Angels, Unicorns and Elves
Thanksgiving is only two days away. If you are cooking the holiday meal, you are most likely locked and loaded. You know what you are making, and except for a few last minute details, you likely have all the ingredients you need. Even if you are bringing a side dish, dessert or some hors d’oeuvres you should be squared away.
Right now my advice is limited to two subjects.
One. Should you be throwing convention to the wind this year and eschewing the holiday turkey for a HoneyBaked Ham – DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PUT THAT HAM IN AN OVEN.
Two. Everyone, and I mean everyone, comes out of the woodwork on Thanksgiving looking for the perfect wine to pair with the traditional holiday meal. I do have some thoughts on pairing in general. But when it comes to turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, forget about it.
The perfect pairing does not exist and I’m going to tell you why.
There is just too much going on in the meal. Most turkey is bland, stuffing leans toward herbal, gravy is rich, potatoes should be redolent of butter, and cranberries are a brutal blend of sweet and tart. And those are just the basics. The more you add to the holiday table, the more ridiculous the task becomes. You could optimize a wine pairing toward a subset of those dishes, but some will invariably work better than others.
And if there were a perfect pairing, everyone would be singing its praises. Instead food and wine magazines light up every year with new takes on this perennial question.
If money is no object, John and Dottie always loved well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon with the meal. There’s an argument to be made that since this is an American holiday, it calls for an American wine, which makes some amount of sense. Taking that argument one step further, some call on America’s great wine grape, Zinfandel. Others point to a fruity Pinot Noir with good acidity that can pair well with food. Those who are less xenophobic might opt for a good Beaujolais Nouveau, which can be hard to find.
On the whites, I’ve had good luck with Rieslings and I do love my Gewürztraminer. But really, I’m not going to turn my nose up at a good Chardonnay either, even though that’s a very popular thing to do in wine circles.
Maybe you are picking up on the theme here.
There isn’t one perfect pairing, but there are a lot of wines that will bring you a great deal of pleasure, and will enhance your enjoyment of turkey and stuffing. The focus of the holiday shouldn’t be on the food, but rather the family. It’s just that the food is what brings the family together.
As a result I like to structure my wine selections around some idea.
One year my cousin S. was in Sicily and my little sister was in Buenos Aires. Neither of them could make it to Connecticut. So in their honor I found a few wines from their respective wine growing regions, including a Nero d’Avola and a Torrontes. No, they were not American wines, and they might not be the first wines you would go to for such an occasion, but they helped to make the meal special. And they paired nicely with the food.
Jaw-dropping moments when a wine and a food combine to transform into a mouthful of ambrosia are few and far between. And really, the best ones are serendipitous. The ones you never expect are the ones you’ll remember and treasure forever.
So what wines am I bringing?
Well, I don’t have them all picked out yet, but I’m working with a theme of “The best of both worlds.” As a proud upstate New Yorker, I continue to evangelize the fact that there are some seriously good wines to be had from the region. Learning something from last year’s Thanksgiving, I’ll be bringing four dry Finger Lakes Rieslings, all from the current 2010 vintage.
As someone who remains a Californian at heart, I also want to bring a couple bottles of Zinfandel too. But these I don’t yet have in my possession. My plan is to drink the Riesling, but some people enjoy a red wine with their meal. Still, I might change my mind if something else catches my eye at the wine store.
Shop opportunistically. Ideally you should have a wine merchant you trust. If you don’t, try and find one who listens to what you say, and seems to be including your input in their recommendations. That sounds easy, but it’s harder than you might think. And as opposed to the perfect Thanksgiving wine pairing, they do exist.
If all else fails, drop me a line, and I’ll see what I can do for you. Recently I served Albany Jane a wine that we both enjoyed. And as far as solving difficult wine problems go, that was a major accomplishment.