Monday, November 15, 2010

Wine and Thanksgiving

My wine recommendations for Thanksgiving Dinner appear at the end.  I know this topic would be more timely next week, but I hope it is more useful this week with time and a weekend yet to make plans and purchases.

It is one of my favorite times of the year.  No, not the completion of vintage and the ecstasy, expectation, and sense of relief that follow it. (Had you asked me two weeks ago the third variable in that series would have been ennui, but as nice as that alliterative flourish would be, I don't roll that way.)  Instead, I am talking about the imminent arrival of Thanksgiving.

For me this brings back memories of the fantastic five-day weekend we received from public school, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, great food, the beginning of the Christmas season, and a trip the weekend before to watch my Harvard Crimson crush the bullies from the inferior institution located somewhere unpleasant in Connecticut.  But for the past few years, and now more than ever before, this time of year is a favorite of mine due to the arrival of the annual "What Wine to Have with Thanksgiving Dinner" articles in publications across this fine nation.

Why does this amuse me so?  It all boils down to a little secret that all of us in the wine industry, especially wine writers, know: there is hardly a wine in this world that does not pair with turkey and Thanksgiving Dinner.  There are two considerations that factor into this reality:

  • Turkey pairs well with nearly any light to medium bodied wine.  This isn't a beef or fish situation that clearly calls out for a certain wine to stand-up and/or not overwhelm the food; roast turkey is a flavorful dish that pairs with nearly all interesting white, red, or rosé wines.  With the notable exception of very heavy, jammy, alcoholic, or extracted red wines, you will enjoy nearly any wine you like with turkey.
  • Thanksgiving Dinner is too large, too varied, and too complex a meal to ever find the "perfect" wine for.  What goes nicely with the green bean casserole is not likely to match the cranberry sauce.  What pairs with the mashed potatoes will likely be a miss with the sweet potatoes.  
    1. One option would be to have a large variety of individual bottles for the evening, but this is onerous and expensive.
    2. A second, equally unpalatable, option would be to select wines and then pair them with each dish in the meal.  This would not only be expensive, but is a pot shot at best.  We can have a hard time pairing when we have access to tasting every wine in our tasting room, let alone guessing in the dark.
What's my suggestion?  Pick a wine or two (one white/rosé, one red) that you enjoy and you cannot go wrong!  Preferably these wines would be light to medium bodied (not too heavy or alcoholic) so you do not tire of it or have it tire you out over the course of a long meal, but this is the only other guideline I would offer to "drink what you enjoy."

Despite the fact that wine with Thanksgiving Dinner should not be complicated or intimidating, the way it is usually treated always results in the wine articles I love so much.  It is no offense to the wine writers, who are asked and compelled to provide insight on the issue, that this is the easiest feature they have to write every year.  They know they can pick most any wine and be successful, they just need to put some words on paper and they have earned a handy pay check.

Some wine writers, such as Eric Asimov at the New York Times, go above and beyond and preface their yearly article with this reality; nearly anything will work and their recommendations are more suggestions and insight into their pairing philosophy.  Others continue to print the idea that one should only serve zinfandel from the US because it is an American grape, from a California producer, for American Thanksgiving.  With all due respect; the grape is not American, there are many places other than California that produce wine in America, and high-octane zinfandels are actually in that small group of wines that pair terribly with Thanksgiving Dinner.

With all that being said, and our advice that you pick the wines you enjoy most for your Thanksgiving Dinner, here is what will be on my table:
  • '09 Riesling (Semi-Dry):  Beautiful tropical and tree fruit aromas and flavors, with a refreshing combination of sugar and enough acidity to keep you coming back for another sip and more food. Complements rich foods by keeping them from getting cloying, while the slight sugar and fruit flavors provide a nice counterpoint to turkey and vegetables.
  • '07 Pinot Noir:  A medium-light bodied Pinot Noir that has developed the earthy and cherry aromas and flavors that we find so enticing.  Refreshing to drink and those flavors are dynamite with Thanksgiving staples, but this wine still has enough grip to keep you interested.

Happy Feasting!

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
  • In memoriam of an inspired composer with one of the most transcendent pieces of the 20th century.  
  • Henryk Górecki; Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 - Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (as performed by Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta):

Support Artists, buy the music you like!

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