Wine with my favorite holiday grub

When I came to America in 2002, I promised that I would immerse myself in the culture. I have been here almost 10 years, have a beautiful American wife and a new daughter on the way, consider project immersion complete.

Nothing screams American more than Thanksgiving, my favorite of all the holidays. There is nothing better than the smells emanating from the kitchen, from the Turkey to the mashed potatoes, the stuffed mushrooms to the green bean casserole. Thanksgiving is one of those special holidays where family comes together, food is in abundance and, in my case, wine flows freely. But what wines pair best with the trimmings and fixings of this special holiday?

Being from South Africa, you might expect my wine choices to be new world, but I also have a few suggestions on some old world gems that just might blow you away.

So let’s start with the turkey, the foundation on which Thanksgiving is built. A juicy moist turkey means success in the kitchen and a good start to an enjoyable meal. For turkey I tend to gravitate towards a red wine with lots of fruit, and softer tannins. I would suggest Pinot Noir [and since I drink few Burgundian Pinot’s] I would suggest California. Pinot is known as the heartbreak grape but California over the last few years has hit it out of the park [notice the baseball analogy]. Pinot Noirs tend to be juicy, with gobs of red fruit, perfumy aromas, bright acidity and lower influences of oak. In my opinion this is the perfect accompaniment to the bird. Some of my favorites include the Siduri Lewis Vineyard, Dumol Russian River and the A.P Vin Rosella’s Vineyard bottlings. Honestly, any 2009 California Pinot should be great, in fact, the Wine Spectator Magazine has just announced that the Kosta Brown Pinot Noir is their wine of the year. If you want to support your local wine farms, Virginia Viogniers are also a great accompaniment to turkey as is Touriga, a fruit forward red wine that we currently have in the tasting room if you want to give it a try.

The cranberries are tough, with their tart almost sour taste. I have had some success with Riesling in this department, it’s one of my favorite grapes and I think the Riesling grape makes some of the greatest wines in the world. Some of my personal favorites include the off dry Charles Smith “Kung Fu Girl”, with its peach and lime aromas and bracing acidity, or the Alsatian Gunderloch Estate, displaying more smokey aromas with citrus, green apple and mineral undertones. Gosh darn it, these wines are good on their own and do not even require cranberries.

I have always wondered if mashed potatoes require a wine pairing, not really, but for the sake of consistency lets throw Chablis out there. Chablis is the Northern most district of Burgundy . It’s cool climate produces Chardonnays that are steely with stone fruit characteristics. What I like about these wines is how vibrant they are and how they do not overdo the oak, a lot see no oak whatsoever. Buttery and oaky Chardonnays are losing favor among consumers I feel, and Chablis provides a beautiful alternative. Not as pricey as Meursault or Montrachet but with an abundance of charm and spunk. Try the Domaine William Fevre “Les Preuses or “Vaudesir” to see what I am talking about. Locally, Jefferson and Blenheim Vineyards both make outstanding Chardonnays as well.

I hate green beans, but if you have to eat the casserole then why not go with Sauvignon Blanc. Staying away from my homeland, I have to give props to New Zealand and the Marlborough region on the North of the South Island. With vineyards no more than 80km from the ocean, these wines display aromas of gooseberries, box wood and passion fruit. These wines are unmistakable, fairly inexpensive and readily available. Cloudy Bay has long been seen as the best, but seek out the Craggy Range “Avery Vineyard” or Saint Claire “Block 18”. For an old world alternative, I go back to the Loire Valley and seek out the wines of Sancerre. These wines are grassy and herbaceous with peach pithe and floral aromas. Try the Domaine Henri Bourgeois or Domaine Fouassier as perfect accompaniments to those green beans.

The stuffed mushrooms require reds with earthier tones and plenty of oak. I love Spanish wines from the Rioja region, where Tempranillo reigns and Garnacha [Grenache] plays a supporting role. These wines tend to have spicy aromas, licorice undertones and smoky tones. These can be big wines, but they have great acidity which keep them lively and vibrant. Seek out the La Rioja Alta “Vina Ardanza” Reserva Especial or the Bodega Ramirez [Ramirez de la Piscina]. I find these wines marry well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and are gorgeous to drink. Watch out for more quality wines coming out of Spain. Virginia Cabernet Francs would be another great choice to pair with mushrooms with their peppery and earthy tones. Some to seek out would be Rappahannock Cellars or Keswick (if you happen to have a bottle in your cellar- our next Cabernet Francs, the 2009 Friended Franc and the Keswick 2010 will be released over the next few months).

Since Thanksgiving is a celebration, no meal would be complete without French Champagne, but for something a little cheaper and fun, why not try Prosecco from Italy. Made in the Charmat method where secondary fermentation occurs in tank instead of the bottle, these wines are meant to be consumed young. Another fun tidbit is that Prosecco is actually made from the Prsecco grape, locally known as Glera. Try the Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco di Valdobbiadene or the Le Colture Cartizze. There are some great sparkling wines being made right here in Virginia as well by Claude Thibaut, some of my favorites are the TJ Virginia Fizz and Veritas Scintilla.

The point of this blog post is to hopefully give you some options outside of the tried and tested. Buying a new wine can seem frightening, but you never know, you might just stumble onto a new favorite. So, here is to family, food and great wine!

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Stephen Barnard

Keswick Vineyards