By Yossie Horwitz, Guest Oenophile
For most people the onset of fall means gorgeous color – changing foliage, the World Series, football, s’mores, sweaters, blazing fireplaces and Thanksgiving weekend. While oenophiles may perk up at such important things, we wine lovers tend to focus on harvest time, the timely depletion of our summertime Rosés and most importantly, which wines will we be drinking with our Thanksgiving turkey repast?
While turkey itself can be somewhat of a bland slate for pairings, the potential mélange of textures and flavors that presents itself at a traditional Thanksgiving feast complicates matters significantly. These include the traditional dishes of mashed potatoes, sweet potato pies, yams, cranberry relish, sweet glazes and garnishes, stuffing, and other assorted pickled and peppered delectables.
The art of wine and food pairing is largely driven by personal preference; the choice of wine can more closely be dictated by the wines that you and your guests like, with some general tips to help with your choices.
There is one type of wine that has the potential to successfully pair with whatever Thanksgiving Day treats you decide to throw at it – sparkling wine. Champagne or other sparkling wines make a pretty good choice, bringing food-paring versatility, elegance, and festivity to your meal. It also happens to be the wine of choice for special occasions, and does it get any more special than the celebration of our freedom with close friends and family?
When picking the wines, you should try to find ones that are relatively low in alcohol, which will help prevent fatigue during a long meal. White wines should be high in acidity, making it versatile with many foods and red wines should be low in tannins so as not to overwhelm the food. For a large family gathering I’d aim for better-priced wines (although if your planned meal is a more classy intimate dinner than large gregarious family gathering – by all means, crack open that special bottle you have been saving.) My personal preference is to have at least one good Zinfandel at my Thanksgiving meal.
If you are looking for a red wine, then Pinot Noir is the obvious choice and a traditional favorite for a Thanksgiving Day celebratory. Pinot Noir’s notes are reminiscent of earthy forest floor and mushrooms together with bright cherries and other red fruit, making it a good match to the traditional turkey and savory stuffing combinations. Add in its low tannins, and you have a versatile wine that pairs well with many foods. Goose Bay, Gamla and Hagafen provide nice options.
Another suggestion is Zinfandel, and if high-alcohol content isn’t an issue, provides a nice big wine for the meal. From California, both Herzog and Hagafen are producing some great Zinfandel wines. In addition to its patriotic profile as an American invention, its bold fruit and spicy notes makes it a good match to the varied taste profiles of sweet, spicy and bitter.
For a white wine, any non-oaky Chardonnay such as the ones offered by Dalton and Recanati would be good. A Viognier provides a different varietal for folks to try, while still making for some good food pairing. I like the ones offered by Yarden and Galil Mountain. Another good choice is Pinot Grigio/Gris which is capable of standing up to the various garlic, onions and herbs and the high-fat and flavorful dishes. Goose Bay and Cantina Gabrielle provide good options here.
A final, somewhat non-conforming, suggestion would be a Rosé. While usually considered a summer wine, a crisply dry and refreshing Rosé would fit the bill perfectly and, as an added bonus, its glorious cranberry color would compliment the Thanksgiving table beautifully. I love the Rosé from Castel, which is unfortunately not imported into the United States, but the Recanati version is delightful and well priced.
Below, I have included some specific suggestions of wine that I like in different price ranges, as well as abbreviated tasting notes for a number of wines that should be widely available. However, it is important to remember that Thanksgiving is a celebration and when it is all said and done, choosing a Thanksgiving wine is more about what you prefer and what your guests will enjoy than picking the “right” wine. As evidenced from this article, there are no hard and fast turkey pairing rules, just plenty of pairing options to experiment with and see what works best for you and yours.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving,
Hagafen, Prix Pinot Noir, Fagan Creek, 2006: The best kosher Pinot I have tasted. Hagafen also produces another Pinot Noir from the Soleil vineyard and comparison tasting these together is great fun and highly educational. On the more expensive side, this wine has plenty of black forest fruit on a smoky nose with notes of espresso, cloves, anise and vanilla leading into a long and caressing finish that lingers.
Goose Bay, Pinot Noir, 2009: Low tannins, lots of bright fruit which includes strawberries, blackberries and raspberries along with a nice touch of spiciness make this an easy drinking and good pairing wine. On the lighter side of wines.
Recanati, Chardonnay, 2009: You can immediately taste this difference between this wine and the majority of Israeli Chardonnays you have tasted - and it won't be to every one's liking. An elegant old-world Chardonnay, with crispy minerals and high acidity but less butter and oak than one would expect from an Israeli Chardonnay. Plenty of green apples and limes with hints of spicy wood all lead into a medium finish.
Dalton Reserve, Viognier, 2009: Fermented with natural occurring yeasts, this wine is medium bodied with characteristically true peach and apricot flavors on the delightful nose. Blooming flowers, honey and green apples combine to make this a delicious wine that is rounded out by a long luxurious finish.
Elvi, Adar, Cava, Brut, n.v.: A blend of some very strange-sounding Spanish-bred grapes (Xarel-lo anyone?) resulted in a delightfully dry and simple Cava. Plenty of fruit accompanied by tangy citrus and good tight bubbles. Any easy drinking, good-with-food Cava – just what simple Cava is supposed to be.
Louis de Sacy, Grand Cru, Brut Champagne, n.v.: Made from a traditional Champagne blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay this wine has the depth, length and character one expects from real Champagne. Berries and citrus along with the traditional yeasty white bread and hazelnuts make this a truly celebratory wine and worth digging into your pocket for.
Yossie Horwitz, a card-carrying oenophile for more than 20 years, has been writing a weekly newsletter – Yossie’s Wine Recommendations – on kosher wines, wineries and other wine-related topics for five years.
Growing up in Israel, Yossie was first introduced to quality kosher wine as a teenager by a family-friend who brought a French Bordeaux to his family’s Seder. After moving to New York from Israel about six years ago, Yossie began receiving many requests from friends and family for wine recommendations and five years ago decided to launch Yossie’s Wine Recommendations.
Sign up for his free weekly newsletter at www.yossiescorkboard.com and follow Yossie on Twitter @yossieuncorked, where he dispenses daily wine recommendations and tips as well as other oenophilic tidbits. Yossie and his newsletter were recently mentioned in the New York Times, the Jewish Week and the Canadian Jewish News
Yossie currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and three young children where he practices corporate law at a major international firm.