Thanksgiving presents a serious challenge for wine lovers. That’s because traditional holiday recipes can be profoundly unflattering to standard dry wines. Why? It’s all about the sugar content.
At Thanksgiving, most dishes are heavily sweetened. We put cranberry sauce on the turkey, honey glaze on the ham, brown sugar in the carrots, and even marshmallows over the sweet potatoes. Dry wines just can’t handle this much sugar without tasting unpleasantly thin and sour. So what to do? To counteract this effect and achieve pleasant harmony with Thanksgiving fare, choose wines that contain either more sugar or less acidity — or both — than you normally prefer.
It sounds counterintuitive, but sweet wines taste drier when served alongside sugary foods, just as our eyes adjust to bright light. That’s why sommeliers fight fire with fire at Thanksgiving by serving sweeter wines like this off-dry riesling from Germany. It may taste sweet-tart on its own, with its flavors of green apples and lemon curd, but this lightweight white will taste crisp and bone-dry alongside sugary recipes, not to mention appealing to your family’s non-wine drinkers with its low alcohol content.
For those who prefer reds, there are fewer options with overt sweetness, so it makes more sense to aim for less acidic styles, which are less vulnerable to sugar’s negative effects. Such wines come from hot regions and from grapes like zinfandel or petite sirah, malbec or grenache. When grapes become dimpled with over-ripeness on the vine, their acidity drops, yielding jammy wines like this irreverent petite sirah from California’s Central Valley. Loaded with flavors of blueberry muffins, dark rum, and prunes, it may seem overly rich and fruity to fans of more classically dry reds from Italy or France, or from more acidic grapes like cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir. But styles like this one are far better equipped to handle the sugary assault of the Thanksgiving table, and they will taste more traditionally “balanced” with the food than they do on their own.
Clean Slate Riesling — Mosel, Germany (10.9% ABV)
On sale for $9.99 through Dec. 1 (regularly $12.99); PLCB Item #5964
Plungerhead Petite Sirah — Lodi, California (14.5% ABV)
On sale for $13.99 through Dec. 1 (regularly $16.99); PLCB Item #7850
Also available at Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton, N.J. for $11.09.