Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect occasion for dessert wine, but Cai Palmer, proprietor of Wine at Five in Rye, says that by the end of his Thanksgiving meal, his guests are “stuffed, falling asleep—the last thing they can conceive of is more wine.” So he eschews heavier, sweeter wines in favor of less obvious, more refreshing choices. “I want a dessert wine I can add an ice cube to,” he says. “A reverse apéritif.”
Traditional Thanksgiving dessert pairings—Sauternes with pumpkin pie, sherry with pecan—call for wines that are at least as sweet as dessert, “lest your sugar-coated taste buds pick up on every aspect of the wine but the sweetness it’s meant to bring to the table,” says Ned Towle, founder and director of Westchester Wine School.
But Palmer pairs his Thanksgiving meal with lighter wines, focusing on side dishes instead of the turkey. Likewise with pumpkin pie: It’s the spices, not the pumpkin, that call for something citrusy. “Banyuls [a Grenache-based fortified sweet wine from Roussillon] with two ice cubes is the most refreshing dessert or apéritif wine you can imagine,” he says. He suggests Moscatel (Señorío de Sarría) or Tokaji Aszú (Disznoko 5 Puttonyos 2007). For cheese, move to a more unctuous botrytis-accented Austrian ice wine (2002 House of Hafner from Neusiedlersee) or Ariyanas (Bodegas Bentomiz 2008).
For those on a budget, Towle enjoys sweet Anjou wine made with Chenin blanc, which is flavorful and aromatic (he especially likes Domaine des Baumard). Michael Burke of Larchmont Wine & Liquor suggests Monbazillac (Chateau La Gironie 2009, $8.95/half bottle).
Though chocolate pairs well with port, Towle prefers Roussillon fortified wines, and Palmer, who finds that anything tannic brings out a metallic taste in chocolate, likes orangey vin santo, an Italian late-harvest wine.