Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wine Wednesday — Thanksgiving Advice

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 6:06 AM

First of all, a heads-up. Thanksgiving is one of the five days that by law all Tennessee liquor stores must close, along with Christmas, New Years Day, Labor Day and July 4. So don't plan to pick up a bottle on the way to Grandma's unless you're willing to travel across state lines. Today is your deadline for picking up those perfect bottles to accompany the feast.

The problem is that the many different courses, side dishes, desserts and varied flavors associated with a traditional Thanksgiving meal make pairing wines to all that food quite difficult. The answer is to buy a lot of wine and spread it around the table near the dish it best pairs with. It's not like you're not gonna be washing a lot of dishes anyway, so give everybody a couple of extra wine glasses. Consider it a classy wine-tasting party to go along with your pig-out.

Rather than give you specific wines to pair, I'm just going to give you a list of varietals and why they should pair well. That will free you up to ask for advice from your wine-store proprietor and purchase bottles that fit within your budget.

Let's start with appetizers. While family is filing in, coats are being piled on the end of the bed and aluminum-foil pans jockey for space in the oven, greet everyone with a glass of something bubbly. I'm a big fan of Prosecco or a Spanish Cava to set people's taste buds at attention. Less expensive and complex than their French cousins, these two crisp, dry sparklers are fine to serve in a Solo cup if you don't want to break out the flutes.

The traditional main go-to Thanksgiving wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and with good reason. Let's face it, turkey doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own. That's why we butter it and baste it and inject it and fry it. A nice oaky Chardonnay will hold up to the rich flavors of butter-based dishes, and the fall fruits and vegetables play nicely with the apple and melon overtones of a good Chard. For a red option, Pinot Noir brings sweet fruits to the party. In general, California and Oregon Pinots probably pair a little better with the flavors of Thanksgiving. The elegance of a French Gevrey-Chambertin would probably be wasted next to your uncle's tongue-numbing Cajun spiced turkey.

But what about some other non-traditional pairings? Riesling is a popular choice for a dry white alternative. Look for a bottle with "Trocken" on the label if you want the driest version to contribute flavors of peach and melon to your table. Chenin Blancs — particularly a Vouvray — can run the sweetness gamut depending on how intense you expect the food flavors to be.

Reds offer a lot more variety for your table. Thanks to the marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau, and its yearly arrival like the McRib of the wine world, sometimes consumers forget about Cru Beaujolais. A good Beaujolais actually has complex tannins and bright fruits that are much more interesting than its tarted-up little cousin. Look for something from Moulin A Vent.

I'm a big fan of California Red Zinfandels on our turkey table. While a big, peppery fruit bomb may not be appropriate for your everyday sipping wine, served along with a smoked ham, roasted turkey and cranberries Zin can be a great prelude to the desserts to come. Another favorite is a Sparkling Shiraz, a relatively new arrival to the U.S. market. Contributing a lot of the same pepper and fruit as a Red Zinfandel, these Shirazes are a little drier to better cut through the inherent sweetness of Thanksgiving meals. I've also heard rumors that Argentina wants to make some room at your table with a few new sparkling Malbecs, but I haven't had the chance to sample one myself yet. I would imagine that their inherent sweetness would pair nicely with spicier dishes, so if you see one give it a try and report back here.

When its time to clear away the dishes and retire to the great room for dessert and football, thoughts usually drift to sweeter dessert wines. Late-harvest Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Viogniers can taste like apple pie in a glass, but also offer flavors of vanilla, flowers and honey that complement just about confection you might enjoy. Their relatively low acidity can also help to settle your stomach as you wait to make room for that inevitable early-evening turkey sandwich after you rise from your food coma.

Enjoy the camaraderie of the holiday. And don't forget to bring along your Tupperware for the leftovers!

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