Traditional Thanksgiving food and wine pairings can go a long way. There are many choices available to safely pair with cheesy casseroles, bacon-laden salads, and cranberry-dolloped anything. These bottles appear on tables every year as a backdrop to flavorful faves. But what if you want to switch things up, all while avoiding Aunt Lucy’s cross-examination of your dating life or uncomfortable election topics? Steer the conversation in another (delicious) direction with these alternative wines for your Thanksgiving feast.
If You Like Champagne, Try Franciacorta
Nothing says ‘festive celebration’ like Champagne. Its secret weapon — fresh and tart acidity — is perfect for decadent, salty, and fatty foods, from simple potato chips or oozy cheeses to turkey gravy. And a slight mineral note marries well with ocean bounty, especially shellfish.
But, no surprise, Champagne can be expensive. Enter Franciacorta, Italy’s most prestigious bubbly, coming from the northern region of Lombardy.
Franciacorta embodies the same yeast autolysis as Champagne, resulting from the magic that occurs inside the bottle during the second fermentation. Methode Champenoise in Champagne, or the traditional method outside the prestigious region, produces toasty brioche-like aromas.
Franciacorta is made within even stricter standards than its French counterpart, including extended minimum aging and lower maximum yields. It encompasses all the above virtues but also adds a touch of Italian sensibility.
The Lombardy region is also slightly warmer than Champagne, which reflects in more supple, fruitier expressions – think peaches and melon, in addition to lemon and green apple. Franciacorta can also exude aromas of fresh herbs like spearmint, marjoram, and oregano, making it gastronomically friendly by bridging with sauces.
Try Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta with a saffron butter and preserved lemon turkey with olive stuffing.
In this clip from A Closer Look at Franciacorta, available on SOMM TV, Ca’ del Bosco founder, Maurizio Zanella, and winemaker, Stefano Capelli, explain the different styles of Franciacorta.
If You Like Pinot Grigio, Try Vermentino
Italian wines, with their backbone of acidity, are designed for food. No wonder Pinot Grigio from the rolling hills of the Venetian countryside is such a popular choice on our tables. Light and citrussy, with its unobtrusive character, it fits in as a perfect background for most dishes.
Instead of this household name, surprise your guests with another lesser-known Italian gem — Vermentino. With its layers of grapefruit and lime zest reminiscent of the good ol’ Pinot Grigio, it stands out with a complex daffodil bouquet and a surprising note of almonds. The same zippy acidity frames this pleasantly bitter almondy finish for a palate refresher. Vermentino is best grown on the coast, in places such as Bolgheri or the island of Sardinia. This proximity to the sea gives the wine a beautiful dimension of salty minerality that goes great with seafood and finger foods, yet the wine is generous enough to go with your choice of the day’s main dish.
If You Like IPA, Try Pet Nat
Pet Nat, short for Petillant Naturel, is a unique wine made using the ancestral method. This ancient process, invented by the 16th-century monks in Limoux, France, is experiencing a renaissance among sommelier circles.
Partially fermented must is put into bottles, where it continues fermentation, converting sugar into more alcohol, creating creamy wine of various degrees of sweetness and effervescence. Its cider-like flavors make it a perfect intro wine for beer-guzzling guests, specifically IPA (India Pale Ale) — a hoppy and bold style of beer.
Pet Nat typically has bready and yeasty notes, making it a great accompaniment to savory dishes. Slightly bitter-sweet, with citrus pith, it has a lot going on to be a major player on the palate. Its savory earthiness pairs well with mushrooms and herbs, while bubbles refresh the taste buds.
If You Like Port, Try Madeira
Many consumers might lump these two in the same category, and technically, they’d be right. But looking at what makes each unique, the two wines are quite distinctive.
Port is a fortified wine originating from Portugal. It’s synonymous with dessert and evokes romantic images of vineyards on steep slopes of the winding River Douro. Even at a modest price, Port amazes with complex dry and fresh fruit, roasted nuts, and a cognac-like note from its fortifying spirit.
In contrast, Madeira — another heritage-fortified wine from Portugal — is great with dessert but can be a perfect off-the-beaten-path pairing throughout the meal. It also gets a boost with spirit but, unlike Port, is made in many sweetness levels.
Drier styles produced of noble varieties like Sercial and Verdelho possess all the lushness of Port but peak with screaming acidity to stand up to various foods. Aging through heating and oxidation develops nutty, roasted, smoky, and caramelized sugar flavors to pair with robust dishes. A balance between sugar, acidity and spice makes it suitable for well-seasoned and bold dishes from grilled seafood appetizers, through meaty mains, to a pungent cheeseboard for dessert.
In this clip from An Intro to Fortified Wines, available on SOMM TV, Claire Coppi explains the heating process that Madeira goes through, plus the various styles available.
If All Else Fails, Stick With Pinot
And for the reds, If you like Pinot Noir, drink Pinot Noir. Nothing new here, folks – this holiday staple is here for a reason. With notes of savory herbs, mushrooms, and game, it matches the flavors of a traditional turkey offering and its trimmings. Subtle berries complement cranberry sauce. Plus, its delicate tannins won’t overwhelm the palate.
If you want to wow your guests and venture to less travelled places, skip Burgundy and Oregon, and search for bottles from Central Otago in New Zealand or Baden in Germany.
Pinot Noir is like the little black dress of wine: classy and timeless, so go ahead. Dress to impress this season!