By Julianna Hayes
Let’s talk turkey.
Despite the trend toward more avant garde foods, good ol’ fashioned turkey remains the crowning glory on just about every Thanksgiving table. Forget the mustard-seed rubbed sashimi or garganelli and grain fed veal cheeks – the bird is still the word.
So every year, I get the same question many times over: What wine should be served with holiday turkey?
That’s a tricky one, because it is not the bird that poses the problem with most festive feasts. It’s everything else you’ve cooked up that presents the challenge – the stuffing, candied yams, brussel sprouts, cranberries, gravy, jellied salad, marshmallow potatoes and so on.
Take the jellies and dressed up yams for example. They’ll make dry wines taste sour and sweeter wines taste dull. Don’t get me started on the cranberries. Bitter berries, combined with heaps of sugar, make most wine pairing experts want to weep.
If you can modify your recipes a little so they aren’t as sugary, the food will be much more wine friendly. Skip the marshmallows and make garlic mashed potatoes instead. Opt for buttered squash instead of candied yams. Forget the jellied salad altogether – I never understood the attraction in the first place. But if you’re heart is set on the sweet stuff, just keep it away from the Chardonnay – or anything else you pour.
When choosing a wine, think low-tannin, young and racy reds and fresh and fruity whites. You want the wines flavourful, but not too complicated. You want them to have good body but not be heavily oaked. Big California Chardonnays or Australian Shirazes just don’t work. The sweeter foods will heighten the bitterness of the tannins in those wines. And their heaviness will coat your palate and leave you feeling droopy when combined with all that food.
The good news is the wines that go best with Thanksgiving dinner are usually pretty affordable.
As a rule, you can’t go wrong with a New World Gewurztraminer or Riesling. They tend to be off-dry and fruity in style, which means they can hold their own with the sweeter stuff. They work nicely as a refreshing cleanser between bites, particularly if they’re well chilled.
If your heart is set on red, lighter wines like Beaujolais, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Lemberger and Pinot Meunier are good selections.
One of my favourite holiday pairings, is a blush or rose wine. Many of the ones made here in B.C. have distinct cranberry characteristics and, well, what could be a better match for your bird? And the colour of the wine is decidedly festive, don’t you think? If you go this route, look for a wine that is dry or semi-dry. You don’t want anything too sweet.
Some foodies insist that the way you dress your turkey should dictate what kind of wine you should serve. It’s a pretty safe bet if you’re unsure of what choice to make. Here are some suggestions:
* Sausage and apple stuffing – Gewurztraminer, Beaujolais
* Wild mushroom stuffing – Pinot Noir, Grenache
* Fruit and nut stuffing – Gamay Noir and Pinot Meunier (better for dried fruit recipes), Pinot Blanc or Viognier (better for fresh fruit)
* Corn bread stuffing – Riesling
* Oyster stuffing – Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc Bread and herb stuffing -- Sauvignon Blanc