Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The big day

by George Balling
| November 10, 2010 8:00 PM

By the time you are opening up to this article in the Press it will be just about two weeks to go until Thanksgiving day, one of the biggest days of the year for family gatherings and the ultimate in dinner parties. While all over America the basic menu has a centerpiece of roasted turkey and some variance in the all important and plentiful side dishes, desserts and before meal snacks, for many of us picking the right wine to accompany the feast is still a challenge. Here are some basics on the classic pairings for this great holiday meal as well as some suggestions.

As a starter a little sparkling wine or Champagne sets the festive mood, and the crispness of well made bubbly makes for a refreshing start. Try the Perdrier Brut ($11), spectacular for the money or the Spanish Cava from Aliguer for $17. If true Champagne is your preference it does not get much better than the J. La Salle for $50.

One of the least talked about pairings for a rich meal is an off dry wine, usually Riesling. Off dry means only slightly sweet, around 2 percent residual sugar or less. Residual sugar in wine is accomplished by stopping the fermentation process prior to all the sugar being consumed by yeast, turning it into alcohol. If much over 2 percent is left in the wine it can become cloying. In order for the wine to pair well with richness it also needs a fairly crisp acid note in the wine as well. Coupled with the signature aromatic of petrol these characteristics will produce a lovely wine that will highlight your holiday party and provide a welcoming glass to your guests that like something a little sweet. We recommend the 2008 Firestone Riesling $9.

The traditional pairing with any gamey bird like turkey is Pinot Noir. The slight earthiness and bright cherry flavors of Pinot really highlight the flavors of the meal. Pinot also has enough acid to not take the meal over the top. A great addition to the meal too is the addition of about a cup of Pinot to your gravy base. There are many choices in this varietal over many price points, which is good since you don't want to be adding "spendier" Pinot Noir to your gravy. Some good choices are the 2009 Angeline for $12 or the 2008 Balletto Estate Pinot Noir for $24, both from California with the Balletto coming from one of the premier growers in the famed Russian River Valley. From Oregon we recommend the 2007 Soter North Valley for $34.

The third direction to go is to pair a full bodied varietal that will keep pace with a big rich meal. Zinfandel and Cabernet are our two choices here with Zin being our favorite. The rich fruit flavors and mellow spiciness of Zinfandel do well with Turkey and most Zins carry good tannin structure making them food friendly. The 2008 Cline Live Oak Vineyard Zin is a fabulous choice at $13.95.

Similarly, Cabernet has plenty of structure to carry the meal, and combined with the dark berry and plum flavors it is a great varietal to serve on Thanksgiving. The full bodied nature of the grape too will satisfy the heartiest of drinkers.

We recommend the 2007 Oberon Cabernet ($20) from the Napa Valley, a classic California Cabernet that we added to our wine club in November just because the flavor profile seemed so well matched to fall meals. Another great choice if you are expecting a crowd and want to be more price conscious is the 2007 Matchbook Cabernet for $11.

If you are the host for the big celebration and choose to have one of your guests bring the wine, don't be afraid to give them some guidance on varietal and winery. Check and see what their budget is so you can recommend wines they can afford to bring for your size crowd.

If you are attending as a guest and are the one tasked with bringing wine similarly check with the host to ensure you are selecting wines they like. Even if you can't find these specific recommendations talk to your favorite wine professional or shop owner about the wine you are trying to find, they will almost always have alternatives.

One final and fun alternative for you is to consider buying wine in a larger format like magnum or 3 liter. These big bottles look great on the table and provide all guests a chance to try the same wine. Larger bottles like this are readily available at most every wine shop so just ask the shop staff for what they have.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays as it is for many Americans, just for the fun of finding great wines to go with this quintessential holiday feast.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo.

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