Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving History and Wine

Thanksgiving is a traditional, and federal holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. The National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was first declared by the Continental Congress in 1777. The days of Thanksgiving varied from year to year, but were celebrated with some regularity in the mid-17th century after the harvest was in.

However, it was in 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday to be celebrated the fourth Thursday of November each year that Thanksgiving began to become a treasured holiday.

The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 at what is now the Plymouth Plantation. The three-day feast was held after the first successful harvest in the New World.  Over fifty Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians attended the celebration.

The foods of the first Thanksgiving varied somewhat from what we have today.  The Pilgrims did have access to wild turkeys, but there was also venison, eel, cod, bass, and waterfowl available.

Vegetables that were available included corn, onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, various squash and pumpkins; nuts, dried fruits, cranberries, and apples.

In modern times, our Thanksgiving usually includes what has come to be known as traditional foods; turkey, dressing/stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, autumn vegetables such as sweet corn, beans, squash, and, of course, pumpkin pie. The choice of beverage usually includes tea, coffee, colas, wine, and beer.

But has wine always been a Thanksgiving staple?  According to information regarding what type of cargo the Mayflower carried – wine was regularly included on its shipping roles. The ship's hold could carry 180 oak casks of wine.  The Mayflower was typically loaded with wines from Bordeaux and La Rochelle, France for the return trip to England.

Wine was also listed in the supplies that were sent to the New World from England, along with beer, aqua vita, (a drink made from distilled wine or beer,) and hard cider.  As the colonists learned how to make these drinks in America, the beverages began to disappear from the shipping supply roles. 

While native grapes, fruits, and grains would have changed the taste of the wines, beers, and hard ciders, colonists learned how to work with them to craft flavorful beverages to enjoy with their meals.  By the mid-1600’s, hard cider was the drink of choice in the colonies.

Today, many wines are touted as excellent Thanksgiving wines – Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer/Traminette, and sparkling wines like Moscato, just to name a few. 

Another pairing idea - Beaujolais.  Georges Duboeuf knew that this wine would go wonderfully well with the normal autumn celebration fare, but Beaujolais was traditionally not released until December 15th.  With that in mind, Duboeuf released his Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, and called it Beaujolais Nouveau. Now the third Thursday of November is heralded by the anticipated release of Beaujolais Nouveau, well ahead of the traditional Beaujolais release date, and just in time for autumn celebrations.

If you’re feeling adventurous, or would like to add a bit of authentic autumn flavor to your celebrations, consider a cranberry wine, or one crafted from pumpkins, persimmons, or apples.  

Regardless of your choice of foods and wines for this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful that you have a wine glass, and grateful that there’s something in it! ;)

Happy Thanksgiving, & Enjoy!

~  Joy