First of all, please know that I honestly do not lose sleep over what you drink for Thanksgiving. If you happen to enjoy white zinfandel or whipped cream vodka or Martinelli’s sparkling cider or Mountain Dew or kombucha… by all means, please enjoy that. I don’t care a whit if you pair the holiday bird with a Fuzzy Navel, a shot of Jagermeister and a chaser of Milwaukee’s Best. I’m not really one to offer unsolicited advice on what you should imbibe. Otherwise, I would probably have jumped off a bridge long before the holidays.
But since I write about booze for a living, each November I am asked—by people such as my readers or my editors or even my neighbors—to weigh in on what may be the ultimate First World Problem that we face: What beverage shall I ever pair with the Thanksgiving meal? Oh. My. God. Let the handwringing begin!
You’d think that after setting so many wine and spirits writers on the case for so many decades, we’d have finally found the answer. But no. Apparently, the search for the perfect Thanksgiving libation is more elusive than the cure for baldness or the hunt for Sasquatch.
Actually, the open secret of lifestyle journalism is that the Thanksgiving meal is usually such a mishmash of flavors, you could probably fire a suction-cup dart into the liquor store aisles and end up with a bottle that’d work. Sometimes I don’t even recommend wine. Over the past few years I have recommended cider, pregaming with cocktails, and wine-based cocktails for people who don’t like cocktails.
When it does come to wine, I like to change it up every year. Mom may serve the same green-bean casserole for decades, but I like to keep people on their toes. I’ve brought rieslings, Italian whites like Arneis and Friulano, sherry, Madeira, cava, Cremant de Limoux, Bierzo, chiavennasca (otherwise known as nebbiolo) from Valtellina, you name it. Every year I seem to get a little more obscure. Like most wine enthusiasts, at any given moment I’m usually obsessed with an array of grapes or styles. So, when the time for Thanksgiving pairing advice rolls around, I end up recommending whatever obsession seems to pair well with a 3,000-calorie feast.
This year, however, the advice I’m offering is as familiar as a roasty old chestnut. I will be drinking Gewurztraminer with my Thanksgiving dinner. Gewurztraminer–along with zinfandel and Beaujolais nouveau—are the easy listening, adult contemporary, soft rock of Thanksgiving wine pairings.
But there’s a reason why Gewurztraminer always pops up in wine talk at this time of year, and not just because it’s fun to say (guh-Verts-trah-Meen-er). Simply put, Gewurztraminer works perfectly in seemingly impossible pairing situations. Spicy Thai food, check. Stinky bleu cheese, check. Smoked salmon, check. Peanut sauces, check. Your grandma’s secret holiday stuffing and creamed corn, check.
The grape’s name means literally “spiced” Traminer, and Gewurztraminer is almost always described as “aromatic” and “flamboyant” and redolent of lychee and flowers. Gewurztraminer is like that one buddy of yours that’s loud, wears a little too much cologne, shows a little too much chest hair, and wears a flashy watch and gold chain, and tips people from a wad of singles. Some people despise him, but a surprising number of people love him. Wine drinkers find themselves on a similar love-it-or-hate-it divide with Gerwurztraminer.
I know what you’re thinking. “Gewurztraminer! Ain’t that really sweet?” Well, yes, it can be. Like a lot of whites from the Germanic world, it often seems a crap shoot whether you grab a sweet or dry one. Even if that’s not true, this perception is the sad legacy of Blue Nun (which is not actually made with Gewurztraminer).
The best Gewurztraminer is full-bodied, but perfectly balanced and dry, with great floral and fleshy fruit and a fresh underlying acidity that tames the flamboyance. Great Gewurztraminer often exhibits a rich, chalky feel on the palate and has unique baking spice notes that will be a prelude to your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to visit two prime regions which produce complex Gewurztraminer–Alsace, France and Alto Adige, the northernmost wine region in Italy. And years before these trips, I’d loved domestic Gewurztraminer from the Anderson Valley in northern California (which has, sadly, become difficult to find on the East Coast) For those who feel like listening, I offer my recommendations from these regions below.
And if you don’t feel like following my advice, drink whatever you feel like during this holiday season. I will not be offended.
Gewurztraminer for Thanksgiving
Hugel Gewurztraminer 2010. Alsace, France. $22
Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2010. Alsace, France. $22
Domaine Charles Baur Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2009. Alsace, France. $25
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer 2008. Alsace, France. $25
Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2010. Finger Lakes, New York. $16
Courtney Benham by Martin Ray Gewurztraminer 2011. Mendocino, California. $11
Elena Walch Selezione Gewurztraminer 2010. Alto Adige, Italy, $19
Abbazia di Novacella Gewurztraminer 2010. Alto Adige, Italy, $24