Italian wine for an American feast

Pairing wine with a Thanksgiving meal can be a difficult task due to the mish mash of dishes and culinary components. Ideally, each dish asks for a specific wine. As this is fairly unrealistic for most Thanksgiving diners, I suggest simplifying the entire process and popping bottles in stages.

Start with an aperitif to liven up your palette and prepare your stomach for the ensuing eatathon. Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange or a Negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) can be great drinks to warm up your engines. Also, keep in mind that Thanksgiving is a celebration, so what better way to follow your aperitif than with bubbles? Personally, I prefer a sparkling rose but a crisp and fruity prosecco can do the job nicely, as well. If you really want a treat for your guests, look for a Franciacorta- a sparkling white made in the metodo classico (method champenoise) from Chardonnay, Pinot nero, and Pinot bianco.

If I had to guess, I would posture that the phrase “food coma” was invented to describe the lethargy one feels after the Thanksgiving feast. With this in mind, I would avoid drinking viscous, heavily oaked wines with the main meal. Instead, try something lighter and fresher with high acidity. I’d recommend finding wines from northern Italy, more specifically from Piedmont and/or Alto Adige. The latter being Italy’s northernmost region.

Alto Adige boasts heavy Austrian influence ,and, as such, produces fantastic, high acid whites. Look for a Gewurtztraminer, Reisling, Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner or Müller Thurgau. These wines all have great acidity, which will help slice through the richness of the gravy, mashed potatoes, and the stuffing and will keep your mouth watering after every gulp of turkey. Additionally, the wines tend to be extremely aromatic with notes of flowers, minerality, and undertones of fall baking spices. These flavors will enhance the fall inspired flavors on your Thanksgiving table. Look for wines made by Alois Lageder, Kuenhof, Abbazia di Novacella, and Tiefenbrunner.

For a red wine with Thanksgiving dinner, I’d lean towards Barbera d’Asti. Like the whites from Alto Adige, Barbera is a medium bodied wine driven by acidity. The typical flavor profile is one dominated by fresh red fruits followed by earth and minerality. Look for a Barbera from Asti, as opposed to Alba. Barbera d’Asti tends to be lighter and more elegant then its counterparts from Alba and will work nicely with both cuts of light and dark meat. Some great producers of Barbera d’Asti are Vietti and Coppo.

For dessert, I’d suggest staying in the Asti area of Piedmont. Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling, slightly sweet dessert wine that, when well made, smells of peach blossoms. Moscatos taste delicious but are also jam packed with bubbles that have a cleansing, rejuvenating effect in the mouth. Coppo produces a very well made classic Moscato d’Asti.  To help alleviate the seemingly unavoidable “food coma” that you are bound to have by this part of the feast, finish with a traditional post-meal digestif. Try a nice Amaro by Nonino, Fernet Branca, or if you dare, gulp down some Grappa by Jacopo Poli.

Happy drinking!


About Max Koepke

As a Sedona, Arizona native I grew up obsessed with the outdoors and exploring the southwest. I lived in Orvieto, Italy for six months and gained a great appreciation for Italian food and culture, with an emphasis on wine. This appreciation of wine led me to seeking out employment at places with extensive wine lists that placed their focus on Italian wines. I have worked for Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, Telluride Ski and Golf at their flagship restaurant, Allred's, and their top-o-the-mountain wine bar, Alpino Vino. Currently, I work as the sommelier at the northern Italian restaurant, Il Posto, in Denver. My sommelier courses were taught by Frasca's Bobby Stuckey in Aspen, Colorado. In addition to the pursuit of wine I also have a passion for photography, the outdoors, and Colorado's striking mountains (especially when they're covered in thick blankets of snow).