Thanksgiving: Our Wine Holiday

Let us give thanks. For the Web. Because thanks to the World Wide Web, America’s homegrown feasting holiday has become, all but officially, America’s Wine Holiday.

Gone are days when magazines ruled the turkey roost, staging months-ahead test-kitchen spreads and photo shoots, with a chosen-few wines plucked for 15 days of November fame. Now that every American household may have as many computer mouses as it does mice, the availability of Thanksgiving wine recommendations has busted out across the full expanse of cyberspace. Go Bing “thanksgiving wines” and you’ll get 7,190,000 results. What once seemed like a black hole of collective wine anxiety has been filled with a veritable googol of options. National wine dysfunction has shifted into overdrive.

thanksgiving turkey

The amazing thing is, whether the source is gatekeeping magazines from Martha on down or local merchants from Maine to LA, the advice getting dished out via the Web (at least from my perusal of an admittedly small sample of the 7 million-plus) is remarkably good. Those charged with the task are rising to it, for the most part, with gusto and sincerity. They are recognizing that the Thanksgiving menu is an exercise in controlled food chaos; they are promoting diversity among wine choices; they are emphasizing genres, not must-have bottles. In short, the armies of T’giving wine-advice givers are empowering wine lovers to approach the fourth Thursday of November with flexible strategies and relative abandon.

And why not?  Wine lovers who have been down this road before understand how many ways it can diverge—with success. You’ve got your bubblies and rosés and Rieslings (oh my!). You can pick a Pinot or three—Noir, Gris, even Grigio. Chenin? Sure. Chinon. Double-sure.Then there’s Bojo and Chardo (steely or oaky okay) and Gee-whats-her-name-er. Plus reds galore to be poured without fear: Zin, Syrah, Shiraz, Grenache, Tempranillo…heck, you can even unscrew a Merlot without flinching.

I do believe we’ve reached a tipping point. People get it: Thanksgiving is open season, a solid green light to drink whatever you want—and/or to experiment. Think about it: what really does not go with Thanksgiving’s peaceful riot of flavors? You can leave your trophy Napa Cabs in the cellar, I’d say. And heavy Italian reds.  What else doesn’t fit… wines from Turkey? Butterball Vineyards? If it’s grape-based and fermented, there’s probably someone somewhere saying, “Bring it on.”

In perhaps a sideways sign that a new era is at hand, we’re starting to see spots of backlash—from the cognoscenti—to the annual challenge of what to drink with the bird. It started last year actually, with über-blogger Alder Yarrow ranting at Vinography. This month Eric Asimov mustered up a once-and-for-all-ish article, serving up six years worth of New York Times taste-testing on one platter. Jon Bonné gritted his teeth and delivered a grand slam overview in the San Francisco Chronicle, but not before opening with a passive-aggressive “Dear Thanksgiving Wine Worrier:” and later emitting a full-paragraph “Sigh.” Linda Murphy deftly dishes out “thanks, and no thanks” in this “turkey of a year” at Wine Review Online; worth a read, certainly, but having written “dozens of wines-for-Thanksgiving stories,” she wants no part of the bird anymore.

A touch of fatigue, a smidgen of cynicism… Are these signs that the holiday shark about to be jumped? A spiral descent toward wine anarchy? I doubt it. When pundits harrumph, it just shows how deeply wine has moved into the Thanksgiving conversation.

I am reminded of an observation shared last November by epicurean writer Regina Schrambling []. She called Thanksgiving “a food writer’s most-hated holiday,” adding: “We rewrite the Kama Sutra every goddamn year, and readers are totally happy with the missionary position: turkey breast up, guests face-down in overloaded plates.”

Food-wise, Thanksgiving is one huge sacred cow. Most people are more than happy to see the same spread every year. It’s nothing if not a grand exercise Comfort Food. Messing with the menu or prep is asking for trouble (at my house, we don’t even vary the Jell-O molds, and have to have one yam casserole with marshmallows, one without).

Wine-wise, on the other hand, Thanksgiving has come to be anticipated and embraced as a free-for-all. Different wines every year are the happy norm (with precious few even being remembered from last November). In fact, if you give-thanks with lots of wine peeps it can even be a sort of reverse scavenger hunt—wines turn up that you’d never even think of looking for. Most important of all, no matter what bottles (or even boxes) make their way in the door, chances are good that everyone finds a wine they like at Thanksgiving. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

There is no doubt in my mind that the dramatic evolution in America’s approach to wine for Thanksgiving is due largely to the Web. More so than directing specific wines into specific hands, the widespread Web buzz of appropriate turkey partners has created a condition of positive laissez-faire. Thanks to the Web, it’s all good on Thanksgiving.

So what’s next? I am suggesting here—on the Web—that wine lovers declare Thanksgiving as a wine holiday. In fact, confining it to one day seems counterproductive. Let’s make it…a whole fortnight. Two weeks of happy wine-picking. And then, maybe, we can spill the holiday back from the Web to the streets. Just think: next year, say around November 8th, all those Halloween super-stores get transformed into Thanksgiving Wine Outposts, where (permits permitting), greenmarket-style, vendors can show off their wine wares fit for man, bird or beast…. Call it a dream.

Maybe that’s a little far-fetched. But this I do know: People are having fun with the whole question of what to enjoy with turkey and relatives alike. That alone is reason next Thursday to pause and give thanks for how the Web has made Thanksgiving a true feel-good day for wine. 

Tish’s 2009 T-giving Top 10

At our house, where we have anywhere from 12 to 20 guests every year for Thanksgiving, I am never quite sure precisely which wines are going to get opened. That’s part of the fun of hosting—being able to run down and grab something I think of. But here are my probable picks for a T-giving Top 10:

  • Beaujolais Nouveau. This stroke of marketing genius still deserves a spot at the table. I plan to buy 2 bottles of GDB this Thursday and test them with my class at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. If it earns a thumb up, will buy more next week.
  • Off-dry Riesling. Pleases Aunt Tillie from the get-go, and provides a fruity foil to sweet and tart and gamey flavors alike.
  • Côtes-du-Rhône. If not now, when? All-purpose vin, made irresistible in the stellar 2007 vintage.
  • Provence Rosé. It’s a good year to toast the way Europe rallied to reassert the spiritual home of classic dry pink wine. Might also result in pleasant summer flashbacks.
  • Pinot Noir. This is the one bottle I’ll make a high-ender, as a reward for the conscientious wine lovers who make the trek to Katonah, New York.
  • Oregon Pinot Gris. A wholly underappreciated American white wine. I have a bottle of King Estate rattling around downstairs; time to share.
  • Bordeaux. Humble Bordeaux, that is. Nothin’ fancy. I crack one open every year, with fine results.
  • Rioja Reserva. Like BDX, a quiet crowd-pleaser, and worth stepping up to the Reserva level. Food-friendly 4-ever!
  • Buttery Chardonnay. Keeps the wife and others happy. That’s important.
  • P-X. Nothing says hola! to a parade of pecan/pumpkin pies like Pedro-Ximenez.

— W. R. Tish is the editor of Palate Press, as well as a blogger (The Wine Skewer) and wine event specialist ( He has done work for multiple wine regions of France and Spain.