This post was originally about picking a wine for Thanksgiving Dinner, but then we realized, not everyone wants to celebrate Thanksgiving. Some folks would prefer to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. And there are other big holidays coming up during this time of year, many of which involve special foods and cooking turkeys. So why not look at picking a wine for a Big Holiday Dinner? So, we are.
Wait. Isn’t this the middle of October? Uh, yeah. So why worry about what wines to serve for a Big Holiday Dinner now? Well, we’re offering an easy way to figure that out. Catch is, it takes some time to make happen. Besides, you don’t want to be drinking three to four bottles in one night, do you? Yeah. Didn’t think so.
If you’ve never made a Big Holiday Dinner before, you can check out Anne’s series of blogs on the process, starting here. If you’ve simply been asked to bring the wine, then you can also use this post.
Now, the trick with wine for holiday fare is that not all of the traditional foods are all that wine-friendly. Sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, anything sweet, can make even the best cabernet sauvignon taste sour and icky. Think sipping orange juice after a big syrupy bite of pancakes. Blech. And wine experts will recommend all kinds of different wines. Some love pinot noir with turkey, others insist on a robust syrah, still others prefer merlot. Almost any of those will do quite nicely with a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. With the sweeter elements of a meal? Not so much.
Our two fail-safe holiday wines are dry sparkling wines (including Champagne, Cavas and California sparkling) and Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the first wine released in France and it always comes out the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Since it’s literally new wine, from this year’s harvest, it’s light and fruity, which does well with some of the sweeter parts of the meal. Plus it’s not so in-your-face heavy. That’s great for those of your guests who are new to wine, or even red wines. Bubblies are wonderful because they are already associated with celebrations, and dry bubblies go with just about everything on the planet.
So your options are boundless. And so are all the variations on a theme on the shelf at your local wine store. It’s a bit overwhelming, but fear not. You’re not going in blind and hoping the wine will work. You’re going to buy a sample bottle or four and taste them before you buy however many you need to serve your guests. And you will know how many bottles that is because each bottle has about four to five glasses of wine inside, bubblies have five to six glasses of wine.
Note, we will taste even our standard Nouveau because not every year is that good. It’s not as big a deal because there are usually only two or three brands available. Also, while whites are nice to serve with salads and soup, you’ll probably want a red to go with the stronger flavors of the main event.
The Big Holiday Dinner test tasting
For your test tasting, you’ll need three to four bottles of potential wine. You’ll also need samples of some of the different foods you’re going to be eating. For example, if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, you might want some turkey potpies, a couple sweet potatoes and some cranberry sauce. If you’re making a brisket for Channukah, then some beef stew, some potato and onion cooked together, and whatever dessert you’re serving. Finally, you’ll need a note pad and pen or pencil.
Cook or reheat your food samples, open up one of your bottles, pour a splash and taste it while eating the pot pie and the potato. Check the nose or aroma, look at the color, but most important of all, does it taste good with the food? Write down why you think it tastes good or why it doesn’t. Is it really sour with the sweet potato? Does it taste harsh on the back of the throat even after a good mouthful of beef stew? Does it taste even smoother and more delicious with the turkey?
Then repeat the process with the other bottles. You may want to do one a night, and have someone help you finish the bottle. Or you can try sealing the bottle and putting it in the fridge and finish it some other evening. If it’s a white, just seal it and pop it in the fridge. Just don’t serve it with Thanksgiving Dinner. Red wines tend to oxidize after they’ve been opened and bubblies lose their bubbles. And whites will sometimes go off.
Once you’ve got your notes, you may have a clear winner. You may not. But that’s not such a bad thing, especially if by the time you get back to the store, your preferred wine is gone. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen sometimes.
No go and taste and let us know what you’re tasting. We can always use a new idea.