A lot about Thanksgiving is nonnegotiable.
A lot about Thanksgiving is nonnegotiable. The bird must be brined/deep-fried/tofurkey. Stuffing must be from a box or from scratch, in the bird or not.
And then there's the whole to marshmallow or not to marshmallow dilemma, a sticky wicket if ever there was one.
Fortunately, when it comes to what wine to serve with all that tradition, the rules are much more flexible. Sure, pinot noir is a classic match for poultry, but this year why not think a little farther afield?
Venture Into Viognier
Pronounced vee-ohn-YAY, this is a floral white wine that is originally French but was brought to America in the 1970s, where it flourished. So, a California viognier might be one way to bring an American wine to this most American of feasts, says master sommelier Gilles de Chambure, director of wine education at the Meadowood resort in the Napa Valley.
"It's full-bodied and rich so it goes with the texture of the meat," he said. "It has a nuttiness as well that goes very well with the stuffing and has enough sweetness that it can bridge all the way to dessert and pumpkin pie."
Aim For Argentina
Keeping things American, but in the southern half of the continent, Argentina is a good choice for reasonably priced wines, always a consideration when you have a crowd. That country's malbecs are very popular right now, and there are a number of good ones in the $10 range and even cheaper.
Another option is torrontes, the white wine of Argentina.
"It's a really fun idea," says Richard Betts, a New York master sommelier and negociant — someone who buys wine in the bulk market, then blends and bottles it — who also makes wine under his own label, CC Wines. "Thanksgiving is obviously about wanting to put food on the table and sometimes you need a little bit of richness in your wine to match that."
Floral and fruity but with a fresh bite of acidity, torrontes "brings the exuberance you need to go with things like pumpkin and stuffing and thyme," says Betts.
And as long as you're thinking white, a prosecco, the sparkling wine from Italy, is another light choice that won't put too big a bite on your wallet.
Zoom In On Zin
California wines can be pricey, but one grape that consistently offers good value is zinfandel.
"It's a California crowd pleaser, very accessible," says James Darden, wine director at celebrity chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega Napa Valley restaurant. When pairing wines, he likes to focus on the trimmings more than the turkey. Do you have a big, brothy gravy that requires a heartier wine? "I like my gravy to go with mashed potatoes and biscuits, so the heartier the better," says Darden, who makes his own wine with brother Daniel. Zins also have the richness to stand up to tart cranberry sauce, another piece of the Thanksgiving pairing equation.
Another red choice might be a tempranillo from Spain.
Go Mad For Madeira
When it comes to dessert one sweet wine to consider is Madeira, a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. A favorite of the founding fathers, this was "the first 'cult' wine of America," says de Chambure, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Over the years, interest in the wine faltered and the emergence of some blends good for cooking only didn't helped Madeira's image. But there is good Madeira to be had, including some created by the Sonoma-based Rare Wine Co., says de Chambure.
"You're toasting a little history there," says de Chambure.
More online:Betts, http://www.drinkcc.comRare Wine Co., http://www.rarewineco.com/Darden, www.rivalwine.com