Whether you're sticking with the classics or trying something less traditional, it's always a good idea to branch out in what you're drinking along with Thanksgiving dinner. I caught up with Matt Dolan, who handles all things beer and wine at Rocket Market, and Kristi Gamble, a cocktail and spirit consultant, for a few tips on what to pair with your feast.
Stick to a story
For Dolan, whatever the drink, it should contribute to the conversation.
"It's an opportunity to try something different, especially with family or friends," he says. "Some family gatherings need stimulation."
Whether it's a seasonal beer, an obscure grape, or wine from a region you've always wanted to visit, a little context can elevate it to special. "You don't have to be a wine expert to have a wine with a story," says Dolan.
Splurge for your splash
While Dolan is all for a good value (he favors Crémant, the rest of France's answer to Champagne, but at a fraction of the price, as well as Australian port), he recommends spending a little more than usual for a celebratory dinner.
"When I'm in a festive setting I want to be wowed," he says. "You're with people that you consider special, why not make the wine match the people?"
Mix it up
Why should you choose a cocktail to complement your turkey?
"Why not?" says Gamble. While she's all for wine pairings, she feels that cocktails take the process a step further.
"Wine can be limiting," she says. "Once the bottle is open, the flavors are immutable. Cocktails, on the other hand, can be invented and tweaked to match a dish perfectly."
Gamble likens cocktail making to cooking.
"When you season a dish, you're thinking about combining flavors that taste good together," she says. "The same idea applies to cocktail pairings. This is where the miraculous happens: sometimes flavors in solid form and flavors in liquid form come together to create a third, delicious set of flavors, bringing out something you wouldn't taste if you hadn't tried them together."
"I always start with something bubbly," says Dolan. "There's a reason they call it the universal food wine."
Looking for a white wine? Dolan recommends a medium-bodied one. "They tend to be appealing to a wider spectrum of people," he says. His pick this year is a Pinot Gris.
If you're in the market for a food-friendly red, Dolan has a few options.
"I like Barbera, or sometimes Nebbiolo for a softer red," he says. "Pinot Noir is a slam dunk." He's also a fan of Zinfandel. "A roasted turkey would be amazing with Zin."
For dessert, Dolan favors a late-harvest Riesling or Gewürztraminer, or a tawny port, especially with pumpkin or pecan pie. "You can get a great bottle of tawny port for around $15, or you can get an exceptional, 10-year-aged tawny port for around $20 to $30," he says.
Although it might not be natural to think of pairing beer with a Thanksgiving dinner, Dolan thinks it's a great bet. For Thanksgiving, he's a fan of German hefeweizens, seasonal beers, fresh hop (also known as wet hop) beers, and barrel-aged Imperial stouts. Gamble plays with contrasts and complements in her cocktail pairings.
"Too much contrast could make one element overpower the other, so be careful, but a little bit of contrast can bring out good things in both. Also, consider picking a drink that offers continuity with the food, complementing similar characteristics and helping them shine," she says.
Both Dolan and Gamble agree: pairings are all about your palate. Drink what you like above all else. ♦
Matt Dolan's picks for wine and beer*
Crémant: Domaine Albert Bichot, $23/bottle
Pinot Gris: Elk Cove 2015, Oregon, $18
Pinot Noir: Row 503 by Drouhin, Oregon, $18
Barbera: Poderi Ruggeri Corsini, Italy, $17
Zinfandel: Thurston Wolfe, Washington, $19
Dessert wine: Capitello Ice Wine of Gewürztraminer, Oregon, $22
Port: Niepoort Tawny, Portugal, $18
German hefeweizen: Franziskaner Weissbier, $2.75/bottle
Seasonal: Iron Horse Cozy Sweater, A smooth vanilla milk stout from Ellensburg, $1.65
Fresh/Wet Hop: Sierra Nevada Celebration fresh hop IPA, $1.60
Barrel-aged Imperial stout: The benchmark is Fremont Kentucky Dark Star from Seattle's neighborhood of the same name. $22 for a 22-ounce bottle. Served close to room temperature with pumpkin pie, it's super-dreamy.
* all prices from Rocket Market