Perfect Pairings: Wines for Thanksgiving

When pairing wines with a big turkey dinner, it’s time to take sides. 

By “taking sides” I mean that you need to choose your wines with a mind to the varied tastes and flavors of your side dishes.  Turkey – the main event –  is actually quite neutral in flavor and can pair nicely with a variety of wines.  Side dishes for turkey, however, include the sweet (think yams topped with mini marshmallows), the spicy (sausage stuffing),  the salty (gravy), and the tangy (pickles, olives, and cranberry sauce). 

It takes a fruity, acidic wine with no chance of clashing flavors to match that schizo of a meal.   

I know this subject has been talked to death, that opinions on the matter run hot, and what the world needs now is hardly one more blog post on what wines to serve on Thanksgiving.  So, it is with humility and a bit of trepidation that I offer the following “Bubbly Professor Rules” on wines for Thanksgiving.

Rule #1 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Crisp, Lively Acidity:  Tangy foods, such as cranberry sauce, citrus, or anything from the relish tray, need to be paired with wines that can stand up to the challenge.  To be safe, serve a wine that has lively acidity to begin with and your wine will maintain its balanced flavor even in the presence of acidic foods.

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors:  Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Corn and Yams…due to the fact that they have a degree of sweetness, these foods require a wine that has a very fruit-forward style. A wine with a hint of sweetness is ideal, as any sweetness in a food will diminish the fruitiness or sweetness of a wine.  It’s best to start with a wine with a good deal of fruit flavors, and maybe even sweetness, in order to preserve the wine’s balance with these types of foods.

Rule #3 – Choose a Wine that is Low to Moderate in Tannin:  Tannin is an integral part of the taste, flavor, and structure of most red wines, and the component that gives many wines their “grip” and a “velvety” feel in others.  So, even though we love it, we must be careful with tannin in the wines we serve on Thanksgiving, as too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors.  To avoid a clash of the titans that might end up with a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth, keep those red wines low in tannins and smooth!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Very Little, if Any, Oak:  Oak is a beloved flavor enhancer of many wine styles.  However, highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors.  Flavors that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity, or a tad spicy can all spell trouble when combined with oak!

Rule #5 – Choose a Wine that is Moderate in Alcohol:  Alcohol, while part of what makes wine so delightful, has a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors, and with all the flavor mingling going on at Thanksgiving, a clash is likely.  If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the moderate alcohol range.  Let’s face it…turkey already has enough drowsiness-inducing tryptophan to put you to sleep.  We don’t need any help from excessive amounts of alcohol!

Bubbly Professor’s Wine Suggestions For Your Turkey Dinner: 

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State
  • Viognier from Texas, California, or The Rhône Valley of France
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Bubbly – Any dry or semi-dry Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine
  • Prosecco
  • For the adventurous…Sparkling Shiraz
  • For the less-than-adventurous…Moscato d’Asti
  • Dry Rosé – an all-around great choice!
  • Zinfandel from Lodi or Sonoma
  • Pinot Noir from Burgundy, California’s Central Coast or Oregon
  • Malbec from Argentina
  • Shiraz from Australia
  • Beaujolais
  • Or, of course, you can use this philosophy:  Serve anything you like…it’s just one day out of life!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!! No matter what you serve, enjoy the day and give thanks for all the good things in your life! 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Malbec

The Soundbyte:  One of Malbec’s earliest claims to fame is the spot it holds as one of the grape varieties approved for making red wines in the Bordeaux region of France.  It seems that Malbec was fairly widely planted in Bordeaux before a “particularly harsh winter” in 1956 wiped out a good majority of the vines, never to be re-planted.  Nevertheless, Malbec is still used in Bordeaux, albeit in small amounts. Malbec  can bring spiciness, very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor to blended wines. More recently, Malbec has found a new home and a new home in the high-altitude red wines of Argentina.  The best Malbecs can be described as mouth-filling, fruity, and sumptuous.  Worldwide, Malbec is planted in small amounts, but its popularity and acres planted is on the rise.

Typical Attributes of a Malbec-based Wine:

  • Medium to full-bodied.  Malbec-based wines are known for having a high level of dissolved solids, known in the wine world as “extract.”
  • In France the grape is primarily used for blending, although the New World tends to make Malbec into 100% varietals.
  • The tannins tend to be medium-to-full; when young, the tannins are sometimes described as tight or tightly-wound. Wines from warmer regions, or those made  using certain wine making techniques (such as PFM) can have tannins that are described as plush or ripe.
  • Malbec tends to make earthy, “rustic” style wines.
  • Malbec-based wines tend to be very deep red or purple, almost inky, in color.
  • Malbec also makes a delightful rosé wine and…I’m beginning to see some late harvest/sweet wines made using Malbec. 

Typical Aromas of a Malbec-based Wine:

Fruity:  Plum, Dark Cherry, Cooked Berries, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Raspberry, Fig, Black Currant

Spicy:  Anise, Vanilla, Cocoa, Chocolate, Espresso, Tobacco

Sometimes from the Grape, and sometimes from Oak:  Oak, Cedar, Fresh Lumber, Mocha, Toast, Coffee, Tar

Where The Best Malbec is Grown:

  • Argentina…it especially thrives in the province of Mendoza.  Malbec is the major red varietal grape planted in Argentina.
  • In the Bordeaux region of France, where it is blended in small amounts to add spice to the Bordeaux Blend.
  • Cahors, the region in Southwest France known for making Malbec-based  wines sometimes called “The Black Wine of Cahors”.
  • There is small amount grown in the Central Loire Valley of France.
  • There are some plantings in California, Washington State, Oregon and Texas— where it is made into both varietal wines and as a part of the Meritage blend.
  • You may be drinking Malbec but don’t know it; the grape goes by many aliases including “Auxerrois”, “Cot”, and “Pressac”.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Cocoa, Chocolate (easy on the sweetness!)
  • Eggplant, Fennel
  • Blackberries, Currants, Figs
  • Black Pepper, Creole Spices, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors