Thanksgiving Wine Instructions Ⅰ

19 March,2018
Doug Frost


I hope you’re not actually waiting for instructions. They will not be forthcoming; the title was erroneous. But knowing some people worry about which wine should be served at Thanksgiving makes me sad. There really isn’t any “should” when it comes to wine except that people should drink what they like and nothing else.


Yet Thanksgiving is our culinary holiday; there really is no other where it is presumed that people will slave over the stove for hours if not days and everyone is expected to eat like recently rescued miners. That may sound unseemly but consider Turkey Day the holiday when diners pay attention; flavors are savored, aromas discussed. Wine deserves some space too.


Like all cuisines, America’s culinary contributions evolve from disparate cultures and times, but our dishes are of recent invention. This mongrel status is easy to spot; indeed, we celebrate it just as we ought to champion our country’s remarkable diversity, and not vilify those who look, act or worship differently.


Since we’re willing to give our cuisines the mashup, we can show equal irreverence for so-called classic beverage pairings. It’s always nice to start any meal with a glass of bubbly (I recommend Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir if only as a great value) but why not beer? The Pilgrims didn’t have any wine; I can guarantee that. But they had beer (the captain of the Mayflower wrote that they landed at Plymouth Rock “our victuals being spent, especially our beer”). One presumes they made more.


It’s ideal to have a crisp brew to whet the appetite, and instead of another grotesquely over-hopped caricature, I’d recommend something tart and light instead, like Crane Brewing’s refreshing Tea Weiss beer. If you’re sold on wine, Prosecco is good, probably better than a glass of Perrier for washing down dinner. But can I tip you to a whole different tipple? Sherry, when dry, is often served cold, young and fresh; Manzanilla is the lightest of them (the best include Barbadillo, Gonzales Byass, Hidalgo, La Guita and Lustau) and if you’re fortunate enough to see Manzanilla en Rama (an filtered version) buy that too. It tastes like something you’d pour on an oyster but only in the best possible way; tart, lemony and salty. It assaults the palate and then evaporates like summer rain.


And if you’re having Roasted Cauliflower with tahini, olives and lemon, the dryness of the Manzanilla is mitigated, tamed even. Here again, I wouldn’t mind a beer, but rather than that hoppy bomb the kids so love, I’ll opt for a lighter Pils, something like KC Bier Company’s pleasing Helles.


Whether we’re talking about potatoes au gratin or Carrot au Gratin, it’s all about the cheese, people. Yes, I know you’ve been told that cheese and wine are a thing. But the truth is, cheese and WHITE wine are a thing. Grab a bottle of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner (say, Nigl, or Hiedler or one of my obsessions, Bründelmeyer); the gratin could end up tasting even richer. Fret not, you can use any white wine you please.


Classic dressing is a cacophony of spices, as if to show off our wealth of choices among what were, a few centuries ago, the greatest luxury humans had to dress their food. Landry’s traditional dressing offers nutmeg, garlic, sage, parsley, thyme and cloves. I could recommend a wine for it, but dressing is for the turkey and the wine is too.


Turkey is a meat with more juice than richness, though the two are supposed to coincide. They don’t always. At its best, turkey has this quiet gaminess that’s wet, warm and fun to eat. But let’s admit that it’s a bit like cardboard on the flavor spectrum. So you add in some red-eye gravy; creamy, buttery potatoes; savory, herbal dressing; or with the Jarocho Guajillo Rubbed Turkey, you’ve got the smoky, earthy, slightly prickly flavors of peppers.


I’m nuts for spicy food and slightly sweet Riesling. So I’ll probably have a bottle of Gunderloch in honor of the recently departed, truly great winemaker Fritz Hasselbach. Gunderloch’s wines are stunning always but I’ll probably have some Dönhoff, Leitz, Moenchhof, J.J. Prüm, Weins-Prüm, or Zilliken on hand too.


If my sister-in-law drops by we’ll need more beer. Perhaps she would prefer Torn Label’s balanced red rye ale called KC Pryed. Beer like this is an almost ideal companion to the diverse flavors of Thanksgiving: the malty weight of an Ommegang (from Cooperstown) or Boulevard Snow & Tell (from a baseball town much nearer) links arms with the inherent sweetness of these foods.


But there’s a wine I once routinely recommended on this holiday: Beaujolais. After a few years, I started to feel unimaginative rolling out my old canard. I stopped mentioning it. And in the meanwhile the best producers of Beaujolais started making better wine. And then others around them did too. And now this may be the most exciting place in France. There’s always Duboeuf or Jadot; they’re quite reliable of course, but check out Burgaud, Diochon, Dupeuble, Lapierre, Liger-Belair, Lavernette, Thevenet or Thivin too.


Finally, there’s pie. In this case, it’s Browned Butter Caramel Sweet Potato Pie With Spiced Praline Crumble, which conjures up everything delicious about Thanksgiving. It’s really sweet and, while I hate rules, the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. Stone Hill has been making a crazy rich “Missouri Cream Sherry” for years; they haven’t let me down yet. Apply it to this pie and you’ll be glad you live in this part of the country. Those aren’t instructions, just gratitude.


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