We spend a lot of time figuring out what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, but how about what to serve with all of those competing homemade flavors? Asking sommeliers their pairing opinion is laudable, but can be like querying star chefs for recipes — you get a lot of really cerebral answers for things you probably can't afford anyway (truffle-stuffed turkey). And so we asked the Maker(s).
Winemakers are the farmers of the bunch, always happy to share how they like to cook their butternut squash (simply; maybe roasted with a little salt, an herb scattered on top, two at most). And winemakers are always tasting/sharing what their neighbor is growing/making. More in that neighborly, as opposed sommelier/scholarly, way, yet education is still a job requirement. Note: This does not preclude winemakers from being overly verbose. But hey, for true palate love, we're all guilty.
Get our winemaker's homegrown Thanksgiving pairing suggestions after the jump, with our suggestions for their own wines tossed into the pot (we forbade them from suggesting self-created sips). And yes, these are all American winemakers, as it is a Bruce Springsteen sort of holiday.
We did add a few parameters for our winemakers to consider. Starting with Robert Parker would not be joining their family supper (in other words, say whatever the hell you want). Then we asked the winemakers to imagine, just for kicks, that at this Thanksgiving table, Aunt Martha is always difficult to please, Uncle Bob will parked in front of the TV watching football all day, and a colleague from the winery nearby whose wines they really, really admire is coming over, too. How do you please everyone at the table? We threw in a pie question just for kicks. As it is Thanksgiving. And everyone likes pie, right? Well, there is one winemaker in our group who doesn't like pie. But he used to be a swanky restaurant sommelier. So we forgive him.
Dave Potter, Municipal Winemakers in Santa Barbara County
Dave Potter: One thing about Thanksgiving is that there are usually more than a few people around, which can be a drag if they don't get along. But that's what wine is for, right? And I'm not sure that it's possible to find a wine that works with everything on the typical American family's Thanksgiving table, so I'm going to put four wines on the table:
First up, a bright, peachy, ripe Spätlese with a couple years of age on it, like JJ Prüm ($22 for a half bottle). This is a semi-dry Riesling with peach and wet stone flavors and a citrusy clean finish. A totally delicious way to start the meal that will pair with the turkey, yams, cranberry sauce and sweeter parts of the Thanksgiving spread. Actually, you could even finish the meal with this wine.
Bottle 2: A mineraly, dry Rosé from Santa Barbara like Blair Fox Cellars Hailey's Rosé ($16 directly from the winery). These wines are nice “tweeners” with refreshing acidity that will go great with lots of different dishes — drink this with your salad, green beans, and turkey breast.
Bottle 3: An earthy, spicy Côtes du Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape like Chateau de Montfaucon (about $18). Spicy, earthy, gamey. This wine is what you want choice for the meat, potatoes, and stuffing.
Bottle 4: A rich, full bodied shiraz from Australia like Henschke Mt. Edelstone Shiraz (about $95 for the 2005, some vintages are less). This is the special wine on the table, the most expensive (you will dole out wisely, right?), and it will stand up to the most powerfully flavored foods. It's full of pepper, fruit, and gamey flavors that will wash down the turkey leg you have in your hand better than anything else. Or at least by bottle four.
And for me, the Thanksgiving day pie winner would have to be pumpkin, with a caveat. Nothing from a can, you have to roast the pumpkin yourself. Pumpkin is a little cliché, I know. But I do love the pie spices and seasonality of it. Pumpkin pie tastes like this time of year. And we've had a lot of wine.
Brad Holstine, Husch Family Vineyards in Mendocino County
Brad Holstine: Roederer Brut Rosé sparkling (about $60) is an obvious pick for any finicky family member — delicate bubbles, crisp strawberry flavors and hint of yeast. For those watching the game on TV, where I may be joining in, I'll be serving an Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA. It's an aromatic, hoppy ale with floral notes and is one of my personal favorites. When it comes time for serious turkey eating when my buddy, who makes wine down the road, stops by, we'd duke it out: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Old School verses New School. Out comes the Handley (about $25) and Navarro Méthode à l'Ancienne ($29 directly from the winery) ready to take on the Toulousse and Breggo Pinot Noirs!
And pie? Are you talking pie? This is a controversial item in my family. My wife does not care for pie, but I love it. Really love it. She wins every year by baking the most incredible pumpkin roll cake, served with late harvest Gewurztraminer. It's a Thanksgiving staple. On the other hand, I like Cherry Pie. I'm a simple guy. [SI Note: This man needs a pie. He capitalizes a common name, for goodness sake.].
Janet Myers, Mt. Veeder Winery in Napa
SI suggests Mt. Veeder's Cab Franc (About $45) with that turkey.
Janet Myers: Thanksgiving is a fantastic time to showcase wines, and I always include three major wine “food groups.” First, an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. With an off-dry sensibility it has wonderful fruit and depth of flavor, friendly enough for Aunt Martha, yet complex enough for Uncle Winegeek [or football geek, but actually, that could be the same thing today]. Next, a Russian River Pinot Noir. Why? For its bouquet of dark cherries and violets, with a soft supple approach. It really complements the turkey and fixings beautifully and is a crowd pleaser. Last, there is always a bottle or two of 10-year-old Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a treat for the senses with rich complexity, cassis, tobacco, and plums; the bottle age rounds the mouth feel into a great complement for the rich earthy flavors of the table.
And on pie. Since pumpkin pie is for breakfast, of course. My favorite Thanksgiving dinner pie is pecan pie.
Gordon Hill of Flying Fish
SI suggests Flying Fish 2008 Merlot for an affordable (about $10) crowd pleaser that pairs with a broad range of flavors.
Gordon Hill: I'd choose Northstar Stella Blanca Semillon because this white wine is complex and has a lot going on, but it's simple enough that it won't overpower any dish at the table. It's balanced and very food friendly. I'll also be pouring Charles & Charles Rosé because it's got good balance, too. Along with strawberry fruit flavors that complement the tartness of cranberries and the richness of turkey with gravy. And both wines are lower in alcohol, which means you can enjoy them without having to call a cab.
On pie, I'd to go with mom's pumpkin pie, but pecan is a close second.
Greg Harrington, Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington
SI suggests the 2008 The Third Man Grenache (about $45). Side Note: The Malmsey below is a Madeira, a fortified wine that was popular in early America (Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were fans). This Rare Wine Company series is a recreation of those Madeira styles favored by the Founding Fathers, so consider it a historic Thanksgiving drinking lesson.
Greg Harrington: When it comes to a Thanksgiving wine, I would have to go with the Rare Wine Company's Historic Series New York Malmsey. This rich wine is the perfect complement to any holiday dish, including dessert. I was born and raised on Long Island, so I think the tribute to my NY roots is very cool, it also makes for a great conversation piece to choose a wine where you're from [assuming the region makes good wine, of course].
Pie? I'm actually not a fan of pie.