Drink and Dine: Give Thanks for Versatile, Easy-to-Pair Wines

Whether you serve white or red, these six varietals will pair beautifully with just about anything, from turkey and tofurky to squash risotto, pumpkin pie, sage, scalloped potatoes or zesty mixed greens. Photo: AlexRaths/Getty Images

Any reason to break bread with friends and family is worth celebrating. And Thanksgiving, despite its somewhat strained connection to colonialism, is nonetheless a national holiday centered on solidarity and gratitude — virtues that we can all agree are worth toasting. It is also the only official fall long weekend, and it is non-denominational.

While Thanksgiving is a much bigger affair for our American cousins, Thanksgiving in Canada is our own special, usually low-key occasion. Of course, even within this rarefied milieu, traditions vary. For anyone hosting or attending a Thanksgiving dinner, the question of what wine to bring or serve can seem daunting, beholden not only to menu and budget considerations, but also to the whims of the crowd.

As we’ve noted before in this space, some wines are more versatile than others. If there was ever a time to put this concept to the test, it’s Thanksgiving where even the most “traditional” spreads – say, roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed apples ground and glazed carrots – contain contrasting elements of sweet, salty, savory and umami. A gargantuan, spicy Shiraz or a sour, apple-flavored Riesling won’t do you any favors here.

Likewise, plant-based meals based on things like roasted tofurky or ham-style roasts (both are stupidly delicious, by the way) can also feature similar contrasts, involving many of the same components as traditional turkey dinners, such as mashed potatoes, gravy cranberries and roasted vegetables.

And then there’s potluck, which, while offering an assortment of choices, is even more of a minefield for would-be wine geeks setting up their other diners for success, since you’re essentially working blind. Just because someone said they were bringing salad doesn’t mean they would. Or a salad could mean a hearty bean salad when you were expecting a mix of tangy greens. And it is the host who speaks; potluck guests are usually completely in the dark.

This is where versatile grape varieties save the day. Whether you bring white or red—or better yet, one of each—these six varietals will work beautifully with just about anything, from turkey and tofurky to squash risotto, pumpkin, turnip puree, sage stuffing, scalloped potatoes… or the hearty salad of tangy mixed beans and greens.

And remember, you can always sidestep the issue completely by bringing a dry sparkling to roll out as part of a welcome toast. No one in their right mind poo-poo before the bubbly dinner.

Whites not to be missed

Chablis: The crisp, slightly fruity notes of fresh Chablis are divine alongside turkey or tofurky as well as just about anything else on the holiday table, from soft or hard cheeses to apple pie. . Oaky Chardonnay is also divine but comes with the caveat that you need to know your audience. Some people really I hate chardonnay…or I think they do, although most of the time it’s not the grape itself but the oak barrel aging process – which infuses those woody, buttery, vanilla notes – who inspire hatred. Chablis, although made from Chardonnay grapes, has none of that. Even so-called “ABC” people (an acronym for “everything but chardonnay”) will generally appreciate Chablis.

Viognier: Beautifully aromatic and whisperingly fruity, Viognier is like Pinot Grigio’s more sophisticated big sister, with greater depth of flavor and complexity. It also lacks the astringency and grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc, which would overwhelm a savory stuffing and clash with sour vegetables like tomatoes or cabbage. A well-balanced Viognier is a revelation, and a very versatile wine indeed.

Pinot Gris : Arguably the most neutral of white whites, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (essentially the same varietal but grown in different regions) is the white no one hates, and it doesn’t usually inspire knock-knee devotion. Easy to drink, light, delicate and without big bold flavors, it works with anything you would instinctively associate with a blank, from fish to poultry, mussels to shrimp, quiche to cupcakes.

Reds not to be missed

Black Gamay: Sincere sommeliers will confirm that Gamay Noir is the only wine that goes absolutely and positively with everything. Now you know too. Yet this subtle, low-tannin and light highlight – something of a gateway red for those slowly expanding their palate – is much more robust than you might imagine, so while it won’t overwhelm poultry or meats at Soy-based, it also holds its own against clove ham, roast beef or earthy, salty mushroom dishes. And it serves well, slightly chilled.

Pinot Noir: All of the above, plus a very good Pinot Noir can be sublime with a much longer finish than Gamay Noir and more pronounced flavors of wood, smoke, cherry and berries. New Zealand, Oregon, France and even Canada produce exceptional Pinot Noirs; ask a wine merchant which recent vintages were the best in each region. The 2020 Niagara region Pinot Noirs, for example, are beautiful now and will be swoon-worthy in a few years.

Merlot: Like Pinot Gris, Merlot is neutral. Apart from this guy in Next to, nobody really hates Merlot; there just isn’t enough to get excited about. That said, a juicy, dry Merlot can enhance foods you’d instinctively associate with red, like sharp cheddar or meat dishes, without stealing the show.

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