Thanksgiving and wine

Bonjour and happy fall to everyone! I hope that you all had a chance to get out and try the sumptuous sensation that is Condrieu! I did actually get a little bit of feedback from some people who tried a bottle and they were overall quite positive in their reviews. And after writing it, I of course drank a bottle and then ordered several more for the cellar… my wife was shocked at that development! Oh well, I may be predictable, but at least I have plenty of wine to share…

Things here in Bozeman are good. It seems that winter has descended upon us with a nice 8-inch snowstorm over the last two days. Once again I am regretting the fact that I spent my snow blower budget on Burgundy… well, not really. I recently successfully guided my well-known neighbor Chris “Elk Slayer” Brown into a herd of elk in the local mountains. He was able to bring down a nice cow elk to stock the freezer. I personally decided to allow the rest of the herd to wander free and did not fire on them. I guess I have a soft side after all. Some of you may be reading this thinking; if Newman didn’t shoot it’s probably because he didn’t see any elk at all. That of course would be wildly inaccurate and I stand by the account above.

Otherwise, life here has been consumed with figuring out parenthood. So far I think we are scraping by. The stress of having no clue what I’m doing and lack of ability to regularly get outside for long periods of mind clearing exercise, have led to a multitude of purchases for the cellar as that is my other main way to unwind. Sadly, my drinking partner is still on a limited intake given the fact that alcohol supposedly gets into breast milk… so this has led the cellar to be markedly over capacity. Such is life… If any of you want to swing over, I have plenty of excellent vintages to share!

If any of you have been checking my website ( in case you forgot) I have made several other shorter posts that may be informative. One in particular that many of you may be interested in is about value wines discussing some of my favorite bottles under $25. I’m certain I’m only days away from getting offers for advertising and being able to retire from my day job.

Ok, enough babbling, I’m going to try to keep this one short and to the point. This month will be slightly different and hopefully you will enjoy it. Instead of reviewing a particular region and discussing the minutiae of the soil, climate, and winemaking styles, we are going to talk about wine pairings for Thanksgiving! I thought that it might be helpful to go through some wine styles that generally pair well with the classic holiday of overindulgence. I will be focusing on the classic Thanksgiving fare here with turkey as the main dish. If you are anti-traditionalism and doing something different, feel free to contact me for specific recs for your own meal. Otherwise, hopefully you will find this helpful.

First, I think it is helpful to review a few core tenets of wine pairing. This will be useful in all meals. I am not talking about the old sayings “white wine with fish and red wine with meat” because I think that is not very accurate or helpful given the differences in the spectrum of both white and red wine. I think what that adage is really trying to say is to try to match the weight of your food and wine. That is definitely something you want to be aware of. Certainly a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a seared medium rare ribeye is probably not going to work, just as you would never want a heavy, massively tannic Bordeaux red with sushi. However, a bright gamay noir with seared tuna could be delicious just as a rich and aromatic gewurtraminer would be tasty with a lamb curry. Anyway, you get the idea; heavy, rich foods generally warrant bigger wines as a light wine may get overshadowed where as more delicate food warrants lighter wines to highlight rather than overwhelm it. A few other things to keep in mind:

  • spice and salt accentuate tannins – keep this in mind especially with red wines; even if you are having beef, but you are having it with a spicy chimichurri sauce, you likely won’t want a tannic cabernet sauvignon with it
  • acidity in wine can help to enliven creamy dishes – this may seem to go against the “matching weight” paradigm a bit, but I often like to have a fresh, bright wine with food that has lots of fat/cream/butter etc. For example, scallops in a beurre blanc sauce to me is better with a crisp Chablis or Sancerre than a heavy, oaky Napa chadonnay as the wine knifes through the fat to refresh your palate with each sip; also a dish such as boeuf bourguignon with a lovely high acid pinot noir is delightful
  • sweetness in wine helps to mitigate spice in food – this is mostly for pairing wines with spicy cuisine like Thai, Indian, Mexican, etc; here sometimes the spice can overwhelm wines even if you have matched the weight nicely so I tend to lean towards wines that are off dry, German and Austrian rieslings, demi-sec Vouvray, gewürztraminers, viognier etc.
  • Finally, sweetness in food can make high acid wines taste extremely tart, thin, and metallic; this is often only an issue with sauces or demi glaces; say a nice pork loin that should be beautiful with sangiovese turns out to have a sweet, berry laden demi glace; this will make the sangiovese taste like a metallic, underripe cherry pit and won’t work… so be aware of sweeter accents in your food and if they are present opt for something a bit richer and lower acid (Grenache for example)

Ok, those are some of the basics. So now, lets get onto specifics for Turkey day! The Thanksgiving table is generally quite varied in flavors and weights, which makes pairing a little bit trickier. So I tend to use wines that pair well with a variety of flavor profiles. The good news is that wines of all shades can pair well with Thanksgiving fare, so no matter if your guests only drink rose or white or whatever, you can accommodate them.

Sparkling: Most of you probably weren’t expecting this to be on the list, but Champagne or other sparklers can work just fine at the Thanksgiving table. Sure, I generally serve mine as an aperitif with a cheese and relish tray, but if there is some left in the bottle, move it to the table. The salty, savory aspect of gravy over the turkey will enliven the flavors in the bubbly and I think you will be surprised at how well it works. Also, the bottom line is, sparkling wine sets a festive mood and I’ve yet to serve a glass of good bubbly to someone and have them be upset about it. So whether you have it before the meal, during the meal, or both, I recommend making bubbly part of your holiday! Here are a few to keep your eyes out for:

  • Segura Viudas Cava – a steal at around $10
  • Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs or Blanc de Blancs – my favorite domestic sparkler, always delicious
  • Andre Clouet Champagne Brut – an excellent value Champagne, often available for around $35
  • Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reservee – one of my favorites and not horribly priced at around $50

Whites: I generally aim for a fairly equal mix of whites and reds with maybe a rose or two thrown in. Whites are key as they are remarkably food friendly and there is always a person or two who claims they don’t like red wine… Again, the key is you want to have IMG_2691a white that has a little bit of body as many of the foods on the table will be relatively rich and decadent (at least at our house). Things like Oregon pinot gris, Alsatian pinot gris, Alsatian gewürztraminer, white Burgundy, Oregon chardonnay, Loire Valley chenin blanc, and of course Condrieu can all work very well. These tend to be aromatic wines that have moderate body and richness, yet still have good acidity so the meal doesn’t feel heavy. Sauvignon blanc can also work well as it is crisp, clean, and generally lets the food shine.  From turkey to stuffing to sweet potato casserole to cranberry salad, these will work. A few particulars that can often be found on my table:

  • Eyrie Pinot Gris – still to me one of the most versatile and undervalued wines around, generally available for around $17-20 and fabulous
  • Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer – a beautiful expression of the grape with excellent depth and energy; this is a fun wine for people to try as many people have never experienced a good gewürztraminer
  • Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec – try to stay away from the sweeter examples of chenin blanc, but a taut and nervy sec from Huet or Champalou can be delicious
  • Guigal Condrieu – already mentioned in the previous month… so delicious who cares what else is on the table!
  • Domaine Fichet Auxey-Duresses – (chardonnay) this is a crisp and taut version of the grape that has lovely citrus accents with pear and a hint of hazelnut; the vibrant acidity helps it to pair nicely with a wide variety of foods
  • William Fevre Chablis – (chardonnay) another crisp and fresh chardonnay that has lovely saline and iodine notes to accent some of the savory notes at the table, also loads of fresh lime and lemon allow this to be a mouthwatering palate cleanser
  • Domaine Vacheron Sancerre – maybe my favorite sauvignon blanc in the world… delicious; of course you could substitute a New Zealand option just as easily

Reds: Reds are also essential, and probably what most people have on the table for this holiday. Again, here in general you want to stick to things that are flexible with food and IMG_2690won’t weigh down or overshadow the meal. I generally tend to avoid bigger, tannic wines such as young cabernet sauvignon, young Bordeaux, or young Nebbiolo. Aged versions of these wines could certainly work as they will be nicely complex and the tannins will have fallen away.  However, my go to wines here are generally pinot noir, gamay noir, and sangiovese. These lighter bodied, high acid reds are perfect with turkey and other flavors at the table. Other reds such as traditionally made Rioja (that’s tempranillo), cabernet franc (especially from the Loire), or even a lighter styled syrah could work. Some of the Sicilian wines that we discussed several months ago would also be excellent; these include frappato and the Cerasuola di Vittoria (frapatto/nero d’avola blends). There are many affordable Cotes du Rhone blends that would also be lovely. In the same vein, a lighter Chateauneuf du Pape or Gigondas could work, however many of these are a bit too big and high in alcohol and may obliterate some of the more subtle flavors on the table, so be careful in your selections here. As you can see, there are lots of choices out there! Here are a few of my particular favorites:

  • Eyrie Pinot Noir – as with the pinot gris; this is still an excellent value in the realm of high quality pinot noir and the lighter, elegant style of Eyrie works beautifully with Thanksgiving fare
  • Cameron Pinot Noir Dundee Hills – another killer pinot value from Oregon, this wine is a little darker and gamier than the Eyrie, but still works beautifully.
  • Jean Foillard Fleurie – a fabulous cru Beaujolais that has beautiful fruit and floral notes with perfectly judged acidity. If you can find this, it would be an excellent pairing
  • Domaine Hudelot-Noellat Bourgogne – this is a stellar example of the entry level in Burgundy; red fruit, spice, and earthy hints with excellent freshness and very good depth; a good value Burgundy at around $30
  • Jean Marie Fourrier Bourgogne – one of my favorite producers in Burgundy, his entry level stuff generally punches above its weight and will be excellent with turkey, a bit pricier in the $45-50 range
  • Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino – this is killer Sangiovese with bright red cherry, anise, leather, violet, and tobacco notes that come together in an elegant, yet flavor packed nature. A very good value, often around $20
  • Montevertine Rosso – this is a Chianti Classico that doesn’t label itself as one and in my opinion it is about the best in class in Chianti; a beautiful, elegant, and ethereal wine that seems at once weightless and powerful; an excellent choice for turkey day
  • Domaine de Pallus Chinon “Les Pensees de Pallus” – if you enjoy cabernet franc, this is a nice one that is not going to break the bank; classic nose of strawberry, cherry, bell pepper, green tobacco, and herbs; the palate has crisp acidity and nice structure; this would be a fun choice to give people something different to try (although I’ll warn you not everyone enjoys the green notes)
  • Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia Reserva – this is one of my favorite Riojas; very reasonably priced for the quality of wine ($40ish); the nose has beautiful red fruits, leather, dill, damp earth, lilac, orange peel, and hints of vanilla. The palate again gives that feeling of power without weight and glides effortlessly across your palate to a harmonious and lasting finish.
  • Occhipinti Il Frappato – if you have never had the wines from Arianna Occhipinti, make it a point to try one; they are fabulous; this pure frappato is a joy to taste and drink; it is simply delicious and each sip leaves you longing for another; bright, fruity, savory, floral, and mineral notes dance along the tongue to a titillating finish. A definite crowd pleaser.
  • Domaine Janasse Cotes du Rhone – this is an excellent example of Cotes du Rhone with darker fruit, spice, and garrigue in a nicely balanced style.  And it is generally only around $20.

Rose: Often times people overlook rose, however at the Thanksgiving table, they are often one of the most versatile options. They combine some of the benefits of red and whites and are just damn tasty. Just make sure you stay with dry rose. A sweet one likely won’t work nearly as well. I tend to lean towards the dry Provencal roses although Corsican and Italian rosato’s would be just fine if you prefer that. The bright melon and berry fruit along with the sea breeze, garrigue, and freshness make these excellent table companions for many occasions including Thanksgiving. A few of my favorite roses are:

  • Domaine Tempier Bandol rose – this is hands down the best rose in the world; I’ve never served it and someone not love it. Yes it is pricey for rose at $40, but how much does the best pinot noir or best cabernet sauvignon in the world cost?? Comparatively, it should be considered a steal! Splurge and try one, you won’t regret it. (Ideally, try to get one that is 2 years old, ie this year serve the ’15 as I think these develop beautifully for a year in bottle)
  • Domaine de Marquilani Corse “Le Rose de Pauline” – this is a crisp and tasty Corsican rose that shows bright strawberry and melon with sea breeze and floral notes. At $15 you can’t go wrong!
  • Chateau Thivin Beaujolais-Villages rose – I had this wine a few times this summer and each time I said, “this is really good, I am going to buy more”. A crisp and delicious example of gamay in the rose form. Another great value at $20.

Well I suppose that gives you plenty to consider while selecting your holiday wines. I hope it helps remove some of the stress that people often experience when trying to pick wines for big dinners. The final point to remember is, the worst scenario you can have with regards to wine and your holiday is running out! So whatever you choose, make sure you have plenty on hand! As always, I’m available for private consultation regarding specific menus and other questions. My fee is a nominal $50 per recommendation provided. Otherwise I hope you all are well and will be able to enjoy the upcoming holidays with family and friends. We will certainly hope to see a few of you at least in the Newman neighborhood for some toasting and celebrating!

Until next month,

J. “Elk Spotter” Newman, CSW

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