I like to put some thought into my holiday wine selections, probably too much thought. I love trying new wines from different regions often with grape varieties I’m unfamiliar with.
Also, as a guy who likes to think he knows a thing or two about pairing wine with cuisine, I enjoy sharing my wine selections.
Normally, for an article on wines for your Thanksgiving turkey, I’d come up with a few whites, a few reds and maybe a sparkling wine or two that would make nice additions to your holiday table. But this year I thought I’d take a different approach.
I was talking to an acquaintance of mine who works at our local Target. Like me, he loves to cook. We always exchange a few words about our most recent food finds and triumphs. When I asked him what he was doing for Thanksgiving, his answer gave me an idea. He said he would be doing three birds: smoked, deep-fried and roasted. Excessive? Likely. Impressive? You bet. Unique? I have to believe so.
Anyway, I starting to think what a blast it would be to do three turkeys in three different preparations all on the same day. I also thought how much fun it would be to match wines for those birds. And, there it was, my theme for this year’s Thanksgiving wine article.
Wine for a roasted turkey
Though I’m admittedly more of a red wine drinker, I enjoy plenty of whites throughout the year and on no day do I enjoy white wines more than on Thanksgiving. Sure, there are plenty of reds that compliment a roast turkey and the trimmings — Cru Beaujolais and Oregon Pinot spring to mind. But, I believe many more white wines are the perfect accompaniment to the holiday meal.
One white wine I’d urge folks to consider serving this Turkey Day is Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio in Italy. As a category, this might just be the ideal Thanksgiving wine. The wines are neither too light nor too heavy. They always have plenty of fruit, and generally, not too much oak. Plus, the price of a decent Pinot Gris or Grigio remains, for the most part, reasonable.
Trimbach is a good “go-to” Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, the birthplace of the grape. It’s also the brand you’re most likely to find locally. Ask around for some other names and recommendations, though, as Pinot Gris from Alsace is a great wine and region to explore.
Oregon is another great source of Pinot Gris. I’ve never had one that wasn’t at least good. I seem to frequently reach for King Estate Pinot Gris as their pricing is terrific, the wines are always solid and there‘s a Kansas City connection. The King family made its mark in KC building King radios for airplanes. Oh, and their entry-level Acrobat wines are tasty and inexpensive, a nice combination.
I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Grigios from Northeastern Italy as they often are rather simple and a little sweet. However, I recently tried the Livon Pinot Grigio from the Collio Region. Livon only produces 550 cases of Pinot Grigio from hand-harvested grapes (very unusual for Pinot Grigio), and man was it good. Smooth and supple, loaded with ripe notes of pears and apples, I wish I had another bottle to pop on Thursday.
Picks for a deep-fried bird
I’ve never actually had a deep-fried turkey. I mean, I’ve had bites here and there, but never a full-fledged sit-down bird and beverage experience. That’s not to say I haven’t given the deep-fried turkey and vino pairing some thought.
I’ve done fried chicken a number of times over the years, so I’ve had the chance to pop open more than a few wines and test their affinity with the golden brown, juicy deliciousness that awaited them.
You could go with a California Chardonnay. They’re buttery and creamy, not a bad fit for the crispy crust and most meat of the turkey. I say think outside the Chard and put put a little life into your holiday table, literally. I’m calling for sparkling wine for the fried bird. Knowing Champagne’s affinity for all things crunchy and salty (try one with popcorn and you’ll see what I mean), I think a nice Champagne, sparkler from California, Cava from Spain, or bubbly from Italy might be just the ticket.
I suggest the Italian path. I’ve written about my fondness for the sparkling wines of Franciacorta, just east of Milan, before. They’re great, but also on the pricy side. Recently, I’ve been traveling a little farther east in Northern Italy for my bubbles to the Veneto region and the wines known as Prosecco. Like Pinot Grigios there are way more generic, ho hum bottles of Prosecco than those that carry weight and complexity. But the versions that do are worth seeking out as they provide some of the best bang for your wine buck.
Mionetto is a very good Prosecco producer, always solid and providing good value. I’ve enjoyed their Proseccos for years. This year, I stumbled upon a new producer — Bellenda. May I humbly suggest you seek out the Bellenda Prosecco Superiore, a wine loaded with flavors and aromas of fresh fruit with a lovely bracing acidity and a nice crisp finish. Plus, it’s $15 retail, so maybe you can try a bottle of Belinda and another sparkler or Champagne of your choice and not break the bank.
Selections for a smoked Thanksgiving turkey
Last, but not least, a few vinous thoughts on what to serve with a smoked turkey. Here’s where it gets fun because of the three versions I think smoked turkey is the most flexible when it comes to selecting a wine. So, I’ve got a white and a sparkling picked out for our roasted and deep-fried birds. How ’bout we go with a red for the smoked version?
You can go any number of directions when selecting a red wine to compliment the turkey: Cotes du Rhone, Crianza Riojas, Carmenere (my favorite wine with anything smoked) and so many others. However, following a September trip to The Maremma region of Tuscany, home of the appellations of Morellino Di Scansano and Montecucco, I’m convinced they will best fit the bird.
I will have more on the wines and cuisine of both areas in future articles, but for now, let me concentrate on the terrific Sangiovese-based offerings of Morellino Di Scansano. I toured and tasted at a number of estates during my visit and probably tried a couple of dozen Morellinos in addition to those from the producers I met.
My assessment? I really like these wines, and now that I’ve been there in person, seen the vineyards, met the winemakers and tasted the wines with cuisine, I have a much better understanding of the wines’s style and their place on the dinner table. Bottom line, I believe these medium-bodied, fruit based, extremely well-balanced wines belong on your Thanksgiving dinner table.
In fact, I don’t think I can’t come up with a better category of wines to match the earthy, smoky, spicy — depending on the rub or sauce — nature of the smoked turkey than Morellinos. I have a number of favorite Morellinos, but let me recommend one, the Fattoria Le Pupille. A blend of 90 percent Sangiovese (Tuscany’s native grapes and the basis of all great Tuscan wines), 5 percent Malvasia Nera and 5 percent Allicante (more commonly known as Grenache), the Fattoria le Pupille Morellino is a terrific expression of the terroir of Scansano.
This Morellino is packed with juicy fruit flavors and aromas, including wild berries and red and black cherries. Throw in a little of the typical Tuscan leather and a delicate floral note and you have a complex wine that has enough body to stand up to the smoke and enough flavors to compliment the bird.
And, there you have it — three birds, three ways and a host of wine options to go with them. Happy Thanksgiving every one, and happy pairing.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.