The most important meal of the year in the US is coming up next Thursday: Thanksgiving! That’s right, along with a hearty helping of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies, there’s going to be travel stress, family oversharing and mind games. So you’re going to need some wine!
Thanksgiving dinner is also probably one of the most nerve-racking meals to try to pair wines with thanks to the profusion of dishes, flavors and foods, not to mention your judgy relatives.
But that shouldn’t stop you from stocking up on wine this holiday season, and in order to help you do so, I talked to someone who knows her wines: Kathryn Coker. Kathryn is the co-owner and wine director at the new Esters Wine Shop & Bar in Santa Monica, and she had a ton of great ideas for choosing just the right wines for this year’s feast.
Cluster Crush: First things first: should we even be drinking wine at Thanksgiving?
Kathryn Coker: Of course! Wine is a great choice for any meal, so there’s no other answer to that question. Wine helps you make room to eat more – it makes you hungrier!
Cluster Crush: For Thanksgiving, do you stick with one wine all night, or pick a few that you course out through the evening?
Kathryn Coker: I think it’s more fun to play around and bring a bunch of wines to dinner. I celebrate at a friend’s house, and everyone brings a different dish, kind of like a potluck. All the dishes come from different family recipes and traditions, so I think that the wine should be the same eclectic mix.
Cluster Crush: How can you narrow down the choices to what you should bring?
Kathryn Cocker: In general, stick to the lighter side. That’s specifically true for red wines, but also for whites, because the food should be the focus, and you don’t want any overly oaky or heavy whites. The wines you choose should be drinkable. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fine wine, but anything you bring should be lighter, which will be easier to drink with such a big meal. I would also suggest staying away from extremes – you don’t want any white wines with crazy, ripping acidity, or very tannic red wines.
Cluster Crush: Speaking of, do you have any white wines you’ve tasted lately that would make a good Thanksgiving pairing?
Kathryn Coker: We just got in a Wenzlau Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills for our Thanksgiving tasting at Esters. It’s a beautiful, lean, elegant Chardonnay from California. It’s really balanced, with all those golden apple and lemon notes, and a crispness that’s going to complement all the veggies and lighter fowl.
I also think white wines with just a little bit of residual sugar or sweetness will go well. One of the other wines we tried for our tasting was the Teleki Furmint-Harslevelu blend from Tokaji in Hungary. I compare it to Chenin Blanc because it has a lot of stone fruit flavors, a little petrol and minerality, and a touch of sweetness. I think it’s the ideal pairing for something like yams because sometimes they’re also sweet and have a lot of spices in them that make them hard to pair with, so this is a great choice.
I haven’t even gotten to sparkling wines! You should always have a sparkling wine. With a sparkling Vouvray, you can go dry or off-dry, something that’s not too rich, though. Something a little less serious.
Cluster Crush: And for the reds?
Kathryn Coker: Again, you’re going for lighter. Pinot Noir is great and people love that, so you’d be popular at any party you bring it to. I love the ones from Oregon, like the The Eyrie Vineyards. Sonoma Coast also produces some great Pinot Noirs that have those crunchy, cranberry flavors to them rather than a strawberry kind of note that Pinots from other places sometimes get. I think Pinot Noir is great with turkey because honestly, turkey can be kind of boring, but Pinot Noir is more complex and elevated.
A lighter Cabernet Franc can be great too, and so reminiscent of fall. You think of fallen leaves and damp forests. I love the ones from Chinon, just nothing that’s too heavy or oaked.
Cluster Crush: What about Beaujolais? It seemed like a popular choice for a while, then got a bad rap.
Kathryn Coker: People in the wine world are always happy to drink Beaujolais, especially cru Beaujolais – they’re beautiful wines, so drinkable. I think the perfect wine for a roast chicken is a Morgon, so why wouldn’t you want it with turkey and all those vegetable sides? I think a lot of people are surprised by Beaujolais because it’s gotten a bad rap, but then they try it and love it and get excited. Especially because it can be a fantastic value.
Cluster Crush: And for dessert?
Kathryn Coker: Honestly, by the time I get to pumpkin pie, I might be done with wine. Fernet or Calvados would be good choices, because you might need some help digesting!
Cluster Crush: Any final tips?
Kathryn Coker: Keep it simple. Personally, I don’t want to open some fancy, old vintage wine that I have in the cellar. I feel like that gets lost among too many friends, and everyone is paying attention to so many things, and not focusing on that one special wine, so why open it? Going with affordable wine choices and having some variety on the table is the most fun thing to do at Thanksgiving.
Interested in some of the wines Kathryn mentioned? You can pick them up yourself at Esters – and they’re open on Thanksgiving Day if you get stuck at the last minute!