As the tryptophan courses through your veins this Thursday afternoon and you’re lying on the couch wondering why the Dallas Cowboys decided to go for it on fourth and two— when their running game clearly has been faltering—I promise this thought will not cross your mind: “Boy, that gewürztraminer really paired nicely with the cranberry sauce!”
Whether or not the hard-to-pronounce grape variety worked with dinner misses the point of Thanksgiving. Much is made of the food and drink on this holiday that truly revolves around The Big Meal. But as I’ve said before, the focus of the feast is the people sitting around the table, not what’s on it.
And, as I’ve also said before, trying to find the perfect wine for the train wreck of flavor combinations in a typical Thanksgiving spread is a fool’s game.
Nevertheless, you will be standing in your local wine shop dumfounded (can’t blame the tryptophan coma yet) by the hundreds of choices. So here are some thoughts on a wine buying strategy.
Red and white*—You’ll make most people happy by having a red and a white wine on hand.
Buy what you like—See that asterisk on my first point? If you don’t like white wine (and vice versa for folks with a distaste for reds), don’t buy any—or buy very few. You are going to be stuck with leftovers, so you might as well enjoy the unopened bottles for the next few weeks or months.
Buy enough, but don’t go crazy—A good host generally doesn’t run short. But how much is enough? My formula for determining how much is thus: Take the number of adults attending, multiply by the number of hours they will be there. Multiply that number by 1.2 (This is a variable that depends upon your crowd. Raise this number if a battalion of Marines is coming over; lower the number if your preacher is invited.) This will give you your total number of servings
If all you are serving is wine, you’re done. Divide the total number of servings by 5 (the number of 5-ounce servings in a standard bottle) and this how many bottles to get. If you will be offering beer and spirits, too, multiply the total number of servings by the percent of wine drinkers in your crowd. I generally figure about 40 percent of any group will be wine drinkers.
For example, if I’m having 21 people (all adults) over for five hours. I will need 126 total servings (21 x 5 = 105; 105 x 1.2 = 126). That’s 25.2 bottles of wine (126 ÷ 5 servings per bottle), which I’d probably round up to 30 bottles for peace of mind. Note: I rounded up by four bottles, not four cases! If I have a bar stocked with beer and spirits, I’d take 40 percent of 126 (50.4 servings or 11 bottles) as the number for my wine purchase.
Remember, count all adults, even non-drinkers. The 1.2 servings per guest per hour is a tried-and-true average that assumes some will drink more, some less and some none.
Don’t get a potpourri of wine—Unless you want to have your wine purchase take longer than it has to and unless you want to have a lot of partial bottles afterward, stick to a couple of wines (four choices maximum). As pedestrian and uninteresting as it may sound, having a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc, a pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon makes it easier for you and more than satisfactory for your guests. You can still drag out that red zinfandel you’ve been saving and you can buy a bottle of grüner veltliner for your cousin who just spent two years in Austria. That’s just being thoughtful.
May you all have a happy Thanksgiving, including the two readers who said I couldn’t use the word “tryptophan” three times in this column.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.