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Tips for Serving French Wines at Thanksgiving

William S. Shepard, Wine Editor | Tuesday, Nov 16th 2010
French Aperitifs

The traditional Thanksgiving turkey is not an easy fit with wine. The upside of that dilemma is that there is no “right” wine to serve. Turkey is not one of those meats that is automatically associated with any particular wine. And since our American family Thanksgiving is a celebration of plenty, it is appropriate that wines that go with it are neither expensive nor hard to find. The Pilgrims would have approved. (They would probably also have served ale.)

Turkey is a mild meat, and offers a rather neutral backdrop for wines. We have recently enjoyed a sturdy white Alsatian wine, such as a Hugel Riesling 2007 ($16.99), with our Thanksgiving dinner. But, the stuffing may suggest a palate of flavor contrasts. If your turkey is accompanied by sausage or chestnut stuffing, including the assertive herb sage, for example, a spicier wine, such as Albrecht’s Gewurztraminer “Marie” 2007 ($21.99) might be a good choice. But don’t rule out serving a more festive wine, such as a nonvintage French champagne. That helps create a sense of occasion, that your guests will appreciate. We enjoy Taittinger’s NV Brut “La Française” ($33.99). There is an entire range of champagnes, and a light one would probably go best with a traditionally heavy meal.

If you are going to have a red wine, better make it on the light side. The 2009 Beaujolais vintage, now just appearing at retail wine shops, was excellent, and so a chilled bottle or two of Georges Duboeuf’s 2009 Chiroubles ($9.99) would be a treat. This is an enjoyable floral wine, not very deep. A light Loire Valley red wine, such as a 2008 Chinon by Sauvion ($11.99), would also be an excellent choice – it might possibly be your own 2010 Thanksgiving discovery! This delicious wine is made from 100% Cabernet Franc grapes.

If you are not serving turkey, vary your wine choices accordingly. A crown roast of pork would go well with a Loire Valley white wine. Try marinating it with Vouvray wine, then roast it with apples or prunes and some thyme, adding a bit more wine from time to time to pan brown it. Ask your wine retailer about Vouvray wines. Unless you get into limited producton wines, $10-$12 should buy a nice bottle. Sauvion’s 2009 Vouvray, for example, retails for $9.99. But be careful. These wines tend to be rather sweet.

With baked ham, a medium-dry white wine of character would be a good choice. Here, I would suggest an Alsatian Pinot Gris, such as a Lucien Albrecht “Romanus” 2009 ($15.99). Another good choice might be a fine rosé wine, such as Sasha Lichine’s Château D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” 2009 ($16.99). Either wine would go nicely with the ham, particularly if it is a glazed ham, or served with a brown sugar and raisin sauce.

Let’s not forget the Sauternes with Thanksgiving dessert. A little of this delicious sweet dessert wine goes a long way, and so we usually open a bottle for Thanksgiving to have with our three desserts. Then the bottle kept well chilled will often last through the holiday season. The 2001, 2003 and 2005 vintages were excellent. You may wish to start with a half bottle of 2003 Clos Haut Peyraguey ($24.99), 2005 Coutet ($27.99), or 2001 Rayne Vigneau ($24.99). An enjoyable Sauternes may well be your next family tradition!

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