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: Syrah

Syrah – The Soundbyte:

The Syrah grape, also known as Shiraz, is   believed to be native to southeastern France. There’s a lovely legend that tells of the grape as a native to the city of Shiraz in Iran, transported from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades—but, alas, it has been proven untrue and will remain with us as “just a good story.”

Today, the grape is widely grown in the South of France, where it stars as the main red grape in the Northern Rhône and a blending partner to a whole gaggle of grapes—including Grenache and Mourvèdre—in the south. It has become somewhat of an icon of Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian winemakers often choose to call the grape Shiraz.  Syrah is also widely grown in many other new world regions, where it is made into dry reds of both the single-variety and blended-variety.  While it is often made into bubbly, rosé and dessert wine, Syrah is mainly known as a powerhouse red.

 Typical Attributes of a Syrah-based Wine:

  • European-style, Old-World Syrah-based wines tend to be medium-dark in color and concentrated in flavor. Old world Syrah is often blended with softer grapes to minimize or balance tannin and alcohol levels. These wines are often earthy, dense, smoky, herbal and even “gamey” wines.
  • New World Syrah/Shiraz-based wines tend to be dark purple, opaque, and inky in appearance.  Other attributes of New World Syah include high alchohol, fruit-forwardness, and intense tannins. These tannins are sometimes considered “soft”  or “velvety” because they are drinkable when the wines are still young (often a result of winemaking techniques).
  • Australian Shiraz is sometimes described as plush ripey. Who can resist that?
  • The Australians produce sparkling Shiraz.
  • Syrah also makes a lovely, dry rosé.

Typical Aromas of a Syrah-based Wine:

Fruity:  Blackberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Prune, Blueberry, Orange Peel

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, Espresso, “Burnt Coffee”

Chemical:  Leather, Burnt, Tar, Smoke, Burnt Rubber, Asphalt, Graphite

Earthy:  Gamey, Smoky, Minty, Barnyard, Garrigue

Floral:  Lavender, Wild Flowers, Dried Flowers, Violets

Where The Best Syrah is Grown:

  • Australia.
  • The South of France.  Syrah stars in the wines of the Rhône, as the dominant variety in the North (such as the famous wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie), and as part of a blend in the South (as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône).
  • Syrah also does well in the Southern French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.
  • South Africa, especially the warmer regions such as Paarl and Franscheok.  For a real treat, try a bottle of “The Chocolate Block” from Boekenhoutskloof Winery (extra credit if you can pronounce it).
  • California, especially Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Santa Barbara.
  • Washington State, the new “hot” growing region for Syrah.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

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

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms, Walnuts, Pecans, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Sage, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Blackberries, Currants, Prunes (but go easy on the sweetness)

Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper, Coarse Grained Mustard, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texasmissjane@prodigy.net .