Thanksgiving Day Dessert Wine Pairings
In general, dry wine does not pair well with dessert. This means that even though Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon generally tastes like dessert, it is still technically bone-dry red wine. You want to pair dessert wine with with dessert, and when it’s Thanksgiving, dessert almost always features at least one pie!. So here are three general principles to guide you through how best to end your Thanksgiving Day celebration with dessert wine and pie.
Thanksgiving is the one day a year that even your nutritionist will forgive you for having not just second and third helpings of the main course, but also second and third helpings of dessert. Your inner sommelier will insist that you find a wine pairing for every part of Thanksgiving meal because a true gourmand would not stop at wine pairings for only the Thanksgiving Day entrees. This means, of course, means you need wine pairings for your Thanksgiving Day desserts.
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1) Vin Santo from Tuscany is the dessert wine to pair with savory, sweet pies like Pecan Pies. Vin Santo translates roughly as “holy wine,” and its flavor waivers from very sweet to seemingly dry. More than any other wine, Vin Santo makes me think “I can’t believe anybody took the time to make this just so I could taste it!” The grapes they use can be the white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia, or if the winemaker wants to add a rose hue to the wine, they might even use Sangiovese, the famous grape in Chianti. Vin Santo pairs so well with nutty pie because it tastes quite nutty from the required three years its spends aging in barrel to the more often applied five years to a decade it spends aging itself for your Thanksgiving Day glass. Before it even hits the barrel, the grapes are dried like an Amarone so you’re essentially drinking wine made by crushing golden raisins!* Serve Vin Santo barely chilled, and expect to pay a price worthy of a truly decadent celebration.
2) Sauternes is the dessert wine pairing for lemon meringue pie. Sauternes is the dessert wine of Bordeaux, and it is made from “nobly” rotted Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, and Semillion grapes. Who knew that grapes that had “gone bad” for eating would turn into a dessert wine that tastes like both crystalline sweet apricots and bitter lemon zests? Someone who had a hankering for the perfect lemon meringue pie and dessert wine pairing, that’s who! With a dessert as rich in flavor but delicate in body as lemon meringue pie, you need a wine that has Sauternes’ overblown stone fruit sweetness jolted to life by a bitter citrus zest tartness. Sauternes will dance en pointe from tuft to tuft of the meringues sugary peaks with the same daring finesse as a prima ballerina.
3) Late-harvest Gewurztraminer is the dessert wine pairing for pumpkin pie. What do you pair with the most traditional of Thanksgiving desserts? Why, obviously pair the least traditional, least pronounceable, and most spice-driven wine you can find! Pumpkin pie may arguably as American as apple pie, but its flavor backbone is one built on traditionally Oriental spices. Ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg are the main flavors behind what you might see labeled as merely “Pumpkin Pie Spice” in grocery stores. More than merely Asian, these flavors are hot, spicy, and savory.
Nutmeg may show up in egg nog and many other sweet libations, but Campanian grandmothers have been churning out tomato sauces in rural Italy with nutmeg mixed in with their tomatoes for centuries. Cinnamon is the secret ingredient in nearly every dessert, but if you bite into a stick of it you will soon be reminded that the reason cinnamon tastes so good in dessert is that it tempers dessert’s sweetness with its own heat that tastes like a brown and red flame. Ginger is just plain hot if you bite into a fresh slice of its root.
No matter what part of the meal we’re talking about, if you say to me ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then the first word that you would hear me say is “Gewurztraminer” (geh-vurtz-trah-mee-ner). If you say say those spices to me specifically in the context of dessert, then the first thing I will say to you is “late-harvest” Gewurztraminer. Late-harvest means exactly what it would seem; the grapes are left on the vine longer than usual to achieve a higher concentration of sugar!
Late-harvest Gewurztraminer is perfect for pumpkin pie because it is simultaneously sweet and spicy, itself. “Gewurz” means spicy in German so, when you’re drinking late-harvest Gewurztraminer, what you’ll be drinking is a “spicy” sweet wine. Imagine just-budding roses dusted with white baking spices like fenugreek and planted in a forest of lychee trees. Pairing late-harvest Gewurztraminer with pumpkin pie will get you right back to the dish’s Oriental roots.
Also don’t even worry about actually pronouncing Gewurztraminer. Just say “late-harvest” and “starts with a ‘G’,” and every wine-person worth their salt will know exactly what you are talking about!