Food, Wine

Thanksgiving: What to Drink and When to Drink It

November 24, 2014

Everyone has their own Thanksgiving tradition, whether it’s a full family reunion or a simple dinner for two at home. For me, family is what you make it, so I’ve spent the last 20 years eating turkey with my two best friends, their families and the occasional add on (boyfriend, neighbor, cat that lives under the porch and so on).

About a year ago, I helped open a wine store in Brooklyn and in the process, started to pick up a little bit of wine knowledge. So, in addition to bringing some serious pie-making skills to the table (I’m also a bit of a gravy, kale salad and cranberry sauce aficionado), I’ve started to oversee the wine selection for the big day.

What I’ve learned is this: With a few carefully selected bottles and just a little planning ahead (that means chilling wine a day in advance and stocking your liquor cabinet), you can add pairings that make every course more flavorful and fun.

The Kitchen Dwellers and The Couch Loafers
Some of us are the cooks, most of us are eaters, but either way we all need a little something to get us in the festive spirit around noon. That means brunch cocktails! My group likes to make huge pitchers of Bloody Marys (with the works: celery, olives, lots of black pepper, Tobasco, Old Bay, lemon wedges and horseradish) using high-quality and clean-tasting vodka. If it’s a bit too early for the hard stuff, hand people glasses of Mimosas or Bellinis as they shuffle into the busy kitchen (and then quickly usher them out again). Light, crisp and inexpensive Cavas or Proseccos are great for this. Remember this: It’s never a bad time for bubbly.

Want something seasonal? Try a hard sparkling apple cider. It is guaranteed to get everyone into the Thanksgiving spirit.

The Arrival
Sometime in the early afternoon, guests start showing up and milling around the living room (usually pretending to be helpful, but really trying to get dinner’s ETA). Don’t panic, the steps to placating guests are simple: 1. Find the cold bottles of white wine that you put in your fridge yesterday, 2. Open the wine, 3. Pour into glasses and hand to guests. Congrats, you just bought yourself an hour!

We often start off with light appetizers so that people don’t feel full before the big meal. Wine can also give people that full feeling if it’s too heavy, so I like to serve Chenin Blancs, Picpouls, Pecorinos and Viogniers. These tend to have some nice acidity with fruity notes, which makes them easy to drink on their own or with small snacks.

The Big Meal
Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes signal that it’s time to break out the reds. And since it’s a special occasion, you can get a little fancy and open some pricier bottles.

Some people prefer to go with big, burly varietals, like a Nebbiolo-based Barolo, to match the heavy fare, which have major red fruit notes with great structure and full-bodies. I prefer something a little more unique and festive than your typical red wine, like a sparkling red. It’s big-meal appropriate because it’s a red wine, but its bubbles make for some great toasts. I’m also a big fan of a balanced Zinfandel because they have fruity and spice notes with a bit of body and some lovely tannins, but aren’t so big that they’re overwhelming.

The After-Dinner Lounge
Everyone has a different approach to the after-dinner, full-stomach, nap-needing slump. Some watch a movie, others jump right into clean-up mode, and others, like us, like to sit back with a warm, relaxing libation and take it all in. (Bonus points if there’s a fireplace and slippers involved).

A nice easy red is our favorite way to unwind. We go for luscious, comforting Malbecs because they aren’t too heavy. For white wine drinkers, I’d recommend a Riesling to match the sweet notes from all the pie you just ate (sometimes a lighter white wine is needed when you’re in the unbuttoned-pants stage).

The Next Morning
My crew doesn’t take a break and try to “eat light” the next day. As soon as we wake up, we dive into cold, leftover pie, usually fighting over that last slice of apple (note to self: bake two apple pies this year). Some of us may even tear into some turkey doused in cold cranberry sauce. And yes, there are usually more Bloody Marys involved.

Specific Bottle Suggestions
Starting the Day
Dibon Cava Brut Reserve – A balanced, dry Cava with good bubbles and a decent kick.
TreCase Prosecco – Perfect crisp Prosecco: fizzy apples and melon.
Industry City Distillery Industry Standard Vodka – Great in a Bloody Mary!
True Believer Apple Cider – Like biting into a crisp apple. But better.

Alain Paret Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2013 – White peach and green plums.
Fiorano Pecorino ‘Donna Orgilla’ Offida 2012 – Tartly honest citrus that won’t take no for an answer.
Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2012 – Grapefruit and pineapple balance each other and any spicy food they meet along the way.

The Big Meal
Poderi Roset Barolo 2009 – Smooth cherry with tang and a kick.
Josetta Saffirio Barolo 2009 – Big red fruits with tobacco and wood that add structure.
Villa di Corlo Lambrusco Sorbara – Primevo – Dry, light and sparkling with cherry and raspberries.
Bella Vineyards Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel 2010 – Perfectly balanced and textured, the right amount of fruit and spice.

After Dinner
El Porvenir de Los Andes Laborum Malbec 2011 – Raspberry, cherry, chocolate and spice.
PJ Valckenberg Der Stift Riesling 2012 – Like a bowl of lemons with a touch of sugar.

Selina Andersson heads up events and social media for Tipsy, a wine and spirits shop in Brooklyn, where you can find all these bottles and more. Visit us at the corner of Myrtle and Classon or online at

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  • ClaudeScales

    Call me a chauvinist, but I think that, because Thanksgiving is an American holiday, we should celebrate it with American wines and spirits. I heartily second your vodka and cider recommendations, which score New York chauvinism as well. For the main course I’d go with a lighter red, perhaps an Oregon pinot noir. If you prefer something more assertive, one of the very good cabernet francs from the North Fork would be an appropriate choice. For dessert, a riesling or gewurztraminer from the Finger Lakes; you can’t go wrong with that region’s vinifera pioneer, Dr. Konstantin Frank.