It’s remarkable to think about how and how much Americans’ perceptions of wine have changed in the last 20 years or so. A generation ago, wine at the Thanksgiving table was mostly an afterthought, if that, even for the privileged among us.
Today we live in an America where “wine is the new golf.” Knowing, appreciating, and consuming fine wine has become part of our social fabric. Professionals (you know, the lawyers and doctors and such) are expected to possess an ever elusive “wine knowledge,” a loosely defined and always liquid (excuse the pun) canon of winespeak and consumption. And even for those who don’t belong to the managerial class, wine has become more accessible and enjoyable (for all the discussion of natural wine and its epistemological implications, we often overlook the fact that it has made wine palatable to a new generation of ready enthusiasts).
That’s not a bad thing. The wine renaissance that has taken shape over the last two decades has manifested itself with many positive ramifications — in production, representation, and consumption.
The new wave of technically superior wines, paired with the heightened interest in wine writing and wine education, has created a truly golden age for wine lovers. And the moneymakers have taken note and followed suit: from the crusty old big shippers to a newly minted army of small importers and distributors, more good wine is making its way coast-to-coast and across the American south and heartland.
The downside of all of this is that our self-imposed enological expectations and pressures often blind us to wine’s true purpose and role in human experience. After all, wine (at least in my view) serves to enhance nutrition, pleasure, and spiritual enlightenment.
(Spiritual enlightenment, you ask? Anyone familiar with wine’s diegetic — not digestive — role in Judeo-Christian tradition is surely aware of its divine association. And those who know the works of American philosopher William James should also recognize how wine — and thoughtful inebriation — can open the mind, so to speak, to a greater state of consciousness.)
And that brings us to the question at hand: even with open minds, the best and the brightest among us seem to be nonplussed by that Holy Grail of wine pairings, the Thanksgiving Feast.
The diversity of the foods and flavors, the congregation of the wine friendly and the wine adverse, the burden of supplying wine to a large and unwieldy group of people who all have wildly different expectations and desires… All of these elements come together to form a puzzle that has no solution, a riddle of the Sphinx for which not even the smartest and most knowing women and men have an answer.
Sadly, the overwhelming pressures and ideals of the new wine culture have prompted us to overthink the perfect pairing.
Perfect pairings are almost never fully predictable. Yes, you can use tradition and experience as a guide. But they only come together thanks to an unforeseeable combination of factors. Opening a bottle of wine and matching it with food always represents a gamble, a wager, a rolling of the enological dice. A glass of Carricante paired with a chilled seafood salad only makes for a prefect pairing when all the elements are right: the wine, the food, and the mood of the people at the table.
And so this year, I would like to propose the following Thanksgiving Feast wine pairing: if you can’t be with the Pinot Grigio you love, love the Pinot Grigio you’re with.
Don’t fret or fluster over the optimal pairing. Don’t spend too much but make sure there’s plenty to drink. Open your favorites but make sure that they’s something for everyone (include a “Chard,” a “Cab,” and a sparkling Moscato for sure). And most important of all, eat and drink and be merry this holiday season.
That’s the secret to enjoying a great Thanksgiving with family, friends, and all the ones you love.
There’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove.
Happy holidays, yall.