Each year I write my traditional Thanksgiving Survival Guide and spend time thinking through how to pair wine or cocktails with the sweet/savory dishes of our cheerfully gluttonous holiday. These past few weeks I’ve tried and tried and the words “survival guide” stuck in my gut. The/Our world has been disrupted in its entirety. So, let’s disrupt this “Mother of all Food Holiday Rituals” and go at Thanksgiving drinks from a different POV.
It’s time for new rules. Rules are made to be amended as we have witnessed. Every ritual we hold dear has to be able to bob and weave in order to survive. We’ve seen this each year as the family and friend dynamic around the table grows, shrinks, and unfolds in new ways such as a physical move, a new birth, a loss, the discovery of a new recipe, favorite wine, or cocktail.
Continuity and change have to learn to dance together. And this year it’s change that trumps continuity in that we will likely be a more petite group around the table. And, the groaning board we have come to cherish may become a plate plopped in front of our laptop while we zoom with family. We also have the option of clicking “skip” and ordering a traditional or non-traditional dinner delivered (let’s remember we want to keep our neighborhood restaurants alive).
It is this very ability to adapt and pivot that keeps holidays and rituals alive giving them lasting vibrancy and texture. So, today we will celebrate some wine rituals and change it up with some fresh ideas for Thanksgiving drinks that are super DIY easy! Let’s focus on the sippers we’ll enjoy with whatever our meal will be and hey, maybe even have a zoom cocktail-making, wine-tasting Thanksgiving cocktail hour!
A Few Traditional Favorite Wines for the Day
Each year the Thursday before Thanksgiving, airliners from France arrive at the world’s airports delivering the fresh, first wine of the vintage from Beaujolais. It officially goes on sale at midnight that Thursday. Americans have adopted this as one of our go-to Thanksgiving wines. It actually has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, rather it just happens that it is shipped worldwide the week after its release on the 4th Thursday of November which happens to coincide with our holiday.
The flavors of Beaujolais Noveau run the gamut of upfront juicy fruit to a deeper cranberry/red plum style. The most famous producer is Georges DeBoeuf who started this whole thing. His wines are characterized by freshness, juiciness, and light tannins making them a perfect foil for the variety of sweet and savory dishes.
Anything that Sparkles, Fizzes, or Bubbles!
Choose a superbly well-priced (from $7) Cava from Spain, or a perfect Prosecco from Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, or other areas in the Veneto area of Italy. Prosecco comes in dry to semi-sweet styles. Your local wine shop (we want to keep them in business, too!) will direct you to the different choices available. There are also excellent and tasty fizzes from Burgundy and Loire Valley as well as California. Fun factoid: Outside of the region of Champagne, France the only other place that can call its sparkling wine Champagne is California. A 100-year-old legal loophole allows California to label its fizz, “California Champagne”. It should be noted that the only bottles sporting this label are found on the bottom shelf of drug or grocery store liquor departments.
So many choices here. Styles from California’s Sonoma AVA’s are richer and fruitier with soft tannins. Styles from Burgundy are a bit leaner with a personality of elegance. An excellent wine for most any meal featuring fish, fowl, meat, or vegetables, making it a great Thanksgiving drink.
Open That Bottle Night
Yeah, there may be a bottle you’re saving for ……
Well, this is it. Open the dang thing. It’s a pandemic.
Non-Traditional Ideas for this Year
Dry Lambrusco. This dry, gently sparkling red wine is wondrous for savory dishes, charcuterie, cheese.
Mead. Made from fermenting honey, water, and yeast. A dryer version will work well with a variety of dishes from traditional Thanksgiving to Chinese take-out.
Ciders. Made from apples which are synonymous with fall flavors.
Having a digital Thanksgiving cocktail hour? Try Mixing Up These Thanksgiving Drinks!
If you’re consolidating (or skipping) the usual massive Thanksgiving dinner spread, maybe you’ll have a little more time to indulge in some cocktail creativity! In lieu of scrambling to keep a dozen side dishes warm while the turkey rests, many of us will be sitting down for a Thanksgiving Zoom call with family and friends. This is the perfect opportunity to arrange an indulgent snack and shake up a festive Thanksgiving drink or two. Keep the bar cart or ice bucket for the wine closeby so you can impress your family with your bartending skills, and be ready to share a toast.
For this particular roundup, I’m eschewing some of the sweeter autumn classics (many of which can be found in my previous post), in favor of some more savory and herbal seasonal delights.
Cardamom + Banana Vieux Carre
The unsung hero of Thanksgiving, cardamom often plays second fiddle to more ubiquitous autumn spices like cinnamon, ginger, and clove. An ordinary apple pie can reach new depths of flavor with the addition of cardamom, as well as certain vegetables, meats, and breads. If you’re ready to see cardamom step into the starring role, this beautiful cocktail by Anthony Auger incorporates both homemade cardamom syrup and cardamom bitters.
Simple to stir together, this elegant cocktail will instantly elevate your holiday, adding an herbal and delicately fruity addition to your feast. The additional cardamom syrup can be used to accent teas (especially Earl Grey and Lapsong Soochong), or drizzled over your Thanksgiving desserts for an amazing cardamom kick. Check the full recipe out over at Imbibe.
You know the feeling. You’ve eaten everything on the table and gone back for seconds or thirds of your favorite dishes. You want a little time to digest before dessert, and washing dishes isn’t even on the radar yet. A little digestif to help you transition from a heavy meal to whatever’s next is in order. This is exactly where the Martinez comes in to refresh you and draw out those residual tastes lingering on your palette.
Originally published in The New York Times, Gabrielle Hamilton describes this neat drink as “Not nearly as hefty as a Negroni or as lean as a martini, this little beauty is a perfect welterweight cocktail for the early fall.” Gin and sweet vermouth get a splash of sweetness from Luxardo maraschino liqueur and warming digestive help from Angostura bitters. Large enough to be batched and a bulk Thanksgiving drink for a small group, or to be enjoyed throughout your entire meal.
Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that the warm days in the sun are over for a little while. But some of my favorite summer cocktails are difficult to say goodbye to till next season. Technically one could even argue that the grapefruit-soaked Paloma is as much a winter drink as any other since the best of the citrus season is just beginning now. But if you’re looking for a way to winterize this coveted beach-side refresher, try this Winter Paloma. Sage is gently infused into the grapefruit juice before mixing together.
Sage is often associated with Thanksgiving, pumpkins, and stuffing. But it’s also an incredibly supportive flavor to tropical fruits, including citruses, pineapple, and mango. This cocktail keeps you refreshed throughout the course of the meal, complimenting the turkey and sides with its herbal infusion, and cutting through some of the heavier dishes with its acidity and light carbonation. Scope out the full recipe over on Punch.
I know it sounds a little strange. Amaro, lemon juice, Castelvetrano olive brine, and prosecco? This is one of those drinks that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Both salty, bitter, lightly sweet, and deeply complex this drink might be the perfect representation of just what we’re all going through this season.
The Safe Passage, while an unusual spritz at first glance, begins to show its true beauty as you connect the flavor profiles of each ingredient. A lightly sweet and slightly minty Nardini Amaro shines when paired with Aperol. The acidic lemon juice cuts through the salty olive brine, mellowing it to marry seamlessly with the amaro. The prosecco literally makes it all sparkle and lightens what might otherwise become cumbersome. Like so many things, a little courage will go a long way with this drink. And the reward is well worth the endeavor.
Setting the Scene, Instead of the Table
Instead of ornate place settings for the whole family, you may instead be setting up a cozy little corner to video chat with your family for a little while. Keep the bar cart or ice bucket for the wine closeby. That way you can impress your family with your bartending skills and be ready to share a toast. Luckily, pants are optional this year, but you still might want to take a quick look at my Grooming for Zooming guide to put your best face forward in front of your mother-in-law.
Thanksgiving Grazing in Style
Whether it’s a formal or informal video chat gathering, or you expect it to go on for a while, I’d recommend you set yourself up with a small grazing board. One that looks good, tastes good, will make the occasion feel special from where you’re sitting. Even if it’s just for you, or for your immediate bubble of people. A board that includes 1-3 kinds of cheese, crackers or bread, and a little bit of fruit, nuts, or raw vegetables can last you for hours of socializing. If you want to step your game up a notch, you can even add some cured meats and charcuterie. Add in dips, jams, honey, and olives to your grazing board as you like!
For some seasonal ingredients, pick up a couple of your favorite cheeses, and some persimmons, pomegranates, grapes, and figs. All of which are gorgeous fruit accompaniments with a wide range of cheeses, and at peak season right now! Boards decorated with herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage add a lovely visual and scented aesthetic. Make sure to set a few springs aside if you’re using them for the turkey.
Time to Dial-In
Luckily, technology has done its best to keep pace with our socially-distanced needs. Even though it’ll be tough being apart from those you typically spend the holiday with, it can still be fun.
Zoom has lifted the 40-minute limit on calls on Thanksgiving day. That way you can listen to your aunt talk about her most recent project for as long as she wants. Or stare at your grandpa while he makes funny faces at the tv. And you’ll have plenty of time to catch up with that cousin who’s always 35 minutes late to the chat.
For an interesting new upgrade to the video chat experience, Portal by Facebook offers a smarter way to video chat with the feeling that you’re actually in the room with whoever you’re talking to. Portal has a wider range of vision than many tablet and laptop cameras. With special settings, the video moves with you as you move around the room. Instead of sitting rigidly in one place, you can now get up and move around as you would naturally. Or bring it into the kitchen while you cook that turkey without missing a moment of the action!
And finally, if your family is up for it, it might be time to try out some of the games on the Houseparty app. After you’ve had a good meal, sit back with a glass of your favorite holiday cheer and shake off that tryptophan haze with a rousing game of Heads Up or Chips & Guac.
No matter what your plans are for this and the upcoming holidays, I dearly hope you find time to enjoy some version of the traditions you love the most and share a glass with the ones you love no matter where they are. In gratitude and good health, À votre santé!
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Contributor: Stacie Hunt, Certified Silver Pin Sommelier/AIS; Vice President National Association of Wine Retailers; International Wine Judge, Author, Spokesperson, and Educator. As a television and video producer/spokesperson, she is the winner of several national and international broadcasting awards.