White or red isn’t the question.
Rather, it’s half of the annual conundrum of what to pair with the cornucopia of flavors that is the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Rosé and bubbly could be part of the equation. So could pink Champagne.
It depends on what sides you’re serving, whether you prefer light or dark turkey meat – or none at all on your vegetarian table – and if there’s pumpkin pie for dessert, said Noelle Otersen Loparco, who’s updating the wine program at Athol’s intimate, reservation-only Candle in the Woods dining experience and who also consults with local chefs on private, coursed dinners.
She received her Intermediate Wine Certificate from the International Sommelier Guild in 2020 and is now pursuing the second level of her Advanced Wine Certification.
On her family’s Thanksgiving table in Coeur d’Alene, you’ll find “the usual culprits: turkey with stuffing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and brown sugar on top, French green beans with almonds, peas and mushrooms with butter, mashed potatoes and pie. We do pumpkin pie. Super classic.”
This year, she said, “I will probably do the vegetables. I’m the vegetable queen.”
Loparco became interested in wine – actually, wine labels – as a teen growing up in Liberty Lake. She was learning French and would practice translating French wine labels at the grocery store. Later, she studied French and Italian – one of her grandmothers is from Abruzzo – at North Idaho College.
Back then, she worked at Satay Bistro, where she began learning about wine itself. The more she learned, she said, “the more intriguing it became.”
Loparco went on to work at Vine and Olive Eatery and Wine Bar, Castaway Cellars, and Terraza Waterfront Café in Coeur d’Alene, and Gander and Ryegrass in downtown Spokane. This is her second stint at Candle in the Woods.
Thanksgiving is one of her favorite holidays. “I just love the textures and the romance of Thanksgiving,” she said.
For those who prefer white meat, Loparco suggests French crémant, a sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region.
“It’s kind of yeasty, with brilliant acidity,” she said. “If you like to cook your turkey in butter and herbs, this just pairs so well with juicy white turkey meat.”
Other options: “a really yeasty and bready French Champagne or viognier. If it were me, I would do pink Champagne.”
If you go for gravy with your white meat, Loparco suggests a dry riesling. “I like the way the acidity plays with the saltiness of gravy.”
If you opt, instead, for cranberry sauce, she recommends Gamay Beaujolais.
For dark meat, try a French or Washington state sauvignon blanc.
And if you plan on serving multiple bottles, or enjoy a mix of both light and dark meat, well, “then rosé could go with everything. Chenin blanc sort of pairs with everything, too – the whole meal, not just the turkey.”
If you’re skipping turkey altogether and opting instead for a mushroom-based vegetarian main dish, Loparco recommends pinot noir. For a vegetarian main featuring cruciferous vegetables or leeks, garlic and roasted root vegetables, “then I would go petit sirah or, as a second choice, cab franc, and cab sauv as a third choice.”
If you’re still drinking at dessert, and that dessert is pumpkin pie, “I would definitely bring out another bottle of Champagne or a French brut rosé.”
For pecan pie or any nut-based cookies, Loparco recommends tawny port. Or, for “a real classic,” pour Pedro Ximénez sherry over vanilla ice cream.
And, if there’s no room for dessert, she said, just sip a flute of Chambord topped with the sparkling wine of your choice.
No matter what wine you choose, don’t overthink it. “Choosing wine doesn’t have to be complicated. It starts and ends with you. Drink what you like.”