Choosing the Perfect Thanksgiving Wine

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In preparation for arguably the best holiday of the year (Thanksgiving), we sat down with Hickory Creek Winery’s owner and winemaker Adam McBride to get the lowdown on how to choose the best wines for turkey day.

GR|MAG: What’s a good type of wine to bring as a host gift?

AM: Bringing wine as a gift can be tricky and maybe a little intimidating. I’d recommend bringing two bottles. One that you love, and one that is a known crowd pleaser like an off-dry Riesling.

GR|MAG: If you could choose one type of wine to serve, what will fit the lavish Thanksgiving Day spread?

AM: Pinot Noir is the go-to Thanksgiving wine, but it’s not the only option when it comes to red wine. I would stick to a medium-bodied Syrah or a Cab Franc (Michigan’s most widely planted red grape). Domaine Berrien made an amazing 2016 Cab Franc. Karma Vista’s 2014 Reserve Syrah is also a great choice. If you can’t get away from Pinot Noir, I love KV’s 2015 Stone Temple Pinot. If you can get your hands on a bottle of 2015 St. Julian Braganini Reserve Pinot Noir, do it. But don’t bring it to Thanksgiving. Just get a hold of me and I’ll help you drink it.

My 2017 Oaked Viognier has the structure to stand up to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, while the balanced acidity can cut through heavy foods like mashed potatoes and stuffing. The citrus fruit will be refreshing to wash down this type of meal.

GR|MAG: Red or white — which do you think works best? Or should you offer both?

AM: You should absolutely offer both. A safe bet is to open a medium-bodied dry red (think Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Syrah) and an off-dry white with good acidity (think Late Harvest Riesling).

GR|MAG: Dessert wine — should you serve one since there are so many other desserts?

AM: Desserts can be tough to pair with wine. Sweetness in food makes the bitter flavors in wine more prominent, so you have to be careful. A Sauternes or a Tokaj (dessert wines made from grapes with concentrated flavors from botrytis or “noble rot”) could be interesting. Going back to my time in Germany, a mulled spiced wine called Glühwein is a lot of fun to make. It warms the soul on a cold day and makes your home smell amazing. It also has enough sweetness to stand up to a slice of pumpkin pie.

GR|MAG: What’s the biggest mistake people make in picking out wines for dinner?

AM: The biggest mistake is overthinking it — trying to find the perfect wine, spending too much money, or trying to pick something to impress people. Most people will simply appreciate the gesture.

If you’re in the wine shop and are overwhelmed with the hundreds of choices, don’t ever be afraid or intimidated to ask for help. Same thing when you’re at a restaurant looking at a wine list. Servers, somms and wine shop staff are trained to know their wines and are eager to help. In fact, their job is to help! Typically, they will not try to upsell you, especially if you make your budget known.

You could say, for example, “I’m looking for two bottles of wine to bring to Thanksgiving dinner and want to spend between $15 and $20 per bottle. I’m not sure where to start, can you give me some ideas?” It will make their day to feel helpful. And if you really hate having those kinds of conversations, try an app like Vivinio. Simply snap a picture of the label or wine list and it will tell you all you need to know about the wine, including the typical price range.

One of my biggest influences is author and wine educator Tim Hanni, the ‘anti-wine snob.’ He says we should match wine to the diner, not the dinner. Find a bottle that will please the crowd and a bottle that will open up the conversation and you’ll be fine. If people don’t like the wine you picked, it means more for you. Win!

*Photo courtesy of Thinkstock Photos

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