Thanksgiving tastes and textures run the gamut each year - savory, sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, chewy, meaty, nutty, veggie, cheesy, you name it. And all of these food expressions are spread out across a table so packed with goodies that it makes the Cardinals training table appear lightweight by comparison.
One of the biggest challenges that always seems to surface among the turkey, ham, and potato and green bean dishes: What wine to serve?
Breathe deep. No need to panic. It's easier than you might think.
The short answer is that there is no one wine to serve. In our house, since the dishes vary so much, I make sure the wine does as well. Everyone seems to have different preferences anyway. Grandpa leans toward the sweeter-style rieslings, while ultra-chic sis prefers the bone-dry pinot grigios. Cousin Jim is stuck in the '70s and is a cab man. Everyone, though, seems to agree with fruity, easy-to-drink gamay, such as Beaujolais nouveau, another wonderful Thanksgiving tradition (and due on the market this week).
All of this said, I know you like rules, and want some pairing guidelines. OK, here goes.
With turkey, I like gew����miner, the spicy, fruity wine of Germany, Alsace, France, and California, among others. Let's face it, turkey can be rather bland, and the stone fruit and zestiness of gewurz bring out the best of the tame meat and work well with other fixings.
With ham, I'm biased toward riesling and gamay-pinot noir. The fruit and semisweet nature of these grape varieties work as a good point-counterpoint to the saltiness of ham, and pork in general works well with gamay and pinot noir, cured or otherwise. Riesling also works well with turkey, so you could, pardon the pun, kill two birds with one stone, and pour riesling with both ham and turkey.
Another red I like to keep on hand for Thanksgiving is shiraz-syrah. One spelling indicates Australia, the other France, but it's the same grape. The earthy fruit and spice of shiraz stands up to beef and lamb dishes, should you serve those, but also complements ham as well. I find the tannins in cabernet sauvignon a bit too abrasive for the Thanksgiving table and opt for shiraz for a "big" wine to serve. I'll save King Cab for a Saturday night steak dinner.
One more thought on white wines and Thanksgiving: Keep some chardonnay available. The gewurz and riesling are great at the dinner table, but for casual sipping before the main event, or when your group ramps up for turkey sandwiches for a second meal later in the day, perhaps while the second football game is on, pour some chard. Its universal appeal works for everyone. And besides, you just like it. With all the running around you've been doing for this meal, do something for yourself.
With the head count and menu set, you'll need to pick up some wine. Deals abound this week. Peruse the sale fliers. Here are a few recommended seasonal selections. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.
Spellbound 2006 Riesling, California. The winery visited more than 20 producers in Germany's famous Rhiengau region to find what style may work best at Spellbound. The result is in the bottle, an off-dry style with rich yet crisp flavors and aromas of honeysuckle-jasmine and ripe nectarines. Ideal for turkey and ham. $15.
Mandolin 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey, California. I love this wine at this price. Pinots have seemingly spiraled out of control since "Sideways," and this one reels disenfranchised pinot lovers back in. The marine influence of Monterey creates an extended growing season and concentrated fruit. Pleasant cherry-red berry fruit comes through with some spice-wood impressions. $12.
Blackstone Winery 2007 Winemaker Select Chardonnay, California. Approachable is the operative word here. The grapes were sourced from the cool Central Coast appellation, mostly Monterey County, with smaller portions of riesling and pinot blanc added for complexity. Luscious tropical fruit notes pang at your nose and palate, along with hints of light spice and wood. Chill and drink on its own. An excellent value at $12.
Vista Hills 2006 Tusculum Estate Pinot Noir, Oregon. OK, moneybags, here's your splurge bottle. You family is worth it, right? Don't answer right away, just enjoy this delicious bottle from a new label in Oregon's acclaimed Dundee Hills appellation. They are making killer pinot noir and pinot gris here. The flavors are rich, intense and concentrated - way bigger than what you typically expect from pinot noir. Wine guru Robert Parker recently gave this bottle 89 points on his famed 100-point scale. $45.