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Why Zin on Thanksgiving

  • m

Hi all,

I was wondering if I could again pick your brains and gain some knowledge for my wine-drinking future. I understand why Pinot Noir makes a good pairing for Thanksgiving and the various sides that accompany the bird. However, what about Zinfandel lends itself to the holiday so well? Is it the spice in the wine that is able to match up with so many sides? Any help or information would be much appreciated.

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  1. It's American.

    A little too heavy a red for T-Day, IMO.

    3 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Once again Maria Lorraine has nailed it, it's American and like her I think the wine is way too heavy for the traditional Thanksgiving meal....

      1. re: bubbles4me

        I concur as Zinfandel is not the choice with the Thanksgiving meal at our house.
        We always choose a Pinot Noir for the Turkey and a California Cab to accompany the prime rib.
        Jason, you are too accommodating! We haven't had a White Zinfandel in our house for decades -- Probably the 80's, although it's tough to remember a specific instance.
        We did have a delightful pinkish colored wine for lunch today: 2007 Mas du Fadin Rose Cote du Ventoux. Reasonably priced and refreshing.

        1. re: grantham

          >>> Jason, you are too accommodating! <<<

          35 years in the wine trade and making sure the customer gets what they want . . .

          It dies hard! ;^)

    2. It's American, AND . . .

      Let's be honest about it for a moment. When Zin was a "great" match with Thanksgiving, the style in which most Zinfandels were produced was closer to Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux than it is to today's overripe, 16% alcohol, in-your-face fruit bombs with noticable levels of rs. In the 1970s and 1980s, probably 85-90 percent of Zins would go GREAT with turkey. Today, probably 85-90 percent would go HORRIBLY with turkey!

      I no longer serve Zin for T-day . . . unless it's White Zin and some weird distant cousin loves it, in which case , good manners dictate I have a bottle on hand . . . .


      1 Reply
      1. re: zin1953

        I agree, Jason. That is why I'm going with the new release from Dashe, the 2007 l'Enfant Terrible Zin. 13.8% abv, natural yeasts, unfined, unfiltered. vinified in 900gal barrels.

      2. I usually start with Gwertz & Rieslings plus Pinot Noirs, at the beginning of the meal. Towards the end, when it's mostly turkey and dressing "seconds," I bring out a fruit-forward Zin. The fuller-body works later on in the meal. The fruit-forward aspect pairs well with some of the sweeter tastes, that might be lingering.

        Wife did a Zinfandel basted turkey some years back. Great, and we did not do PNs, just Zin for reds.

        Also, we often either substitute the PNs for Cru BJ, or serve them side-by-side.


        1. I am responsible for my family's wines this year, and I am the only one who is interested in wines and appropriate pairings. I purchased an American rose sparkling wine to start off, followed by a pinot and then have the Seghesio 2007 and/or a Pellegrini Zinfandel to take up with me. If you have any experience with those two producers, will they work for the main course of the meal? Thank you again.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mikek

            Yes, familiar with both...they're a little heavy for Thanksgiving, but food and wine pairing on Thanksgiving is not an exact science (not that it is on other days of the year either).

            Quaffability is important on T-Day. Wines that are easy to drink and toss back. Wines that lubricate the spirit.

            The Zins are a little heavy for that. A coupla of inexpensive Beaujolais and you'll be set. Your Zins will be most enjoyed at another meal, IMO. But if you really want to open them, go for it!

          2. What Maria said. Not a big fain of the pairing. That said, Zins do come in differing styles. Something like a Rafanelli which is spicier and has more medium-toned berry characteristics isgoing to be far better than something like a Biale or Turley which just hits you over the head with plumby fruit (and oak)

            1. I'm a little surprised that so many are so resistant to pairing zin with Thanksgiving dinner. In many ways it seems to me that if you match the style of the wine to the style of the food, there's much that makes sense. Many zins these days are rich, robust, very ripe and fruity, perhaps even a touch sweet. Most Thanksgiving dishes - roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. - are rich, robust, and often veer toward the sweet side of savory dishes. There are not many food pairings that I think are ideal for a high-octane, full-throttle zin, but T-Day might be as good as any. Why not pour that 17% ABV monster? When everyone passes out on the couch, nobody will be able to tell if it was the wine or the tryptophan.

              I actually have generally been disappointed with many pinot pairings (we did a fairly sizable advance scouting tasting for T-Day a couple weeks ago) because I found that all that heavy, somewhat sweet food tends to leave the pinot feeling a little hollow and insipid - unless it's one made in a more fruit-forward robust style (which then begs the question - why not go with something that is generally made in a more fruit-forward robust style?).

              It was interesting to me that though I tend to gravitate toward reds, I thought generally the whites made for a better pairing. I actually liked my "stumper" choice - an Auxerrois produced by Adelsheim in Oregon.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Frodnesor

                It's precisely because the table is full of rich, robust, and often (slightly) sweet that you need a wine to BALANCE that, not tip the scales into oblivion . . .


                1. re: zin1953

                  You usually don't "balance" spicy barbecue or a big juicy burger (perhaps with some slightly sweet ketchup) with something dainty and delicate (fans of bbq and bubbles excepted) - these are a couple of other instances where zin usually pairs well. I'm certainly not suggesting that the many other possibilities DON'T work as T-Day pairings - but if I'm going for balance, I'll probably go white. If I'm thinking red, I won't shy away from a zin. Tipping the scales into oblivion seems to be part of what Thanksgiving is about!

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    >>> You usually don't "balance" spicy barbecue or a big juicy burger . . . with something dainty and delicate . . . <<<

                    No, but then again, I've always found spicy barbecue better with beer than wine, so . . .

                    However, you don't "compliment" a rich, sweet dessert with a rich, sweet dessert WINE -- at least I don't. You want something with enough acidity to cut through the sweetness.

                    The key is BALANCE.

                    No one said (or rather, I never said) "delicate," did I? In the particular case of Thanksgiving dinner which is, after all, what we're talking about here -- not barbecue or burgers -- we're talking about lots of big, full, and rich dishes. Notice the key is BALANCE, not "opposites" -- "big" doesn't not mean "delicate," "full" does not mean "thin," and "rich" doesn't mean "light."

                    If a big, full, rich Zinfandel works for you, fine! As you very well know, there is no one single answer to what goes with ANY meal, with any dish . . .

                    For me, while I've enjoyed Zinfandels with Thanksgiving in the past, I find that (the overwhelming majority of) Zinfandels are TOO ripe, TOO heavy, and TOO alcoholic -- for ME (YMMV) -- to enjoy with Thanksgiving dinner.

                    C'est la vie, and have a happy Thanksgiving, Frodnesor!


                    1. re: zin1953

                      I guess part of my tendency to not dismiss a big ripe fat zin was my recent experience going through more than a dozen wines as potential T-Day pairings where I found that most of the pinots simply got washed out by the turkey/gravy/stuffing/sweet potato/cranberry sauce. Mind you, the kind of zins you're talking about are difficult to pair with just about any meal. My thinking is that they would go here about as well as they would with any meal.

                      Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

                      1. re: Frodnesor

                        Yeah, a lot of pinot noirs would be washed away by such a meal. We'll be pouring bordeaux this weekend (not sure exactly what, as I'm handling the food not the wine). They'll big enough to stand up to the meal, but *also* have enough acid and tannin to balance and cut through some of the heaviness. Unless you have an unusual Zin, it's just going to be too round for the meal. As a cocktail with the antipasto, though? Perfect.

                        Also, if you do an all dark meat meal, the wine pairing gets a bit easier, just saying ...

              2. If Zin was good enough for the Pilgrims to drink then why isn't good enough for you?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Chinon00

                  Actually, the Pilgrims ate deer on the first Thanksgiving and spit-roasted venison is a good match.

                2. Seems most people aren't fond of Zin for Thanksgiving. I know very little about wine, is my bottle of White Zinfandel what you all are referring to as Zin?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Rick

                    Nope. People here are talking about red zinfandel, not white.

                    Please don't take this the wrong way, but most winos aren't very appreciative of white zinfandel -- that's probably why you didn't get any responses until now. In general, most white zins tend to be industrially produced, overly sweet and without much depth.

                    If you like white zin, no worries, go ahead and enjoy it, but don't try serving it to any wine snobs :)

                    Give red zin a try some time. Most of them are big and fruity -- you might like it.

                    1. re: oolah

                      I guess most winos then really wouldn't appreciate that my white Zin is two buck chuck from Trader Joe's! lol But thanks for the clarification, honestly didn't know there was a red zin.

                      1. re: Rick


                        Presented in the "More Info Than You Would Ever What To Know" Department:

                        a) Most of the world's wines are produced from a species of grape known as "Vitis vinifera." And most (say 98%) of the red wine grapes of the vinifera species have colorless juice. All the color is found in the skin of the grape.

                        b) If you want to make a red wine, therefore, you must ferment the grape juice WITH the skins, and during the fermentation process, the pigment that is in the skins will "bleed" into the juice, coloring it red, and producing a red wine.

                        c) If you take a red wine grape, like Zinfandel, and do NOT ferment the juice with the skins -- but ferment the juice by itself -- the only pigmentation the juice gets is when the grapes are being crushed/pressed, and only from those relatively few cells that get ruptured or torn during that process. (OK, bad analogy, but think of getting a cut: not every cell in your body bleeds, just the ones that were, well, cut.) Thus, there is very little pigment that is picked up by the juice, and the result would be a White Zinfandel . . . or a white Cabernet Sauvignon, or white Merlot, or white Grenache, etc., etc., etc.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          Thanks zin, don't know much about wine but that was interesting to know.

                  2. I open up some zin for the red wine drinkers to sip with apps and like a glass for myself after dinner in place of dessert ( never did care for pumpkin pie) especial if it's a big fat fruity zin.

                    1. The answer for Thanksgiving dinner is Alsace or German wines. Many have the fruit power to compete with gravy and cranberry sauce and candied yams etc, but without being tannic and alcoholic like Zin.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Chinon00

                        2005 Navarro Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley
                        2005 Navarro Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley
                        2005 Morgon, Marcel Lapierre
                        2006 Brouilly, Ch√Ęteau Thivin

                        . . . . worked for me!

                        Happy T-day! l^)

                        1. re: zin1953

                          2005 Sineann Old Vine Zin (pre/post dinner)
                          2004 Owen Roe Cabernet Franc (perfect w/ dinner)
                          2007 O'Reilly's Riesling

                          and a Late Harvest Gewurtz from Sineann sipped with dessert

                          1. re: TonyO

                            Nice Pac-NW wine list, Tony! (bias acknowledged).

                            1. re: TonyO

                              So . . . you have a thing for Peter Rosback and David O'Reilly, do you? ;^) Two VERY nice guys, making VERY nice wines . . . .

                              (I used to bring their wines into California.)

                              1. re: zin1953

                                Must be an Irish thing ! Someday we hope to take the journey cross country to their neck of the woods. Until then, we are lucky enough to be on the short list of states that have their wines to enjoy. It is nice to be able to call the winery and still talk to the owner. I had the pleasure to talk with Bruce Neyer a few weeks ago here in Vermont. He is making some GREAT wine (and I will likely drink some of his wines and a John Anthony Syrah or two this weekend). Nice people seem to make nice wine. Maybe it is some type of Karma ?

                                1. re: TonyO

                                  Re:"Nice people seem to make nice wine. Maybe it is some type of Karma ?"

                                  Yes, I agree. Though I don't ascribe this to karma.

                                  The way I see it...

                                  Agriculture grounds you. Any person dependent on nature is humbled by its forces. That keeps egos in check.

                                  Wine is made by a team, and to keep a talented team working together well requires good people skills. So, nice gets and keeps nice.

                                  Most strikingly, the profession is driven by passion. Winemakers are drawn to the profession -- often from another successful career -- because they love wine and are intrigued by it. So, passion, motivation, fueled by...

                                  Joy. Drinking wine is inherently a joyous act, one the induces conviviality and connection.

                                  Finally, most winemakers are quasi-philosophers and observers of the human condition.

                                  So yes, nice people, fun people, smart people...make nice wine.

                                  To be sure, there are some very "un-nice" people who make nice wine. Sometimes winemakers burdened by corporate executives can lose their niceness. And, sadly, some people, no matter what their profession, never arrive at their own "niceness."

                                  But that's the exception in the winemaking profession. At least in my view.