No two Thanksgivings are the same. We may all celebrate with nearly identical menus, but family dynamics are different for everyone. And they're, um, pretty interesting. So, I've decided to offer wine pairings based on some of the most awkward situations possible.
If you're wondering why I'm not addressing the more traditional food-and-wine pairing aspect of Thanksgiving, there are two reasons. The first is that literally every wine writer in the United States has tackled this topic, sometimes annually. I think there's some Magic Eight Ball out there for major wine publications that has a few different responses like, "Beaujolais," "Obscure Sparkling Wine," and "Tavel," and writers just shake it and see what it says this year. Not because they're hacks, but because it's hard to come up with new wine pairing ideas for the same darn meal, every year.
The second reason is that no wine is really that great of a match with Thanksgiving dinner, because turkey is usually a little dry and easily overwhelmed by strongly flavored wine, and the rest of the table is a cacophony of different flavors, from sweet to earthy to rich. This makes for fun eating, but difficult wine pairing. You should serve whatever wine makes you feel celebratory and warm and fuzzy inside.
That said, these wines should help — no matter what you're serving and what awkward situation you find yourself in.
If you're worried people are going to talk politics ...
Getting together with your entire, huge extended family for Thanksgiving seemed like a good idea when you RSVPed. But after an email chain that's about 4,503 messages long, by the time the weekend before Thanksgiving arrives you're already exhausted and worried about who's going to say what.
You need a middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser. The La Granja line is your best bet for inexpensive red wine that strikes the right balance between being full-bodied but not overwhelming. It'll mollify Cabernet lovers but it won't offend anyone else. Both the Tempranillo and the Garnacha/Tempranillo blend go for less than $5 I'm always shocked by how good these are. Will they blow you away with complexity? No, but you're just trying to keep the peace here.
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If your family tends to take things to the extremes ...
Sounds like you need a big-ass bottle of sparkling wine. When wine nerds say that everything's better in a big bottle, it isn't just a thinly veiled dirty joke, it's actually true. Wine ages a bit more gracefully in the 1.5-liter bottles, usually called magnums. The opening where the cork goes in is the same size, but there's twice as much wine. Air exposure over time is how wine ages, so a larger wine-to-air ratio will slow that down.
Trader Joe's sparklers from both France and California are pretty solid (the German and Spanish ones, not so much), and TJ's offers their L'Eclat Blanc de Blancs in a 1.5-liter format for only $11.99. Sparkling wine pretty much goes with everything. Note: A magnum is really just the equivalent of two bottles, so you might actually need more than one.
If you're hosting and know you're going to be super stressed out ...
If you're the kind of person who thinks Future You will love making eight different dishes from various back issues of Gourmet magazine that you've collected over the years, but then Present You is a ball of sour-smelling nervous sweat by noon on the actual day, you may want to read this.
Since you've already gone a little overboard on the menu planning, don't make the wine you serve equally complicated. Go with something simple and reliable. Trader Joe's Ferme Julien line is solid top to bottom, but the Ferme Julien Rouge is a steal at $5.99. If you like Côtes du Rhone, Grenache (Côtes du Rhone is mostly Grenache usually), or fuller-bodied Pinot Noirs, you'll love this one. It tastes best after about 20 minutes in the fridge.
If your group is somehow allergic to every single thing ...
If you're hosting and half the people in your group have a gluten allergy, are vegan, or have some other dietary restriction, cooking dishes everyone will enjoy can be pretty challenging, and you may end up with a rather odd assortment of things on the table so that you'll cover everyone and no one will go hungry, which would really be a tragedy on everyone's favorite ritualized overeating holiday.
The one thing that shouldn't stress you out is what wine to serve. Although we've deemed summer rosé season, you can drink it all year round, and a lot of rosés have just started to taste their best by the time late fall rolls around anyway. The Emma Reichart Rosé is $4.99, and while I don't normally love rosé made from Pinot Noir, this one is very dry and tart, making it perfect for crunchy, crisp appetizers and rich Thanksgiving food.
If you're celebrating Thanksgiving with strangers (or alone) ...
I spent a year in my mid 20s living in California going to wine school, which was mostly amazing, except that I decided not to go back to the East Coast where my parents and friends were for Thanksgiving, thinking that it would be a silly waste of money to fly back twice in the space of basically a month. I'd just go back for Christmas! It would be fine! But when the actual day came, I felt a little weird and lonely. I went to a potluck that my school's student housing held, but I didn't really know anyone, so I just sat there for 30 minutes making awkward small talk while balancing a piece of pumpkin pie on a paper plate in my lap.
Later that night, I got what I really wanted, which was takeout. I got some kind of by-the-slice pizza situation, and ate it in my pajamas on my bed while watching something silly — probably reruns of The L Word because that's one of my go-tos — and it was so much better than pretending to be cheerful and festive with strangers. If I had it to do over again I'd get takeout sushi and enjoy it with the Espiral Vinho Verde, which I usually see for about $5 at Trader Joe's — because if you're on your own, you can eat whatever the heck you want!