Given the variety of dishes likely to appear on your table—from sharp, acidic salad dressings to rich sweet potatoes—a wide range of wines could be perfectly appropriate. And because no wine can possibly pair with everything, this is one feast that offers full permission to simply serve what you like best.
One word of advice: Save your very fancy, very pricey wine for a meal that will allow it to shine. Instead, look for versatile wines that will play well with a variety of flavors. Better yet, offer several different wines so guests can enjoy a sip of this and that before settling on a favorite. Offering a few different choices can also make for fun conversation.
Since Thanksgiving celebrates the flavors of the seasonal harvest, it’s the perfect time to shop locally and explore some of the specialty wines being produced here in Wisconsin. From traditional European-style wines to sweet fruit wines to unique dessert wines, Wisconsin winemakers are producing an ever-more diverse range of flavors to please any palate.
Friendly, bright flavors
Even highbrow connoisseurs agree, turkey is easygoing and cozies up well with reds as well as whites. Consider offering both and letting your guests choose for themselves. Or, add a unique fruit wine to your selection for a guaranteed conversation starter.
“Pre-dinner I would serve a fruity red like our Cabernet Franc,” says Craig Fletcher, owner and winemaker at Mona Rose Winery in Green Bay. “It’s a little bit lighter, a nice ‘starting out’ wine.”
Mona Rose Winery is a local, family-owned winery that focuses on handcrafted fermentations of wine that can be tailored to customer requests. “For dinner, I would recommend our Pinot Grigio,” Fletcher continues. “With a heavy meal, you want something refreshing. It’s not thick on the palate, and it has grapefruit notes. It should help liven things up a little bit.”
Northleaf Winery in Milton is a family run micro-winery. They produce a range of red and white wines, from dry to sweet, and also offer fruit blends, dessert wines and seasonal specialty wines. All wines are crafted on-site from grapes grown coast to coast and here in Wisconsin.
“We typically would recommend one of two different wines. Our Sunnyview Orchard Blush, which is a blend of Semillon and Pinot Noir, is light, fruity and versatile,” says Gail Nordlof, who owns the winery along with husband John. “The other recommendation would be our Bright Spirits Cranberry wine which is very palate-clearing for a heavy meal like Thanksgiving dinner. I would serve it blended with champagne – making a cranberry mimosa. Just drop a few whole cranberries into the glass. It’s sparkling, looks beautiful and is very festive.”
Clover Meadow Winery in Shell Lake is the only certified organic winery in the Midwest, and one of only 13 in the United States. “Cranberry would be our big seller for Thanksgiving,” says vintner Ryan Walters. “I would describe our wines as distinctive and robust.” Clover Meadow Winery produces plum, blackberry, rhubarb and cranberry wines, along with more traditional red and white varietals. Their wines are created using Wisconsin-grown grapes and local fruits. Get them while you can, as varieties can sell out fast.
Whispering Winds Winery is a modest, rural winery located in a scenic valley in Fennimore. They produce a variety of red, white, blush, and fruit wines. “Our most popular wines are Drupleberry, which is a mixed berry wine, and Strawberry Rhubarb,” says Jim Eisele, owner and winemaker. “Holiday Red would be my recommendation for a Thanksgiving wine. It’s a sweet Concord grape and cranberry wine.”
A special meal calls for the perfect punctuation, and we’re not talking about pumpkin pie.
One local specialty that makes a spectacular after-dinner statement is ice wine, which is produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, concentrating the flavors. Because more grapes are required for each bottle, and they must be harvested at exactly the right time, making ice wine a rare, limited edition treat at many Wisconsin wineries.
“Almost everybody who tries it, loves it,” says Jeff Stoeger of Cold Country Vines & Wines in Kewaunee, which produces fine, hand-crafted wines from cold climate cultivars. Jeff and Kay Stoeger offer red and white varietals, including a limited release ice wine, which is made from their very own Frontenac Gris. “Kay and I hand picked every grape,” says Jeff. “These were picked last November at 17 degrees.” Jeff notes that the Frontenac Gris, with high acid and fruit content, is the perfect grape for ice wine. He also warns that the 35 gallons they produce (which translates to about 300 bottles) will sell out quickly.
No matter which bottles ultimately grace your table, experts advise stocking up at the beginning of the holidays. ‘Tis the season of frequent entertaining, after all. Consider saving money by taking advantage of case discounts. You can buy enough for the entire holiday season at once. Just be sure to store your wine properly.
This Thanksgiving, relax and remember that when it comes to pairing wine with your holiday meal, you can’t really make a mistake. Unless, that is, you run out of wine.
Sourcing Wisconsin wines
Many Wisconsin wines are widely available; others may require a visit to the winery or to a limited number of distribution locations. In some cases, wines can be ordered online, direct from the winery. Most wineries offer a list of where they can be sourced right on their website.
Clover Meadow Winery
23396 Thompson Road
Shell Lake, WI 54871
Cold Country Vines & Wines
E3207 Nuclear Road
Kewaunee, WI 54216
Mona Rose Winery
2696 South Packerland
Green Bay, WI 54313
232 South Janesville
Street Milton, WI 53563
Whispering Winds Winery
13541 Blue School Road
Fennimore, WI 53809