November 13, 2007

Wine and All the Trimmings

The situation: Thanksgiving dinner, a table packed with people and laden with an embarrassment of food.

The problem: No one wine will make every dish, and every person, happy

Resolution: Martinis before dinner. Oops, did I say that? I meant: An array of wines, the different flavors maximizing your chances of happy people and happy food.

How to choose? Focus on the side dishes: They typically have more challenging flavors and textures than the turkey. Choose your favorite(s) and go from there. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Stuffing — it all depends on the type.
Corn bread and sausage: Gutsy stuffing deserves gutsy wines, something like the decadently plummy, spicy flavors of a California zinfandel. Dashe makes old-vine examples from its vineyards in Dry Creek that tame the variety's exuberant fruit with dry spice and firm tannins — and at about $25 to $30, they cost a fraction of the price of other old-vine zins. Bargain hunters will want to check out Valley of the Moon and Edmeades, which share that restraint.

Oyster stuffing: If you've splurged on oysters, you might as well splurge on champagne. It will be delicious with the stuffing and with everything else, too. A richer style is the best bet, like Gosset, Charles Heidsieck or Françoise Bedel (his “Brut Dis Vin Secret” is a bargain at $28 if you can find it).

Stove Top or other sage-y breadcrumb stuffing: Here's a place where the buttery, baked apple flavors of oak-aged chardonnay shine. Leaping Lizard Napa Valley and Toasted Head both run about $12; for something fancier, try Qupe's Bien Nacido Reserve Block 11 or Calera's Mount Harlan bottling, which offer richness without overt oakiness or sweetness and shame higher-priced competitors with prices of $25 to $30.

Brussels sprouts: If you quarter the sprouts and saute in bacon fat, you'll lessen the cabbage-y aspects that pose a challenge to wine. But if tradition dictates that you boil them (it does at our house), then boil away. (Only not too much, and then toss with grainy mustard or an herby vinaigrette.) Just be sure to pick a white wine with plenty of acidity and pleasantly vegetal flavors to match their green flavors. Grüner veltliner was designed with dishes like this in mind. Schloss Gobelsburg, Gritsch and Stadt Krems all make excellent examples for $15 or less.

Mashed potatoes: Mashed potatoes are like a blank canvas on which you can paint anything. You'd have to try hard to come up with a bad match here.

Sweet potato pie/sweet potatoes with marshmallows: Sweet and rich enough for dessert, this is one of the toughest matches on the table. Gewürztraminer has the slightly sweet, spicy, tropical fruit flavors to stand up to it without overwhelming the dish. Alsace versions are the best bet, as they are more reliably off-dry than California examples. Lucien Albrecht, Marcel Deiss and Weinbach are names to look for.

Creamed onions: The richness is the challenge here. Fight it with a sparkling wine; the scrubbing bubbles will cleanse your palate, allowing you to go back for seconds. Yarden makes an excellent vintage bubbly from Israel for about $20; Gruet in New Mexico makes excellent affordably priced examples from the U.S. (about $14).

Pecan pie: This is so sweet your best bet is a snifter of good bourbon or a glass of milk. A sweet wine might send you into sugar shock.

Pumpkin pie: The rule with desserts is to always serve a wine that's sweeter than the dish; otherwise, the wine will taste disconcertingly dry.Pumpkin pie is an easy match for dessert wines since it isn't so sweet, and the creamy texture moderates the richness of the wine. The warm, brown sugar- and-baked fruit flavors of marsala makes it an excellent match; just be sure to steer clear of cooking marsala. Pellegrino Sweet Marsala is excellent, especially at $12; Marco di Bartoli makes Sicily's most sought-after versions.

This was first published in the Denver Post.

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