all sorts of funky wines.

Orange wines may seem like a new fad, but they are in fact a far more traditional way of making wine than many industrial farming practices.

2. Serve a wine from a place that you miss. Travel is what I miss most in 2020 and there are few things that can instill a sense of place like a bottle of wine. You could serve a wine from a place you’ve yet to see or a destination you can’t reach this year.

For me it’s Vermont, my other home, that I miss most. While the snowy little state does not immediately come to mind as a wine destination, it has made its mark on the wine map in recent years with cold-hardy hybrid grape varieties.

Marquette is one such hybrid grape variety developed by the University of Minnesota for cold climates. An heir of pinot noir, it’s bright cherry fruit flavors and spice would pair well with turkey and stuffing and it is acidic enough to cut through all the fat on your standard turkey-table. It also has an extremely distinct and almost sour taste that for me can only come from Vermont.

I happen to have bottles of Marquette wines on hand from both Lincoln Peak and La Garagista that I could open tomorrow.

That’s my family’s farmhouse in the picture above that I took when I was last there in January. Fortunately, my brother is rumored to be using all the at-home time well in 2020 and is allegedly tilling land to plant some grape vines.

3. Consider a cheaper wine if you expect guests. Assuming your Thanksgiving guest list does not include an academy of wine experts, it is more important to have enough wine than the best wine.

Science will support you (and your wallet) on this one. According to the author Bob Holmes, in his book, Flavor: The Science of Out Most Neglected Sense, ordinary wine drinkers without special training tend to prefer cheaper wines in blind tastings. Unless of course they know the price. Brain scans have shown that our brains derive more pleasure from wines we understand to be expensive.

Which means that I wouldn’t encourage you to lie to your guests, but there is scientific evidence that you could make them happier by serving a cheap wine while pretending that it is expensive.

You, therefore, could just buy plenty of your favorite red or white table wine. One bottle per person is a good rule to make sure you have more than enough and that the party ends when the conversation dies down and not when the wine runs out. A decanter could also help with the ruse.

4. Buy an easy drinking wine that you like. Turkey, stuffing, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes, the Thanksgiving table is full of comfort foods. Why not serve a comfort wine? Unlike fish, the Thanksgiving meal is pretty forgiving and will work with most wines.

A simple, light, young, and fruity wine that is low in tannins like a vino novello, the Italian answer to the French Beaujolais would complement the rich flavor of turkey. While Beaujolais is limited to one grape, Gamay, novello can be made from a blend, but both rely on a fermentation process that uses whole grapes and not crushed. This produces a fruity wine that is lower in alcohol and good for sipping over a lengthy meal. It’s also the right time of year for novello as these wines are released the year they are harvested on October 30th.

What wines will you be serving with your turkey tomorrow?

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