Ask 10 wine experts to recommend a few choices for turkey and you may get 30 different answers. Riesling, chardonnay, Beaujolais, pinot noir, grenache, merlot, malbec, barbera, Rioja, Chianti, zinfandel – I've heard them all and more. The suggestions are all over the map, which paradoxically, makes perfect sense, because the most accurate, if rarely articulated, answer is that Big Bird pairs agreeably with pretty much anything, at least in the dry-to-off-dry spectrum. Where wine is concerned, it's the protean protein.
The traditional Thanksgiving centrepiece takes on all comers because of the meat's relatively neutral flavour (no arguments, please; I'm a turkey lover). That's especially true of the unnaturally inflated breasts of highly bred commercial birds. Think of that popular and infamously dry white flesh as a blank canvas or sponge for your favourite wine. You can't go too far wrong so long as you steer clear of highly tannic, astringent reds, such as young Bordeaux or Barolo.
If you want to get geeky about it, you could uncork something that harmonizes with the flavourful trimmings, like savoury gravy or sweet cranberry sauce, earthy sage and sausage stuffing, or your favourite popular side dish, like roasted sweet potatoes or bacon-infused brussels sprouts.
Best to go with a flexible wine, then, something with bold fruitiness and rounded textural appeal, like: the fine, apricot-tinged Italian white Cordero di Montezemolo Langhe Arneis 2015 ($16.95 in Ontario); the plummy-spicy bargain Spanish red Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2008 ($14.95 in Ontario, $13.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $14.99 in Manitoba, $17.99 in New Brunswick); the excellent, smoky-gamy South African red Waterkloof Circumstance Syrah 2012 ($22.95 in Ontario) or the splurge-worthy Castello di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 ($48.95 in Ontario, $51.99 in British Columbia, $46.50 in Quebec).
Those are all imports, of course. But the spirit of Thanksgiving seems to me more emblematic of local bounty. So, I'm suggesting a few domestic standouts below. Depending on where you live, you might not be able to score one or two for this weekend's feast. In any case, these wines, most available through direct shipping, don't need a Butterball to taste great. You can give thanks with them all year 'round.
Stag's Hollow Grenache 2015, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $25.99
Grown mainly in Spain, France and Australia, heat-loving grenache is a rarity in Canada. Kudos to Stag's Hollow for this compelling effort. It comes across like a rich, ripe version from France's southern Rhône Valley, which is high praise. Full-bodied, at 15-per-cent alcohol (the grape leans toward high strength), it's got supple, come-hither fruit suggesting cherry jam, which is enlivened by a truckload of black licorice as well as Provençal herbs. And there's an aromatic black-pepper note here, possibly owing to syrah, which makes up 12 per cent of the blend. Available at private retail stores in British Columbia and direct, www.stagshollowwinery.com.
Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2014, Ontario
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.15
Light and off-dry yet wonderfully zesty almost to the point of effervescence. Lime, green apple, peach and citrus notes up front, with classic Old World riesling nuances of flowers and stone trailing into the finish. Vibrant and complex. Available direct from the Niagara winery, www.tawsewinery.ca.
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2014, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.49
Full-bodied and silky, with ripe tropical fruit mellowed by buttery, vanilla and toasty characters. Deftly oaked, with well-tuned acidity for verve. Available at the above price in British Columbia, $21.95 in Ontario, $21.97 in Saskatchewan, $21.99 in Manitoba, $20.05 in Quebec, $22.99 in Nova Scotia.
Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2014, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $43.49
A big Hummer of a red, this hails from the concentrated fruit of 50-year-old Maréchal Foch vines and was matured in new American oak. Thick, velvety fruit suggesting wild berries and plums mingles with chocolate syrup and baking spices plus a subtle gamy note. Good acid lift on the finish. Available direct from the winery, www.quailsgate.com.
JoieFarm Gamay 2014, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $26
Light, crisp, brightly fruity and spicy – classic characters of the gamay grape of Beaujolais, with an extra helping of fruit courtesy of the sunny Okanagan. The elegantly polished texture carries essences of cherry and plum, with dustings of black pepper and earth. Reminiscent of a well-made, high-end cru Beaujolais. Serve it slightly chilled. Available at select private wine stores in the west and direct from www.joiefarm.com.
Flat Rock Twisted 2015, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.15
The "twist" here is in the unconventional blend, a white mix of riesling, gewürztraminer and chardonnay. It's an inspired combination and became a flagship at the Niagara winery since its first release with the 2004 vintage. The 2015 is off-dry and well-balanced, its gentle, rounded sweetness lifted by bright acidity. There are delectable notes of apricot and peach in the foreground, with essences of tangy lime, spicy ginger and ripe pear bringing up the rear. Available in Ontario stores at the above price, $19.99 in Manitoba, and direct from the winery, www.flatrockcellars.com.