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Holiday Delights

A perfect pair(ing) this Thanksgiving

By - Nov 19th, 2010 04:00 am
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photo by Sushiesque via Flickr.com (CC)

So youʼve been invited to Thanksgiving dinner and you want to bring wine, but for some bizarre reason youʼve been left to guess whatʼs being served.

Of course you could just call and ask, but that would be too easy. Besides — half the fun is in surprising people with a wine that earns you a few pats on the back, right? Who can resist uncle Frankʼs bear hug kudos or aunt Marthaʼs rosy-cheeked kisses? And if youʼre hoping to impress the parents of your new main squeeze, then you certainly better give this a little thought.

This isnʼt rocket science — the worst that can happen is that you or others might temporarily get a bad taste in your mouth from drinking a certain wine with a particular food. In the grand scheme of things, thatʼs not very much to worry about, so have fun, aim high and go for something unusual and potentially spectacular.

photo by Eggplant via Flickr (CC)

photo by Eggplant via Flickr (CC)

As with cooking, itʼs always a good idea to try a recipe or a wine before serving it,  and keep in mind that if you intend to have your wine served with the main course, be sure to bring enough for everyone —  allow one bottle for every five people.

In order to successfully pair wine with food, there are several fundamentals to consider : intensity of flavor, texture, weight of the dish and the wine and flavors. The most straight-forward way to proceed is to match the wine to the most prominent element in the dish. Identify the dominant character — more often it is the sauce, seasoning or cooking method rather than the main ingredient.

Evan Goldstein, author of Daring Pairings puts it aptly, “A dish is basically like a barrel of monkeys. You have to identify the alpha male, something that sticks out. Thatʼs what makes the match.”

Alpataco Wine, photo by Megan Morris via Flickr (CC)

Alpataco Wine, photo by Megan Morris via Flickr (CC)

You want to achieve a harmonious balance of flavors from both the wine and the food with neither overwhelming the other. For turkey with gravy (which is relatively heavy and rich thanks to the high fat content), you want a wine that can match it in weight and flavor, and one of the best are wines made from the Pinot Noir grape. New world Pinots are more fruit-forward and the old world more savory and subtle.

Find one you like –since they are all low in tannins and have a red fruit flavor profile, they will complement the flavors of roast turkey and rich cranberry and nut laden stuffing quite nicely.

Personally, I lean toward old world Pinot for its more complex, earthy flavors that will glorify sauces with mushrooms, nuts, and other savory ingredients. For the best of them, choose a well-known producer from Burgundy or a great vintage for the region.

A full-bodied, creamy Chardonnay will also pair nicely, although itʼs best to go with unoaked or moderately oaked wine ( the oak can vanquish the flavors in many foods). Here too Iʼd look to the classic white wines of Burgundy, most of which are 100 percent Chardonnay, with crisp, lean minerality, good body and the ability to complement many foods.

If French wine labels mystify you — as they do most of us — this is where relying on your expert wine shop retailer will make your life much easier.

If your host is one of those exhibitionist-style cooks who deep fry their birds in a fountain of flame and fat, aim for a medium-bodied Italian red with good acidity to cut through the fat, such as Chianti (from the Sangiovesi grape) or a Barbera. If you lean towards the safety and simplicity of white wine, a spicy, aromatic Gewurztraminer is a classic Thanksgiving pairing, as is a rich Chardonnay.

Should ham be the main course, youʼll be home free with many old world Pinot Noirs, a Gewurtztraminer or an aged Riesling from Alsace — fragrant with notes of honey and petrol, and luscious fruit flavors befitting the sweet honey-maple glaze likely encasing the ham.

If lamb is served, my personal favorite wine to have with it is Bordeaux or California Cabernet Sauvignon. Lamb has strong flavors and needs a strong wine.

And if the celebratory feast is centered on tofu, vegetable and nut concoctions, bring a good organic sparkling wine, Riesling or a fruit-forward Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon — where many wine producers proudly promote their biodiverse and organic viticultural methods.

Champagne and other sparkling wines are sure winners in the successful pairing sweepstakes. They hold up to the many salad and side dishes prepared with vinaigrette dressing and other tangy flavors, and it doesnʼt really matter which course theyʼre drank with — good quality Champagne will hold itʼs own from hor d’oeuvres and main course through cheeses and (some) desserts.

For sweet desserts like pecan pie or ice cream, youʼll want a sweet wine such as Moscato, the classic Sauternes or a good Port. Versions of Moscoto, Port and other sweet wines are produced in California, New York  and Australia, so there are good options aside from the top-tier classics from France and Portugal.

In the end, if you give the gift of thoughtfulness to the wine you choose, hand it to someone lovingly and with sincere gratitude, then youʼve already made the most successful pairing of all.

To aid in your selection, here are fun suggestions (and a few tasting notes) from a cross-section of knowledgeable local retailers, all of whom have interesting ideas across a broad spectrum of price ranges.

Phil Bilodeau
Proprietor, Thief Wine Shop & Bar (Downtown)

  • M. Lapierre Morgon, 2009 cru Beaujolais. $22.95 (Low-tannin so easy to drink on its own, yet with great minerality and structure. Great with food because low alcohol, low tannin, moderate acidity; red grape flavors match with cranberry, has a bit of earthiness, light enough to go with turkey.)
  • Marques de Murrietta 2005 Rioja Reserva. $24.95 (For a bigger red yet still food friendly, Rioja is a great choice – plenty of fruit but with a leathery, earthy character.)
  • Escarpment 2009 ʻOver the Edgeʼ Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand. $15.95, (A great middle-ground between new and old world style.)

Ben Christiansen
Proprietor Waterford Wine Co, (East Side)

  • Gaston Blanc d Blanc Champagne, DʼAy, France. $55
  • Prager dry Riesling 2008, Achleiten Vineyard, Austria. $50
  • Folk Machine “Valdiguie” Deadwood Valley, California. $16.99

Corienne Winkels
Manager, WineStyles (Brookfield)

  • Cruzat Cava Methode Traditional Sparking Wine, Argentina. $20.99 (Pairs with each course and is festive.)
  • Louis Latour Chardonnay 1er Cru, France. $24.99 (A full-bodied Chardonnay from a renowned producer.)
  • Bran Caia Tre 2007, Italy $22.99 (Sangiovese grape made in new world style. Ranked #10 by Wine Spectator on their “Top 100” list.)

0 thoughts on “Holiday Delights: A perfect pair(ing) this Thanksgiving”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The problem is… you really need to pair the wine not with the turkey, but with the trimmings. Turkey is a relatively bland bird – but if you’ve got herbed stuffing, or powerful vegetables like leeks, if your cook uses herbs or spices in their dishes, then it’s those you need to pair the wines with.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice recommendations. I agree whole heartedly on the Folk Machine Valdiguie. It is a food friendly wine with a complex flavor profile with red fruit and earthy notes. Regarding the Lapierre, it is a staff favorite at Waterford also. For dessert, try Atomic Chocolate’s Sea Salt Caramel with any quality port. I just tried it with Heitz Ink Grade Port and it was delicious. Cheers, from stillsipping@yahoo

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