Monday, November 24, 2014

Perfect Thanksgiving Wines to Match Your Family's Dysfunction

Media Portrayal of Thanksgiving

The great cultural myth of Thanksgiving is upon us. On Thursday, we celebrate that first Thanksgiving when Martha Stewart and Miles Standish invited the local Native Americans over to share in the bounty of America. The two cultures had shared so much. The Native Americans had taught Martha how to live off the land, and how to make contraceptives from beaver pelts, while the Pilgrims had given the Native Americans the great gift of smallpox. To celebrate these gifts, and the opening of the first Native American casino Wampum World, a great feast was prepared by Martha Stewart’s many flunkies. The menu of that original Thanksgiving is lost in the mists of time, but recently the suggested wine pairings, curated by famed wine expert Dildo Sohm, WSET (White Settler Exterminating Tribes) were discovered. However, the Native Americans wisely brought their own wines. Corkage fees had only just been invented at the time, and thus the tribe was charged £25 for the first bottle, and for the next five, Genocide.

Every November the wine press is obligated to recommend wines that go with Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone hates this ritual, especially those given the task of writing about wines that go with Thanksgiving dinner. You can just hear the tedium in their voices. “What matters at Thanksgiving isn’t what you drink,” writes Jon Bonné in the San Francisco Chronicle,”what matters is that you drink what I tell you.” Or how about this nugget from Eric Asimov in the New York Times, “The Pilgrims didn’t know a red from a white, unless you mean skin color.” The advice of the major wine and food writers boils down to exactly the same thing every year. Drink a wine that’s versatile. I have no idea what that means. Stupid wine reviews say, “This wine is versatile at the table.” Which sounds more like a Vegas hooker. And, anyway, it’s lousy advice.

Every family makes just about the same meal on Thanksgiving. There are slight variations, but they’re meaningless. We can’t all drink the same wines, too! I don’t want Beaujolais, I don’t want off-dry German Riesling, I don’t want some obscure Croatian wine made from the rare Squanto grape. (And if you haven’t had a serious bottle of Squanto, well, try one with a good cigar--store Indian.) It just doesn’t matter. I don’t care if the wine matches the same damn food everyone else is eating all over the entire country. Thanksgiving is not the least teeny-tiny bit about wine. Worrying about wine at Thanksgiving is like worrying about what brand of knife to use at the beheading. No need to stick your neck out. Go with the usual. Drink any damned thing.

Thanksgiving is our national holiday that celebrates family dysfunction. Sure, there was a time when Thanksgiving was the day we expressed gratitude for our many blessings by overeating, drinking to excess, and watching large men dish out brain damage on TV. But now we leave out the gratitude, which, truthfully, was disingenuous to begin with. So my suggestion for pairing the perfect wines with your Thanksgiving feast is to match the wine with your family’s dysfunction. This is not only therapeutic, it’s tremendous fun!

The Usual Family Thanksgiving
There are many American families that are constantly redrawn by divorce. The guest list for Thanksgiving often has to be negotiated, and seating arrangements can be treacherous. If this sounds like your family gathering, I’d recommend you serve a wine that’s slightly bitter. Maybe a bold Napa Valley Cabernet from Mount Veeder that only scored 89 points in the latest Wine Advocate. Man, would that be fucking bitter wine. OK, maybe too bitter. But the bitterness of the wine will go nicely with the general bitterness found around a table of divorced people trying to be grateful for something other than rebound sex with someone in a uniform.

Many families spend the day rehashing old sibling rivalries, revisiting childhood grudges and feelings of being loved less by a parent despite being the good child. This is especially poignant if you’re an only child, and indicative of a youth spent inhaling oven cleaner. If you find yourself dreading the Thanksgiving meal sitting across from your bossy older sister, or your completely spoiled baby brother, or the adopted kid who got all the love you had coming even though she was stealing mom blind and blackmailing dad with those sexts, I’d recommend you serve a wine that is, like you, slightly pétillant, maybe one of the Pet Nat wines that are all the rage. Pet Nat is short for Pétillant Naturel, which is French for slightly fizzy wines that might contain pubic hair. The process of making Pet Nat wines almost guarantees that they’ll be unstable, and what better wine for the tensions surrounding your Thanksgiving table?

Tolstoy wrote one of literature’s most famous opening lines, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Spend a little time this holiday thinking about what’s unique about your family’s unhappiness, and then matching the reasons for that unhappiness with an appropriate wine. Does your family constantly squabble about money? Bring a very young Barolo and make a point to remark how tight it is. Maybe you have to spend your day listening to the racist remarks of a family member. What could be better than an insipid Pinot Grigio? “A stupid white for a stupid white,” makes for a lovely opening prayer.

At Thanksgiving, wine is an opportunity. An opportunity to make your point, to participate in the social lubrication that is wine while at the same time expressing your suppressed anger at these people who have made your life a living hell. It doesn’t matter if it pairs with the food. Who the hell cares about that? Your racist uncle? Your asshole brother-in-law? Don’t be stupid. Thanksgiving is the one day each year you can use wine to make a point.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!


Don Carter said...

I always bring Chardonnay to Moms for Thanksgiving. It pairs so well with condescension and guilt.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

And if you bring naked Chardonnay, it gets really Oedipal. Though my mom's Thanksgiving dinners were only barely oedipal...

Happy Thanksgiving, Don! Thanks for being a common tater.

Tom Hadley said...

I once actually brought Oedipus to Thanksgiving dinner. He solved a riddle or two, ate heartily then out of the blue, punched my Dad in the face saying in a unexpected Jersey accent, " I did eet becuz well Jocasta I could!'
Needless to say, he is non grata these days. However he's not ruled out of any future gratins.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

That Oedipus gets around, though I hear he Rex most meals he attends.

Thanks for your Holiday contribution. I prefer lots of common taters on Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, Tom!

PaulG said...

My remedy? As Gracie Slick noted long ago, "one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, so go Cialis!" That'll put the stuffing in your bird.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Can you possibly imagine how many times a day I am hearing, "So what goes with turkey?" this time of year?! The question in of itself is now like I fucking cheese grater in my underpants. First of all turkey isn't the problem and second, who cares? We tell them Beaujolais, (not the new garbage) Riesling and Vouvray and so many tell us, "Well besides that" if some new, but ancient and proven to be perfect with can-o-soup bean casserole and stay-puff topped sweet yams, wine is there on the shelf and we forgot to mention it. I'm not even family with these people and I need a drink just dealing with them on a quick wine purchase. After fifteen minutes of, "Um, what else?" (always with that tisky suck of the teeth sound) and I suggest Bourbon, lots and lots of Bourbon. It's American, actually tastes great with Fall flavors and makes you less of a wad. Win-win.
A very happy holiday to you and yours Ron. I love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Paul,
Long time, no cialis! Welcome back, old friend. I'm sure many of my readers take large doses of drugs before they attend their family dinner on Thanksgiving. For those who don't, it's a wise recommendation. Just be careful that little blue pill doesn't make you need to stuff the turkey with your happy baster.

Happy Thanksgiving, Paul.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
"Cheese Grater in My Underpants" is the new David Sedaris book, right?

I feel your wine merchant pain, Baby. They ask what goes with turkey and want you to answer with whatever they had in mind when they walked in. Of all the meals to worry about matching with wine, Thanksgiving is the most hopeless--which seems appropriate. Every year I laugh at the poor wine writers who have to write the same damned article every November. I thought I'd finally have a whack at it. Bourbon is actually as good an answer as any!

I hope your Thanksgiving is spent with the people you want to spend it with--though I won't be there in person, Love, I'll be there in spirit. Happy Thanksgiving, Samantha!

I love you, too!

Karl Kelsey said...

Ron - The visuals in this post are really perfect. While I have to say that Norman Rockwell is not at the top of my list he is perfect as a foil. And the second visual is right out of Todd Browning!


Don Carter said...

This is my first Thanksgiving in 20 years that I haven't been on the retail floor rolling my eyes as I just give up and let the customers walk out with the same old Chardonnay they came in for anyway. Samantha settled it. Wild Turkey on Thursday. Brilliant! Happy Thanksgiving

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Karl. The very first image that popped into my twisted mind when it came to eating around the table was "Freaks." Yeah, I know, sick. The second was Rockwell. Yeah, I know, sicker. I'm often scared when I'm in my own head.

Happy Thanksgiving, Karl!

Congrats on not having to walk the retail floor this Thanksgiving! Will you be back at Christmas to tell people all the Top 10 Wine Spectator wines were sold out months ago? I always rather enjoyed that.

Wild Turkey sounds about right. Do you brine it first?

Thomas said...

Thanks, all. It makes me feel good about my dislike for these forced holidays and their stupid rules.

The day before Thanksgiving was the single best sales day in my retail shop, but it was the worst day of the year for me--on the plus side, it gave me an excuse to sleep through the following day...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

In the restaurant business, it was Mother's Day that everyone dreaded. People dragging out their moms to dinner, sometimes literally, for the only time all year. We all hated Mother's Day.

I only remember two Thanksgivings, out of 50-some I can recall, that were warm and filled with great food, laughter and joy all around. They were with other people's families. Suddenly the racist uncle is entertaining instead of embarrassing. The drunk cousin is a riot instead of a loser. The lonely divorcee has an interesting tale you've never heard a hundred times before. The end of the evening brings you enormous gratitude that you can leave all that tension and drama behind.

We should all family swap for Thanksgiving. Or do what the Pilgrims eventually did--shoot most of 'em.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, Thomas!

allaboutwine said...

Provide up let the regulars pace out with the similar Chardonnay , Thanksgiving is spent by way of persons you want to spend

David Pierson said...

The Rockwell was/is scary, more than the other pic.. a fav comic writer Joe Queenan nailed it a bunch of years ago when Rockwell started being taken seriously again and he said what a lot load of horseshit, along with Burt Bacharach.. a big bunch of doggy doo...

Thomas said...


The best Thanksgiving story I have is one that took place when I was in the Air Force, stationed away from home. A young lady I had met a week before the holiday invited me to dine with her family. I accepted.

I brought a bottle of wine with me as an offering, of course. My greeting at the front door by her father was the first shot--he looked at what was in my hand with great disdain and announced that they don't allow alcohol in their home.

Just as he finished making my day, his daughter ran down the stairs and to the door, greeted me and simultaneously grabbed the bottle from my hand. I never saw it again.

We ate in relative silence, with a lot of milk being passed around. It was a most terrifying two hours.

I learned later on that the young lady drank the bottle of wine in her room and then ran away form home soon thereafter. I never again accepted an invitation form someone I have just met.

Incidentally, one of my fun suggestions for Thanksgiving wine was to pair something with canned cranberries.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

OK. Happy Thanksgiving!

I couldn't agree more. The Rockwell painting is very scary. The family is right out of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The turkey might just be a baked pod.

Happy Thanksgiving, David. Though wasn't Canadian Thanksgiving, whatever the hell that is, a month ago?


One year when I was in college, I was driving home for Thanksgiving dinner and there was a tremendous wreck on the freeway. My car didn't move for more than an hour. Everyone was out of their cars, telling stories, laughing, even eating some Thanksgiving food being taken to dinners they were late for. No cellphones in that era, so my family had no idea where I was. I strolled in about two hours late, ruining what they believed they had to be thankful for--my unexplained disappearance.

Thomas said...



redmond barry said...

It's not Thanksgiving without a beaver pelt joke, so thanks for that.
Syrah for the table, Corton in a Hearty Burgundy bottle for me. This year I found Corton with a screw cap, so I've got that going for me.
Best of the season to you and yours.

gabriel jagle said...

Y'know, ever since I stopped spending Thanksgiving with my family, it has become my favorite day of the year. What could be better than spending an entire day with my friends cooking a giant feast and getting sauced on good wines? Of course, I am now married with a baby, so I had to go and ruin it for myself. At least I can look forward to embarrassing my own offspring for years to come. What wine pairs best with that? Maybe a Napa Valley Zinfandel that is just slightly past it's prime?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Redmond,
You're welcome. Nothing says Thanksgiving like beaver pelts--and if you've ever been pelted with a beaver, you know how messy that is.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for being an occasional common tater.

I'm not sure what goes best with embarrassing your offspring. But nothing says humiliation like Prosecco! Let's go with that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Gabe! You're always a common tater with something worthy to contribute.

gabriel jagle said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you Ron. I'm thankful that you are still making us laugh.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thank you. The blog gives me the opportunity to work out my comic demons in public. While I often offend folks, and there are many who think I'm an asshole, the HoseMaster is just a voice. It's his job to be "that guy." To the extent that I succeed, it is in great part to the kind and wonderful folks who come here weekly and indulge me.

I am very grateful to you all.

The Sommeliere said...

Ron, you gave me a great laugh as usual. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, no matter what you drink!

Marcia Macomber said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Ron! My first chance to read your holiday tome. Step away from the naked Chardonnay! You may injure someone with that. (With any luck, it will be a gassy uncle who mumbles through the whole meal.)

I think Samantha's right about the bourbon. It's a good way to satisfy everyone's palate (if they've got one to begin with). Of course, the way some eat at this holiday, they need a pallet on which to pile their 10K calories of fixin's.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marlene Darling,
Happy Thanksgiving to you, Sweetie! I've missed you around here. Happy to have given you a smile.

Marcia Love,
I'm pretty sure I'm the gassy uncle.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Marcia, and thank you for being such a loyal common tater.

Charlie Olken said...

Well, here it is Thanksgiving morning, and I have finally raised my head above work and found that my wine choice problem has been solved.

It will be either Beaulolais, Vouvray, off-dry Riesling, the same old Chardonnay or Grace Slick.

No wait, I meant Wild Turkey, which we go through like water for those who really want to get shitfaced before dinner.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you, Ron, and to all my fellow turkeys who hang out here. I know, we call ourselves "common tators", which is not a lot different from po-tators, but "why is this day different from all other days", you ask. Because today we are all turkeys.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,
Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Pilgrim. I'm hoping you only drink Three Puff wines with your Thanksgiving feast.

Ah, yes, today is the day we're all poultry cannibals. Which is why I like breast meat...

Thanks for dropping by on this holiday morning, Charlie. All the best to you and yours!