“What do you mean you cooked the turkey, Charlie? You put our national bird in the oven. We had our mouths all set for roast eagle with all the trimmings.
It’s kinda scrawny isn’t it?
Yeah well, I thought I would stuff some old bread in it and make it look a little fatter….” – excerpts from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years, recorded by Capitol Records in 1961.
It’s that time of year again. The days have gotten light later and dark earlier. Leaves from the mighty oak in our backyard surrendered and clutter our patio. And, everything at Trader Joe’s has transformed into pumpkin spice.
That can mean only one thing: it’s time to choose wines for Thanksgiving. It’s the one day of the year when a wine is most likely to appear on American dinner tables.
Wine has, pretty much, always been a Thanksgiving staple. According to information regarding what type of cargo the Mayflower carried – wine was regularly included on the shipping lists. The ship’s hold could carry 180 oak casks of wine. The Mayflower was typically loaded with wines from Bordeaux and La Rochelle, France.
Our family spends hours, often days, preparing for the biggest food holiday of the year. When our cherished family recipes hit the table this Thanksgiving, I want to serve wine to elevate new flavors alongside old favorites. Selecting which wines will best complement our meal and appeal to our guests with individual taste preferences is always a bit challenging. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Turkey is one of the most versatile of meats when it comes to wine. The white meat is light enough to handle white wines, yet flavorful enough to handle lighter more delicate reds. The dark meat can stand up to bold reds. The devil, as they say, is in the details. In my case, wine pairings are influenced by the delicious side dishes, type of stuffing, the gravy (in general, the darker the gravy, the darker the color of wine that goes with it) and all the other trimmings that make family traditions unique.
Karel feels that bubbles just naturally go with anything and everything. We like to start by welcoming everyone with a nice sparkling wine from California or a pleasant Italian Lambrusco (see my review here). During the meal, I usually try to progress from lighter to richer and heavier wines and then end with French Champagne – the ne plus ultra of sparkling wine, with a richness to match the turkey and stuffing, the cheese and my chocolate pecan pie.
A good way to get the ball rolling (that is very reasonably priced at under $25.00), is Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. This wine is a blend of 92% Pinot and 8% Chardonnay. There is a tinge of rose in the glass and a strawberry/vanilla spice greets the nose. On the palate, I usually taste strawberries with a bit of lemon.
Chardonnay often gets a bad rap, but it’s a lovely choice for the Thanksgiving table—as long as it has the proper fruit-oak balance – a mouthful of oak is not the perfect accompaniment to any kind of meat. The 2015 Hartford Court Sevens Bench Chardonnay ($65.00) however avoids too much oak and strikes the perfect balance.
I agree with winemaker Jeff Stewart who said that the aroma is primarily from Meyer lemons along with some other citrus notes. That fruit style follows into the flavor, with the citrus focus carrying through while being balanced by nice acidity and mineral characters. Barrel fermentation is subtly in the background, adding more complexity to this elegant wine.
One rule I try to follow (not always successfully) when pairing wine with turkey is to avoid excessive tannin (sorry Cabernet). Tannins are perfect for high-fat meats and cheeses since they will be softened by the food. However, with a low-fat meat like turkey, high tannin wines can become harsher and more accentuated. Turkey, when served with gravy and mashed potatoes or stuffing, can be fairly salty so a wine that shows fruitiness, acidity and low tannins can be stellar.
Red Rhône blends are produced from a large range of varietals – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, and sometimes Roussanne or Carignane. You can taste both red and black fruit flavors and usually find a range of medium to full-bodied flavor. Rhône wines are a perfect match for a rich piece of meat because of their complexity and yet, they are still light enough for poultry.
This year I plan to pull a 2013 Denner Dirt Worshipper (Paso Robles) from my cellar to sample. This wine is composed of 99% Syrah and1% Roussanne. When I last tasted it in 2015, it appeared very black in the glass with a nose of blackberries and a trace of pepper. The tannins were silky with hints of blueberries. This was a very smooth wine with a long, rich finish. I can’t wait to see how it has developed.
With its typical baking spices and red berry flavors, Pinot Noir doesn’t just work well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes—it’s a seamless extension of what’s on the table. But it’s not all about fruit: The wine’s earthy qualities beg for the likes of mushroom gravy or truffles cooked under the skin of the bird. If wine-loving friends are ringing your doorbell this year, spring for a special bottle.
Sonoma County offers a bounty of good Pinots. It is just too hard to list a single choice – not that we will be drinking all of these (well… maybe a few).
- 2015 Dutton Goldfield Devil’s Gulch ($72.00) – an ultra-smooth but complex wine that combines generous exotic flavors with a rigid backbone of acidity and silky tannins. It exudes earthy aromas with crisp flavors of black cherries and dark plums. It is medium-full in body with a long pleasurable finish.
- 2015 Donum Carneros ($72.00) – a layered, concentrated wine with a deep ruby color and earthy, floral aromas. It has flavors of blueberry and other spicy fruits. Medium in weight, the palate holds a long spicy finish.
- 2013 MacPhail Mardikian Estate ($85.00) – this is a Pinot lover’s dream date. It checks all of the boxes – dark brown color, a spicy, earthy forest floor nose, a plush and silky palate, ripe red and black fruits, herbal nuances and elegant tannins with smoky undertones. It will be the perfect pair with our turkey.
(No wines were provided for consideration by any person or company)
A final note about our turkey:
This year I discovered that the Thode Family Farm, here in Sebastopol, raises heritage turkeys. When I was growing up, in the fall of the year, my grandfather raised some turkeys on his farm. I was too young to know the specific breed, but these turkeys sure look to be the same. He sold or gave away most of them but we always had a delicious bird on our Thanksgiving table. One of my favorite treats was the huge sack of feathers that my grandmother gave me so that I could play cowboys and Indians throughout the rest of the year.
From the Thode Family:
“Heritage turkeys are part of American History and had almost disappeared in this country due to the commercial economy and efficiency of the industrial-raised, White Broad-Breasted Turkeys. Fortunately, heritage turkeys are experiencing revival, as food lovers have discovered their superior flavor and moist texture. Heritage Turkeys are delicious; their meat is tender, succulent and extremely flavorful — in the words of Marion Burros of the New York Times, they are “the essence of turkey”.
Maintaining genetic diversity with any species is crucial to a secure and sustainable food supply. Heritage Turkeys take longer to grow to maturity but are infinitely better tasting than their industrial, broad-breasted cousins.”
The turkeys are a bit more expensive that the ones you can buy at Safeway but they are certainly worth it. These turkeys have been bred and hatched here in Sonoma County by 4-H youth and their families. All of the turkeys offered for sale are raised on organic feed by 4-H youth and the young farmers get a portion of the money. The turkeys are sold in concert with the Sonoma County 4-H Heritage Turkey Project.
I am excited!
Have a fantastic holiday.