GOLD COAST — If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, a vital entry on your long list of tasks is likely: buy wine.
You’re probably planning on your usual: chardonnay for grandma, lots of rich cabernets and malbecs in an attempt to impress the relatives. But after all these years of hitting the same aisles at Binny’s, did you ever wonder if there was a better way to craft wine selections for your Thanksgiving dinner?
Fortunately for us all, Colin Hofer has suggestions. He’s the 2022 Michelin Guide Sommelier of the Year and general manager of the Adorn Bar & Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, 120 E. Delaware Place.
For one thing, those heavy reds are probably not the best choice for a meal that also includes huge doses of tryptophan, especially if you want conscious guests.
“I think that one of the things I see a lot is an urge to go red too early in a meal,” Hofer said. “If you’re gonna have some light bites to start out and you drink a cabernet right off the bat, it’s gonna kind of ruin that. It tamps everything down, and there is such a thing as palate fatigue.
“So I like to start meals with bubbles or something really vibrant, or even something with a textural component like an orange wine. Because that gets your palate working; the actual bubbles interact with your palate, and then the orange wine is a nice warmup to texture rather than a tannin.”
About those bubbles: Hofer stressed there is a whole world outside of champagne, which can get pricey for sparkling fans.
“There’s gold in each market. There’s great Italian prosecco” and Spanish cava, Hofer said.
But Hofer favors a bubbly that’s a bit under the radar: the pet nat, short for Pétillant-Naturel.
“It’s basically a wine made like a beer — before the CO2 is all able to evaporate, you cork it and you keep the CO2 in the bottle,” he said.
Hofer said there are myriad pet nats available “because there’s a lot of variety in where they’re from. And the price point on them is amazing. Because it’s a much cheaper process than champagne.”
Pet nats are also lower in alcohol, which Hofer said is an excellent theme to stick to for your Thanksgiving wine purchases. Remember, the holiday isn’t a sprint — it’s an absolute marathon, and lower alcohol wines can help keep you from napping in the front room easy chair before the pumpkin pie is even served.
“I generally recommend to drink lower [alcohol by volume] and light-bodied reds and light-bodied whites,” Hofer said. “Because then you’re not passed out by 6 p.m. And I think that they really go well with a lot of the things at Thanksgiving. … [I like] high acid wines when you’re pairing with food because acid cuts fat really well.”
Hofer himself is a big fan of whites.
“I think that’s another thing that a lot of consumers think about sommeliers, is that they drink a lot of red wine,” he said. “I honestly drink a lot more white wine than I drink red wine.”
For your turkey meal, Hofer suggests high acidic varietals like reisling and gewürztraminer.
“I also think chenin blanc is this really fun grape,” he said.
But although Hofer leans toward white wine, he enjoys red, as well — but it’s all up to the timing.
“I love red wine too,” Hofer said. “I just think you should save it for that last course, your heartiest dish.”
Your light-bodied reds will also be lighter in color, appearing more ruby in your glass than burgundy-shaded. Hofer suggested a nice beaujolais nouveau.
“It’s a very fresh style of wine high in acid. You don’t get all of that tannin on your palate,” Hofer said. “It’s very nice with food, especially if you’re eating the usual affair of Thanksgiving: turkey and mashed potatoes and all these things. For red wine, higher acid, light-bodied reds are the way to go,” like a grenache or zinfandel.
And if rosé is your jam, you’re not alone, Hofer said.
“I think rosé is one of those beautiful things in the wine world where you don’t have to take it too seriously,” Hofer said. “You can just enjoy yourself, and … it gives you strawberries and some fruits, but no one’s like swirling and smelling it and telling you what you should taste or notes. It’s just a very accessible way to drink wine.”
Whatever you peruse at your local wine store, Hofer encourages you to reach out and experiment with grapes and varietals this holiday season.
“I think everybody comes to the Thanksgiving party and has tried chardonnay, they’ve tried sauvignon blanc,” he said. “So I encourage people to just go choose one wine that you can’t pronounce and go for it.
“It’s kind of like that uncle who’s like, ‘I only drink Miller Lite.’ We do this with wine, as well. Like when you only drink chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. I think that with that uncle, if you switch it out on him, or like, here’s a craft brew that’s a pilsner — he’s gonna enjoy it. He might be like, ‘Oh, this tastes a little funny,’ but it’s definitely stretching a little bit and could be better.”
But maybe Hofer’s best tip for Thanksgiving: Don’t forget to hydrate.
“Match every glass of wine with a glass of water,” he said. “It’s a long day.”
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