THE BLOG

Not Your Ordinary Beer and Wine Options for Thanksgiving

11/20/2013 08:27 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Sure, Thanksgiving is about tradition: about Grandma's stuffing recipe, Mom's green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, about cranberry sauce and pearl onions and all those dishes we enjoy but once a year; about heirloom silverware and cut crystal goblets brought out only for special occasions; about family and memories and giving thanks for whatever bounty we've enjoyed.

A finer celebration it's hard to imagine, but... the beverage component of Thanksgiving is often disjointed, uninspired and deservedly lacking in tradition. This year instead of a pre-dinner toast of cheap Champagne (after all, who wants to pour $50 or $80 bubbly for dear old, wouldn't-know-a-good-wine-if-it-came-with-a-marching-band Aunt Gertrude or soft drink-swilling teenagers), followed by the obligatory bottle of pinot noir (they say it goes with everything -- doesn't it?), why not wipe the cutting board clean and take a whole new look at what's worth pouring?

Thanksgiving is a celebration and celebrations do lend themselves to something spritzy and sparkling. So that's what you should pour, albeit in a slightly different version. Good Champagne is typically described as showcasing citrus and apple, maybe hints of toast or brioche, with a decided yeastiness, bright acidity and persistent pinpoint bubbles.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it? So this year give them lemon peel and grapefruit with green apple notes, a big hit of sour and that good old yeastiness with a delightful funk quality that pulls it all together. Outstanding aperitif, really kicks the appetite into gear. Your beer-drinking family and friends will think you're a genius; your wine lovers will either be amazed and delighted, or so confused they won't know whether to sit or go hide. All because you've poured them a Gueuze, a tart, bone-dry, effervescent, Belgian lambic.

This ancient style of beer, often made with added fruit (not the type you are looking for), is, in its purest form, i.e., Gueuze, the ideal beer alternative to Champagne. Look for producers Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Tilquin, or Lindemans for the best. Fill the Champagne flutes with this particular brew and you're guaranteed to shake up the gathering, stimulate conversation and have them clamoring to see what you pour next!

Since the choices are usually red or white, or beer or no beer at the table, why not embrace them all? Why shouldn't the drink selections be as bountiful as the food? And with that crazy combination of pickles and nuts and olives; sweet and sour cranberry sauce; sausage, cornbread, onion and celery stuffing; savory gravy and roast turkey; peas, carrots and mashed potatoes; and... fill in the blank with your own family favorites, how could a single beverage suffice anyway?

Open a marvelous Riesling Kabinett, a complex, semi-sweet white from Germany that's among the world's most versatile food wines. Part of the group at the table will love you; the others will be impressed while still anticipating what comes next. And if you want to be more local, turn to New York or Washington state, both of which produce scads of delicious, off-dry Rieslings.

Next to that set out a bone-dry Rosé. Spanish, French or Italian. Everyone will want to try this one so be sure to have a bottle or two as back-ups. Rosé is an absolute delight, both for the eye (who knew there were so many shades of pink, from deep rose to so-pale-it's-barely-there blush to intriguing orangey-salmon) and for the palate. Crisp and clean with flavors of strawberry, currants, cherry and even rose petal. This wine loves everything, food wise, and your guests will feel the same about it. And closer to home look for equally delicious dry rosés from the big three of California, Washington and Oregon.

And now, for the red wine lovers -- hands up, all you pinot, cab, and syrah aficionados -- something totally unexpected: Negroamaro. This distinctive grape from southern Italy can be bottled alone or with up to 20 percent Malvasia Nera included. The characteristics of this wildly under-appreciated (and delightfully inexpensive) variety, i.e., rich, deep flavors of cooked figs and dark fruit, with hints of mushroom and notes of caramel, make it a sure thing to enhance that delicious stuffing, and gravy, and roast turkey, and even that perfect pumpkin pie.

You'll need to visit the best Italian wine section in town to find this beauty, or buy it online; it's doubtful you'll pay more than $15 or $20 for the best bottle they have. Once again, you've stunned the crowd with your beverage thoughtfulness and creativity.

Which leaves the beer drinkers, all of whom have been open-minded, good sports and have tried, and enjoyed, each of the three dazzling wines you've put out, still wishing for at least one more beer to come. This being the season of bounty and you being the consummate entertainer, little do they know that not one, but two, tremendous brews await their thirsty palates.

First up, to satisfy all those lager lovers, but with a bit more complexity and downright deliciousness, is a Cream Ale. A little richer, a little fuller, yet clean and smooth like the best lagers. This is a perfect session beer (betcha can't drink just one) and will be much enjoyed. Cream ale is an American beer and many craft brewers have their own version. Ask your friendly beer seller for recommendations.

And while you're chatting with Ms. or Mr. Brewpants, ask for their best Farmhouse Ale. This is a rather amazing, very complex winter ale that originated in Belgium but is also quite popular among American brewers. A little citrus, a little coriander, could show pepper and cloves and a dab of fruit along with some yeasty, bready notes. Yet it's not overpowering; it's a beer choice that works beautifully with the lovely array of foods and goodies you've put out.

So, now you've done it: impressed and delighted both your wine- and beer-loving Thanksgiving dinner companions, shown your generosity and hospitality. What more can any guest to your table ask? Salud, and Happy Thanksgiving.