Pairing traditional Thanksgiving dishes with a wine that complements—but doesn’t compete—can be a delicate art. So we asked a group of savvy vino connoisseurs for a bit of inspiration based on their own holiday meals. Here’s what they had to say.
Winemaker, Wolffer Estates
We are very fortunate to be invited every year by dear friends in New York City. After the long and strenuous harvest, it is the first weekend we are away to relax and enjoy ourselves. The whole Thanksgiving meal is very elaborate and goes on for many hours. I bring wines that have a significance equal to the specialness of the day and our friendship.
To Start: I will bring The Grapes of Roth Virgin Berry Dry Riesling 2013. It is a perfect starter for a long evening of feasting. The alcohol is light at only 11.5% and the wine has wonderful fruitiness, lively acidity and elegant concentration to go with all the different dips and dishes with which we start the meal. Our hosts’ signature salmon spread and baked artichoke dish pair superbly with this wine.
The Dinner: This year, I will share a barrel sample of the new Wölffer Christian’s Cuvée Merlot 2014. I am very excited about this wine and very thankful for yet another great growing season under the belt. The wine is very young (it won’t be available for sale for at least three more years) and has lots of bold aromas and flavors that can go with all the different dishes—even the Brussels sprouts. Because I can only bring a small sample of the Christian’s Cuvée for tasting, I also will bring the Wölffer Caya Cabernet Franc 2011. It brings a subtle smoky character and interesting spice to the turkey and side dishes.
Dessert: Our friends’ Thanksgiving feast features lots of desserts, but the crown jewel is always the fluffy multi-layered coconut cake. I love pairing it with the Wölffer Diosa 2012. This late-harvest ice wine has a wonderful golden color that looks beautiful next to the pure white frosting and is very aromatic and has great viscosity. But what is important is that it is not just sweet and concentrated but also has wonderful vibrant acidity that dances on your tongue. The Diosa amplifies the lush coconut and vanilla flavors of the cake and uplifts the whole experience.
CEO of Sherry-Lehmann, fine wine and spirits shop
In my family, we have two parties competing for menu control—my mom and I are traditionalists and we don’t want anything too strange on the table—brining the turkey was pretty cutting edge for us, and we get uncomfortable with anything avant-garde in the stuffing. My wife is excited about a jalapeno-potato gratin recipe she came upon this fall. We find consensus around our starters, though, with a nod to our Hungarian roots: grilled kielbasa, grainy mustard, cheese, warm, sliced rye bread. Tradition for us is to open a magnum of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne and invite a few neighbors over for a bit of football. Once we are seated, Magnums of white and red wine come out: usually a nice William Fevre “Les Clos” Chablis Grand Cru and an Inglenook “Rubicon” from Napa Valley, but everything has to play nicely with those competing forces: jalapeno potatoes and classic mashed ones, plus a cranberry chutney with ginger and hot peppers that sits next to the most classic of Thanksgiving dishes—cranberry sauce straight out of a can. Everybody is happy and those of us with room for dessert opt for classic pumpkin and pecan pies with a Magnum of Chateau D’Yquem 2001 Sauterne from Bordeaux.
Sommelier, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
We make a Roasted Turkey with Black-Truffle Butter and Cognac Gravy. The silky texture with delicate tannins reflects the turkey’s texture, while the rising and delicate undergrowth notes blend nicely with the truffle. The long finish enables time to indulge the moment and the company. We choose a Chateau Brane Cantenac 2000 from Margaux, France.
Next, I’ll serve Scalloped Potatoes & Butternut Squash with Marcassin Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir. With this deliciously savory dish, the wine will bring another dimension with its load of flavors. The thin and delicate texture will join the smoothness of the butternut as will the slightly sweets notes.
We end with Pecan Pie, which I’ll pair with L’Etoile 1989, cuvée reserve. This pairing gives the experience the combining the toasted pecan with the earthy notes of the wine. The length and power a wine such as this has drives the dessert into a luscious moment.
Chef/Co-Owner Traif and Xixa
Thanksgiving is theholiday to my family, so there’s always a great selection of wine—and also the time to break out the good stuff.
Being a cheese-first family, I always go to Murray’s Cheese shop and get a big selection, particularly French-style triple creams and washed rind cheeses. To pair with these cheeses, I like mineral-driven, crisp dry whites. So, we’ll either drink Chablis, such as a Dauvissat from the Vaillons vineyard or a dry German Riesling, such as a Muller Catoir Grosse Gewachs.
For the main event, I always roast a turkey, which is stuffed with seasoned duck fat and herbs under the skin. We love sides, so there’s porcini mushroom stuffing, smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese, Brussels with smoked almonds and maple vinaigrette, cranberry-Meyer lemon sauce, creamed leeks and turnips with sherry, baked acorn squash with blue cheese and mashed yams with banana and rum. There is a diversity of flavors, spices and sweetness levels in the dishes, so we usually pour two wines: Grand Cru red Burgundy (anything from Sylvain Loichet is my choice) and an aged JJ Prum Riesling (we’ll be drinking a ’97 Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese this year).
For dessert, I like to sub parsnips for pumpkins in our pie and also serve a Canadian sugar maple pie, as well. The nuttiness and spices in each call for dry Oloroso sherry.
Partner and Sommelier, Racines NY
The perfect way to start the meal: Soufflé au fromage (we use aged comté cheese). It’s light and airy and the savory notes of the aged comte complement the soufflé. With that dish, I would pair a gently oxidized white wine from the Jura region in France, like 2010 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Savagnin.
I marinade fennel in olive oil, red wine vinegar and cumin for the entire day before putting them on the charcoal grill. I then grill them just enough to make them softer but still firm and have them as a side dish. I would suggest pairing a white Châteauneuf du Pape like the 2012 Bois de Boursan, a classic blend of southern grape (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc). Round and rich without being heavy, lifting up the fennel with its minerality.
For dessert, an apple and cinnamon crumble. It’s a nice combination of the richness of the crumble with the acidity of the apple. I love to pair this dish with dry cider such as Cyril Zang cider. Light and refreshing, earthy and funky to go along the spiciness of the dish, the bubbles cleanse your palate after a long meal while the delicate sweetness matches the sweetness of the dessert.