For some, it’s an annual dilemma: the Thanksgiving feast is just around the corner but you still don’t know which wine to serve. If you were just pairing with the bird, it would be easy. But think about your typical Thanksgiving table: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (maybe even with marshmallows), candied pecan garnishes… Half the traditional Thanksgiving sides tend to have in common one particular challenge to choosing a wine: sweetness.
As it turns out, here at Jujube we face the same challenge every single day.
Asian food, like holiday fare, is often heavier on the sugar content than our everyday meals. One of the ways we’ve made our food “fusion” is to actually back off somewhat on the sugar, which makes it more wine-friendly. However, we can’t eliminate the sweetness entirely without failing to capture the essence of the food that inspires us. Take our Jujube Bolognese, for instance. The hoisin that makes it so delicious also makes it a bit sweet. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So how do we curate a wine list that works with our food, and how can we apply that to your Thanksgiving table? I’ll tell you -- first, it helps to understand what sweetness in wine does to sweetness in food.
The wine “intelligencia” realized some time ago that wines with a little sweetness (or at least ripe texture and plenty of fruit) went well with Asian cuisine, but they focused on the wrong reason. They figured that the sugar cut the heat (which sugar does), but failed to realize one important fact: plenty of Asian food is not actually spicy, but a lot of it is at least a little sweet. And if what you’re eating is sweeter than what you’re drinking, what you’re drinking tastes tart and insipid by comparison. However, the same is not true for the opposite. I mean, think of a hamburger and fries with a coke. Delicious, right?
What sweet food means for your wine is that tannic reds taste bitter; very dry, high acid whites taste tart and unappealing. And some find whites high in oak clash (though I am not of that opinion).
So, now -- what can we drink that balances all the flavors on the table and in the glass?
Think unctuous and/or sweet whites.
Chenin Blanc - ask about the house style, especially those from Vouvray, and avoid those that are too dry. Look for “demi-sec” (half-dry) or juicy South African Chenin instead.
Riesling - first choice is Germany (but perhaps one that doesn’t say “trocken,” or dry); Alsatian or Austrian rieslings, while technically dry also work because they tend to be a bit riper. Avoid any from Clare or Eden Valley in Australia. Delicious wines, to be sure, but too racy and high-toned for what we’re looking for on Thanksgiving.
Gruner Veltliner - If you want a truly memorable experience, look for the word Smaragd on the label. That means “late harvest” and, while this might not translate into a particularly sweet wine, it does have the ripeness to carry the day.
Rhone grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, tend to be generous in texture, not very high in acid, and have the sort of “pie spice” aromatics that may blend wonderfully with your Thanksgiving table. Of course, getting them from a Rhone Valley producer is an obvious choice, but many in California’s Central Coast are doing a wonderful job with them as well.
What if you want red?
Zinfandel - it’s a slam dunk. It doesn’t really matter where it’s from; zins are typically generous and juicy, even in their driest form.
Grenache - also easy, because most are ripe, easy, low-tannin wines that will go wonderfully with the food. So, South of France, Spain, Australia, California -- you’re all good.
Beaujolais - a great choice if you want something a bit lighter, plus it often has a cranberry note that makes it a shoe-in.
A note on Beaujolais Nouveau: they just came out, so the timing is perfect, but I’m a bigger fan of the traditional bottlings. I’m happy to spend a few more dollars for Cru Beaujolais like Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon, or Fleurie. After all, I find there are few better values in wine than higher-end Beaujolais.
Pinot Noir is a popular wine on these sorts of lists, and I do love the grape, but I don’t recommend it without reservation because some really good ones are just too dry and high-toned to work as well as the wines I’ve listed above.
Lastly, whatever direction you’re leaning, I highly recommend you visit a locally-owned wine shop. There’s a better chance they’ve tasted nearly every wine they offer and can really help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Whatever you choose, enjoy!