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Every Thanksgiving, my mom keeps a case of wine near the back wall of our kitchen. It’s there for easy access so that as we empty bottles—nothing elicits a feeling of gratitude quite like a full glass of wine—I can replace the empties with a bottle of some full-bodied red. It’s usually a Pinot Noir or a nondescript blend simply labeled, “Red Wine.”
After the turkey, sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows), and news of your cousin’s latest food allergy, wine can be second hat. As long as it’s red, plentiful, and the turkey doesn’t burn, it’s all good. But it could be better. And at a traditional Thanksgiving table (have you seen our classic menu?), wine can be a fun place to play around with new flavors. Randall Restiano, the wine director at Eli's Table, and Italian winemaker Marina Cvetic shared some of their favorite, untraditional wines to serve at your Thanksgiving table this year (or bring as host gifts!):
As Guests Arrive
What better a way to greet guests as they arrive inside from the cold than with a glass of Champagne? While Randall says that while pairing bubbly with dishes can be very limiting, he “always likes to serve Champagne when everyone arrives.” Marina says that her favorite “apertif wine” is Pecorino. She says, “It’s a very light, elegant white wine [that wouldn’t pair well with dinner] that’s perfect to welcome your family with when they walk through the door—it creates an enjoyable atmosphere.”
- Champagne or sparkling wine: Prepare your palate for dinner with a dry wine like Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut.
For the Main Event
The first time I met Randall in July to speak about orange wines, he suggested I put it on my Thanksgiving table—four months later, his opinion hasn’t changed. He told me over the phone, “The Thanksgiving table is always confusing because there are so many flavors at once—trying to pair wines can be tricky.” While white wines tend to work well with the turkey, red wines work better with some of the more robust sides. Randall says, “Orange wines play at both sides.”
Orange wine shares a characteristic with red wine in its tannins (which it gets from skin contact with the grapes), and it has something Randall refers to as sauvage, a wild and natural flavor that’s crisp and common in white wines. Plus, its slight residual sugar makes it sweet enough to stand up to dishes like yams and sweet potatoes.
- For red: wines made from Pineau d'Aunis or Barbera grapes
- For orange: wines made by Paulo Bea, Lamoresca, Panevino (all Italian winemakers)
Because variety is the spice of Thanksgiving, Randall says that he will also always have some sparkling rosé, and prefers those from the Loire Valley. Marina agrees that dark rosés work well on the Thanksgiving table because their “taste, fragrance, crispness, and level of acidity” make them suitable for any food (especially if you’re going the rogue route. On top of being delicious, Randall adds that the untraditional wines “entice people to ask what it is,” and thus start an interesting dinner conversation (“Well, I read this amazing article on this fantastic site, Food52…”).
- For sparkling rosé: Try the winemaker Les Trois Bonhommes in Loire Valley, France.
- For a dark rosé: Marina suggests her own Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo DOC, and if you can find it, Mark Angeli's Rosé d'un Jour is delicious.
Instead of riesling this year, serve something that has a balance of acidity so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet and doesn’t overpower your pumpkin pie. Randall recommends Passito di Pantelleria (an Italian DOC for a type of wine made on the island of Pantelleria) or a fortified wine like Madeira sherry.
- For a Passito di Pantelleria: Try this one made by the actress Carole Bouquet.
Do you have any untraditional wines you like to serve at Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments below!