What kind of wine went with the first Thanksgiving dinner at Plymouth Colony in 1621? None. Not Blue Nun. Just none. No champagne, no chardonnay. Also no whiskey, little if any beer, historians say.
The Pilgrims expressed thanks for tough, gamey wild turkey stuffed with onions and for venison, clams, eels, mussels, Indian corn, maybe some turnips. No potatoes for mashing. No cranberry sauce. Pumpkins, maybe, but no wheat or butter to make a pie crust.
And they washed it down with their favorite tipple hard cider.
Arriving in America, the Pilgrims found several native varieties of apples — garland, sweet crab, prairie crab, southern crab. They were well-versed in making hard cider back home in England. And it was the drink of British sailors.
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It can’t be said that they suffered, though. Hard cider, coming back today with a vengeance, goes very nicely with a wide range of foods, including many of those from that first celebratory meal.
Today our menu choices are infinite. Fat-breasted, liquid-injected turkeys with doneness sensors built in. Just-add-liquid-and-stuff stuffing. Store-bought pie. Even “tofurky” if you’re not a meat-eater.
Or you can simply order Chinese food.
Our wine choices are infinite, too. They need to be, with so many food flavors on the groaning board. At my house, where we might have a dozen or more diners, I tend to throw up my hands and put out bottles of bubbly, white wine, rose and red all at once, and let guests decide for themselves. And dessert wine if anybody has any room by then. I argue there’s no single wine that can match both cranberry sauce and that soup-can green-bean casserole.
Oh, there’s some order. I like to hand a glass of bubbly to guests as they arrive, if only to break the ice. And bubbly goes well with appetizers, which had better be light considering the feast to come.
White wines can be crisp and light, contrasting with the heft of the meal. Or they can be rich blends of various grapes, matching the multi-flavored meal with multi-flavored wine. Roses can be dry or lightly sweet, depending on the sipper’s likes. They go especially well with ham (pink wine for pink meat — go figure). Reds needn’t be big and tannic unless Uncle Jim bagged a deer and there’s red meat on the table. In fact, user-friendly multi-grape red blends are good for the same reason as the whites.
Also, this year might be the time to honor tradition by serving cider. Cider’s crisp acidity and dryness go well with rich holiday dishes. Or it can be an unexpected aperitif.
To top it all off, a cheery glass of sweet, red port will go with the sweetest desserts. Happy Thanksgiving.
▪ Angry Orchard “Walden Hollow” Hard Cider, New York (Golden Russet, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy and other apples), 8 percent alcohol: fragrant apple aromas, sweet-tart and earthy flavors; $15-$18 per 750 ml bottle.
▪ Nonvintage Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Sparkling Wine, California (53 percent chardonnay, 47 percent pinot noir): lively bubbles, aromas and flavors of brioche, golden apples and citrus; $28.
▪ 2013 Robert Mondavi “Maestro” 50th Anniversary commemorative wine, Napa Valley, Calif. (59 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent petit verdot, 3 percent malbec): dark hue, hearty and full-bodied, rich aromas and flavors of black plums, cloves and herbs, long, smooth finish; $50.
▪ 2014 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay, Central Coast, California (100 percent chardonnay): floral aromas, flavors of lemons and apricots, crisp and lively; $15.
▪ 2014 Insurrection Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia (63 percent shiraz, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot): full-bodied and hearty, with aromas and flavors of red plums and cocoa, smooth finish; $17.
▪ 2015 Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio Vigneti Delle Dolomiti IGT, Alto Adige, Italy (100 percent pinot grigio): light green hue, light and crisp, with aromas and flavors of green apples and pears; $15.
▪ 2015 Martin Ray Vineyards & Winery Rose of Pinot Noir, Russian River (100 percent pinot noir): aromas and flavors of oranges, mangos and melons, crisp and dry; $20
▪ 2014 La Crema Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast (100 percent chardonnay): crisp and medium-bodied, with aromas and flavors of lemons, limes and minerals; $23.
▪ Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port, Quinta dos Canals, Douro Superior, Portugal (20 percent alcohol): inky hue, aromas and flavors of sweet black cherries, licorice and spice, $18.
▪ 2014 Gascon Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (94 percent malbec, 6 percent petit verdot): dark hue, intense aromas and flavors of black plums and bittersweet chocolate, full body, smooth finish; $25.