I love Thanksgiving. Every year I wake up early and run a 5K Turkey Trot with a bunch of other equally demented fleece clad trotters. It's my favorite day in Autumn, even though by mile 2, when my breath is short and I just got passed by another 10 year old in roller sneakers, I usual wonder why I thought that it was such a great idea in the first place. In reality, I'm just happy when I can stay ahead of the under medicated middle aged guy dressed like a giant turkey. One of my brothers and his wife host the big dinner that afternoon, so after I catch my breath, my only responsibility for the rest of the day is to provide the liquid libations. The beauty of this arrangement is that I can take care of my contribution days before and spend the actual holiday enjoying a drink or two. I know that some people freak out over finding the perfect wine or beer to serve with their diverse Thanksgiving menu, but not me.
In case you might need some direction in what to bring to your own family gathering, I thought that I'd do two posts on what I like to serve with Thanksgiving meals. Today I'll concentrate on which wines you could offer your guests (I'll follow later with beer pairs for the day.) All of these bottles should be easy to locate at your favorite liquor store and the prices are approximate.
APPS (and not the angry bird kind)
It's nice to greet guests with something to drink when they arrive. You could go with a specialty cocktail (and I have done this in the past) but let me warn you. It can get real old making a fresh drink every time the doorbell rings and as the cashmere sweater that I wore last year would tell you (because my cashmere can speak. In a French accent) all cocktail shakers, no matter how insanely expensive they were at Pottery Barn, leak. Horribly.
It's so much easier to open a bottle or two and let your guests refill their glasses on their own. Since you may not always know exactly what sort of appetizers are being served, I'd recommend a citrus based white wine. Nothing too heavy, sweet or cloying. A nice Sauvignon Blanc or a sparkling wine would fit the bill. Chill it in the fridge for an hour, then let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.
|Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $12.99|
|Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava $10.99|
|Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote Du Py $15.99|
DINNER (or as some families call it, the battle round)
Here's where people get a little freaked out. Most hosts try to pair their dinner wine with the actual turkey as well as all of the various side dishes being served. And I'm sorry to say, you just can't do this. It's like trying to set up a nuclear scientist underwear model with your best friend who hoards cats and also happens to run the local Doctor Who fansite. Since the turkey is the focal point of the meal, some people try to pair the wine with just the bird. Unfortunately, you end up with a drink that combats everything but the gravy covered meat on the table. Another philosophy is to match the wine to the strongest tasting dish being served. This backfires because then you have a wine that tastes amazing with the cayenne spiced roasted butternut squash, but too mellow with the run of the mill green beans. My advice is to think moderate values in the wine's qualities. Moderate mouthfeel, moderate taste notes and moderate finish.
|Spy Valley Pinot Noir $23.99|
|Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel $11.99|
Let's say that you are providing wine for a larger gathering and need to have a few bottles on hand. At $20-$25 a bottle, that could blow your Christmas budget before any stores even open on Black Friday (and the way things seem to be going, I'm pretty sure that Black Friday will begin on Halloween next year.) I would recommend picking up a few bottles of Zinfandel for dinner. You can usually get a nice bottle from California's Somoma or Paso Robles regions. Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel (Somoma) is a good choice. It has a medium body with flavors of dark fruit (currants and black cherries) balanced by black pepper with softer notes of roasted herbs and a bit of earth. Zindfandels usually possess a spicy finish which will help to cut through the heartiness of a large meal.
Off dry, slightly spicy white wines were made for Thanksgiving dinner. I'm pretty sure that after those kill joy Pilgrims hurried off to bed early, their Indian dinner guests broke open the good bottles of white wine and had themselves a proper day of thanks.
What? I'm pretty sure that I read all about Wrestles With Bear in a
|Fitz Ritter Gewurztraminer Spatlese Pfalz $20.99|
A German or an Austrian Gewurztraminer is a wonderful pairing for the holiday. They are highly aromatic wines with round mouthfeels, but with just enough acidity to work with a variety of foods. Fritz Ritter Gewurtraminer Spatlese Pfalz has the classic taste of lychee fruit, rose petals and stone fruits. The under notes of spice (think ginger) and minerals gives the wine a crisp finish. German and Austrian labels can be a bitch to read (they are the IKEA instruction manual of wine labels.) Spatlese denotes that the grapes were an early part of the late harvest (as the grapes ripen, they become more intense and the flavors truer.) If the label refers to the wine as a Kabinett, it means that the grapes were harvested early and will not be as flavorful, much sweeter in taste and the wine will most likely not be as well balanced. Typically, I'd recommend drinking this bottle with something spicy, such as Thai food. But in this case, I also believe that the balance of ever so slightly sweet and spicy will work with, and more importantly, not against anything that gets thrown onto your Thanksgiving dinner table. Including that marshmallow pretzel concoction that you only spooned onto your plate out of a sense of familial pity.
|Nora Albarino $14.99|
There are some really great deals to be had on wines from Spain, especially whites. Albarino wines are from the north of Spain and share many similar characteristics with German Gewurztraminers, but for a lower price point. Nora Albarino uses late harvested grapes (much like a German wine labeled Spatlese) which allows the fruit to fully ripen. These juicy, ripe grapes give the wine a medium, slightly silky, body and a crisp finish. It tastes of honeydew melons, green apples and lemon zest, balanced by a spicey bite and more lemon on the finish. This is the sort of wine that is perfectly fine to drink on it's own, but really comes alive when paired with food.
Wine doesn't have to be a mysterious, intimidating beverage. After all, it's really just smushed fruit that's been left around too long to eat. Have fun with it. I've yet to leave a holiday meal thinking that the choice of wine ruined the dinner for me. Now, being forced eat canned green beans smothered in Campbell soup and dried onions is a whole other matter.
Next time, craft beer pairings for your Turkey Day.