But the joy and blessing of Thanksgiving is the plethora of wines that will work with some of the foods. The traditional buttery oaked California chardonnay has moved aside for zinfandel from Maryhill Winery near the Columbia Gorge, a Dunham syrah from Walla Walla or the huckleberry wines offered by Spokane-based Latah Creek or Townshend Cellars. Sparkling wine from Mountain Dome works with nearly every food on the table and gives the meal a festive atmosphere.
The real key to a holiday meal is serving wines your guests like. My mother-in-law, for example, likes red and white sweet wines, so each year, we look for a wine that she will enjoy with her meal. Last year, we had Natalie's Nectar from Latah Creek, along with a host of other wines for other guests.
Without breaking your wallet (you should not spend a lot of money on turkey wines), a good host can serve a handful of wines that compliment many different dishes and palates at the table. Here is how you do it.
The Wine Table
Instead of having large goblets on the table, use small tasting glasses and provide four per person. Set up a wine table in the dinning room where guests can have small pours from wines for the meal. If you know what your guests like, make those wines available. Otherwise, offer several whites and several reds and suggest to your dinner guests that they start with small tastes of the white wines.
A good offering could include chardonnay from the local Grande Ronde Cellars or Arbor Crest Winery, or a chardonnay from Walla Walla, such as Buty. For those who like something sweeter, provide a riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle (Eroica is terrific), or Latah Creek. Try a sauvignon blanc from Australia or New Zealand. The point is to mix it up and have a lot of fun at the table asking people what they liked or didn't like about the pairing.
With red wines, the obvious choice is pinot noir. I am a huge fan of Oregon pinot noir and have been disappointed that distributors don't offer larger selections in Eastern Washington. The only exception I would make to spending money at Thanksgiving or Christmas is buying a good Oregon pinot noir if your budget allows it. There are plenty of Oregon pinots for less than $20 -- A to Z Winery makes good, quaffable wines. David Bruce produces a good pinot from California in the $20-$30 range. Locally, Mountain Dome has a 2001 pinot noir under the Pleasant Prairie label that is drinking very well right now.
On your wine table, try a zinfandel (Maryhill is a good choice) or choose a Rosenblum zin from California. Since Walla Walla is knocking out fabulous syrah, include one in your tasting. Merlot would be a must wine, since it is food-friendly, and Washington state makes some of the best merlots in the country. The most consistent merlot comes from L'Ecole in Walla Walla, along with Columbia Crest -- and both are easy to find in the Spokane region.
Don't forget interesting varietals such as the barbera from Morrison Lane (Walla Walla), or malbec -- Arbor Crest has a nice one, along with a petite syrah. Barrister Winery offers cabernet franc (a great food wine) as does Vin du Lac (a winery making a lot of terrific blended wines).
Or, try Bordeaux blends -- usually consisting of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.
The bottom line is that nearly everything works. What I would avoid is big, hedonistic cabernet sauvignons or wines that are high in alcoholic content. You need acidity to cut through all the flavors on the table, not a wine that is a meal within itself. The interesting varietals often have less tannins and more acidity that work better with foods that contain fat, or are heavier in content and flavors.
Don't Forget the Leftovers
If your holiday meal is like mine, you will be eating turkey sandwiches and trying to figure out what to do with the leftover dinner rolls and vegetables. With a little preparation, you can preserve the wines opened on Thanksgiving and drink them with leftovers well into the next week. For a few days, keep the wines -- both red and white -- in the refrigerator. It will not harm a red wine, although take the wine out for an hour before serving.
A plastic pump that sucks air out of the wine bottle before you re-cork will preserve wine for up to a week. Wine shops, such as Vino's or Huckleberry's, sell inert gas that will keep wine fresh for a week. Each time you return the bottle to the refrigerator, put a little gas into the bottle to save it for another meal.
Thanksgiving is a great time of year to discover the fun of food and wine pairing. You'll get to taste wonderful wines while including of all your guests in dinner table conversations about what people like. It won't prevent Uncle Henry from asking the kids to pull his finger, but it might keep him otherwise occupied.