As the leaves start to fall — and everyone starts hankering for their favorite Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes — I am even more inspired than usual to cook some new and different takes in place of the old standbys. For example: to accompany the big bird one year I made a smoky, spicy, three chili, Santa Fe-style “gravy” that, if I do say so myself, was genius. It gave that turkey meat just the kick that it needed to boost up the flavor quotient. I love coming up with new ways to spice up my meals.
So, then the big question becomes, with all those varying sweet and savory flavors flying around on Turkey Day, which two or three wines do you serve? Since sweetness in foods tends to fight most dry wines, the key is to find those more versatile kinds.
You may have heard about a few of those food-friendly wines like Rieslings, Roses, Pinot Noirs — these are all good choices because their fruitiness and relatively higher acid helps their pairing ability.
But here are a few whites and reds you may not have thought of that will also be interesting with your meal: Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Albarino, Red Zinfandel, Grenache and Grenache-based wines (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) — what these all have in common is their fruitiness and lack of heavy tannins.
White wines with a touch of sweetness like Chenin Blancs and Rieslings are great for pairing because they work equally well with both sweet and savory flavors.
Depending on whether you smoke that turkey, deep fry it or just plain roast it, your wine choice will be different. As much as you can mimic the flavors in the wines with the flavors in the food, that smokiness in the turkey — or accompanying sauce — will go beautifully with a “smoky” wine such as a Pinot Noir or a lighter-style Syrah or even an “oaked” Chardonnay. Remember, too, that the accompanying dishes and sauces/gravies will factor in as well. The fresh tartness of the cranberry sauce will pair beautifully with a high acid, light-bodied red like Sangiovese (Chianti Classico) or Gamay (Beaujolais). If you think about the way you would describe either of these wines — sour cherries come to mind — then, it’s a sure bet that it’s going to taste great with a food with similar characteristics.
But don’t make yourself crazy with all that’s going on! Just know that heavier and more full-bodied wines, although delicious with some foods, tend not to be the best with traditional Thanksgiving fare. The whole point of the holidays is to not stress, be bold and adventurous and have fun.