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Wine Review: Pair your turkey with these suggestions

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The third Thursday of November is universally recognized as the opening of the annual wine vintage year – traditionally ushered in by the release of the latest vintage of the dry red French Beaujolais nouveau and some massive parties. The timing also is right for the Thanksgiving holiday the following week.

I previously believed guests at my Thanksgiving dinner would be impressed by me serving them that particular wine. I have to admit serving a dry red wine with sweet side dishes completely ruined that dinner and, with it, my reputation as a wine expert with the family.

To accompany the Thanksgiving dinner, whether the main course is turkey or ham, a white wine or rose should be the order of the day. These wines will not clash with sweet Thanksgiving goodies. The wine you choose should not be super dry or woody, so I do not recommend a chardonnay as your beverage of choice. A chardonnay is too austere and definitely will interfere with the table's sweets. I also am not suggesting a sweet wine with dinner, as it often will overpower the flavors of the foods served.

A good choice for this year's Thanksgiving table could be a pinot grigio. These wines are dry, but not overly dry. There is always a hint of sweetness in the background to accompany everything served from the turkey or the ham to the side dishes without affecting their sweetness or interfering with any of the other items. An Italian or Californian pinot grigio will do well, but I do not recommend a French pinot grigio or pinot gris for Thanksgiving as they are too dry for the occasion.

Another good choice is a sauvignon blanc, but again, only one from the West Coast. Foreign sauvignon blanc wines often are very dry and show an obvious grass-like flavor element. I do not believe that grass goes well with cranberry sauce. An American sauvignon blanc plays down the grass, resulting in an almost perfect accompaniment to the dinner.

If your choice is a rose, some French rose wines often are too dry. The rose wines of the Rhone River region are the exceptions and will elegantly fit in with the Thanksgiving servings, as will any from the American West Coast.

For or with dessert, I’d suggest a German riesling or a Hungarian Tokaji. If your choice is German, make sure the bottle label does not say “kabinet,” indicating a wine that will be much too dry for dessert. Not to scare you with some German words, but “spatlese” or “auslese” on the label will indicate a sweeter wine. There also is a noticeable flavor difference between a German riesling and an American riesling derived from the vineyard's location.

Tokaji wines are rated for their sweetness by the term “puttonyos,” which is Hungarian for “buckets.” It indicates the number of buckets of dried raisins that were added to the fermentation. The number of puttonyos is always listed on the label with a 1-6 rating, with 1 being the least sweet. A 6 rating means super sweet and typically indicates the wine is expensive and more of an experience than a beverage.

I hope these suggestions help you with your Thanksgiving preparations and that you enjoy a happy, safe and healthy holiday.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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