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: Pinot Noir

The Soundbyte:  The Pinot Noir grape has been grown in the Burgundy region of France for centuries, and, typically unblended, makes the region’s world famous red wines.  Pinot Noir is also grown in Champagne, where it makes its way into many “house blend” Champagnes as well as Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Champagne.  Pinot also growns in the Loire; Sancerre Rogue is Pinot Noir!

Pinot Noir has also found a home in the Willamette Valley Region of Oregon State, so much so that the region is often referred to as “Burgundy West.”  The grape also does well in the cooler growing regions of California, the warmer spots of New Zealand, and the cool spots of Australia (think Tasmania, Yarra Valley, and the Mornington Peninsula).

However, the grape is incredibly finicky in the vineyard, and many other growing regions are taking a chance with Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir is often called the “heartbreak grape”, as it is also a difficult grape to handle in the winery, Pinot Noir can be “the best of wines…or the worst of wines.”

Typical Attributes of a Pinot Noir-based Wine:

  • Light garnet to dark ruby in color…sometimes the lightness of the color belies the flavor intensity of the wine!
  • Medium body, medium in tannin
  • The finest Pinot Noir wines combine juicy fruit with good, zingy, balanced acidity.
  • Pinot Noir is potentially one of the most delicate, complex, and food-friendly red wines.
  • Pinot Noir has a signature aromas (imho) of floral notes at the top of the glass, cherry-berry at the bottom, both circling a core of “earthy-wet dirt” hints.
  • Save Pinot Noir for an occasion when you have at least 25 dollars to spend…bad Pinot Noir can be disappointing indeed. (The “New World Hope” exception to this rule just might be Pinot Noir from Tasmania…time will tell.)
  • Pinot Noir makes fantastic sparkling wines and is the most widely planted grape in Champagne.  If you are drinking a Blanc de Noir, chances are, you are drinking Pinot.
  • Rosé of Pinot Noir is a beautiful thing.

Typical Aromas of a Pinot Noir-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Black Cherry, Dried Cherry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Plum

Earthy:  Mushroom, Wet Dirt, Wet Leaves, Barnyard, Smoke

Floral:  Rose, Violet, Dried Flowers

Wood-Derived:  Vanilla, Smoke, Oak, Hints of Spice from Barrel Aging

Where The Best Pinot Noir is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France
  • Champagne
  • France’s Loire Valley…Sancerre Rouge is actually Pinot Noir
  • Oregon State…sometimes called “Burgundy West”!
  • California, particularly in and around the Central Coast, Los Carneros, and The Russian River Valley.
  • New Zealand
  • Australia grows Pinot Noir in its cooler regions such as Tasmania, Yarra Valley, and the Mornington Peninsula.
  • Be very wary of Pinot Noir from Other Regions…it is a finicky grape in the vineyard!

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Poultry, Pork
  • Heavier seafood such as Salmon and Tuna…this is truly a wine that can pair with both red and white meat (depending on the preparation…)
  • This is an ideal wine for the typical American Thanksgiving menu, as well as most other “everybody brings a dish” type of holiday meals.  

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Truffles, Black Olives
  • Earthy Flavored Cheeses, Blue Cheese, Soft Cheeses
  • Tomatoes, Garlic, Shallots, Onions
  • Basil Pesto, Fresh Herbs
  • Eggplant, Beets, Roasted Red Bell Peppers
  • Cherries, Cranberry, Plum – as with most dry wines, careful with the sweetness level.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas