It’s got to be the second most popular question circulating these days (just behind, “How do I brine a turkey?”): “What wine should I serve with the Thanksgiving bird?”
You know I’m not one for hard and fast rules, but one way to pare down the choices is to pair to the flavors that predominate in your poultry. I’ve put together four mock menus of birds and fixins to illustrate how ingredients intermingle with wine—some complementing, some contrasting—and how being aware of their interplay can help you create a memorable pairing.
Miso and Herb Rubbed Applewood Smoked Heritage Turkey with Cider Gravy and Sweet Potato-Kale Bread Pudding + Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer is one of those wines everyone seems to like, even if they can’t pronounce it (ahem, Mom, it’s “guh-VOORTS-truh-MEE-nur”). Heady and floral, yet most often bone dry, it shows a surprising affinity for smoke and spice and sweet potatoes.
- Applewood smoke: To me, a Gewurztraminer brings out the feeling of a crisp evening walk with the faint wisp of chimney smoke lingering in the air. Here, the hint of applewood smoke in the turkey tugs at that note in the wine.
- Apple cider: The tart fruit and spice profile of cider lines up with that of Gewurz.
- Sweet potato: Creamy, earthy sweet potatoes pick up the bassier notes of the wine.
I recommend: Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer – We love Navarro. Their gewurtz is slightly spicy offset by a bit of sweet, with honeysuckle notes in the nose.
Tarragon-thyme rubbed turkey with roasted fennel, citrus and hazelnut stuffing + Chardonnay
Turkey may seem like an unlikely partner for Chardonnay. But a bigger wine with a bit of oak will sing with this mix of earthy, aromatic and nutty.
- Tarragon and thyme: These aromatic herbs will connect with the fruit flavors of the wine from amid the layers of toast and oak.
- Roasted fennel: The sweet, creamy nature of roasted fennel is a natural with the fuller body and creamy mouthfeel of Chardonnay.
- Citrus: Citrus in a dish helps accentuate the crisp, acidic finish of a Chardonnay.
- Hazelnut: Chardonnay has an inherent nutty quality from the oak it’s aged in, which will marry beautifully with the hazelnuts.
I recommend: Martin Ray Santa Cruz Mountains Reserve Chardonnay — Meyer lemon and graham cracker crust on both the nose and palette, with a gloriously crisp, acidic finish that makes it fabulous with food—unusual for a California Chardonnay.
Five-spice rubbed turkey with sweet onion and cherry stuffing + Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a complex wine. While approachable and fruity, it also has many mysterious layers that play well to intricate flavors of spice and sweet in a meal.
- Five spice: A study in contrast, the light, fruitiness of a Pinot Noir will accentuate the turkey’s aromatic spices.
- Sweet onion: Sweet onion’s slightly pungent nature brings out the wine’s earthy notes.
- Cherry: Cherries pull out the myriad fruit flavors of a Pinot Noir.
I recommend: Bonterra Pinot Noir – Blueberry and black cherry carry through from the nose to the palate, where it meets plum and chocolate.
Rosemary-roasted garlic-rubbed turkey with wild mushroom and currant stuffing + Grenache
One of the lighter red varietals, originally hailing from the Rhone region in France, Grenache has a natural affinity for Provencal ingredients like garlic and rosemary. Some describe it as the Pinot Noir of the Rhone.
- Rosemary: Grenache has slightly herbal, tones that are highlighted in the turkey’s rosemary rub.
- Roasted garlic: Mellow, earthy, tingly garlic reaches in and grabs the Grenache right in the middle of the mouth.
- Wild mushrooms: As fruity as Grenache can be, it is firmly rooted in earth. Wild mushrooms will accentuate its earthy nature.
- Currant: Currants are an accurate match for Grenache’s fruit flavors complementing the berry notes on both the nose and the palate.
I recommend: Quivira Grenache – Currant and earth predominate without overpowering what’s on the plate.
So this week as you ponder your wine picks, think about the flavor profiles that will be playing on your plate.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!