Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Thanksgiving WineBoy Picks

When I was growing up, one of our faithful family traditions involved enthusiastic discourse around the holiday dinner table. To the rare outsiders who were infrequently invited to our large family repasts, the decibel level of this “enthusiasm” must have been a bit disconcerting.


No subject was too grand, obscure or off limits. We would debate everything from presidential elections to the color of Aunt Agnes’ moustache, and those who prevailed usually did so through din rather than  eloquence.


So in keeping with family tradition, my brother and I have debated for decades the best wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. After exhaustive and sometimes heated discussions, we have come to the conclusion that almost every wine can marry nicely with some part of the Turkey Day meal.   Why? Listen up.


For years, I have written about the culinary versatility of turkey to be successfully paired with white or red, as well as light or full-bodied wines. The reason is this bird is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the way it is cooked - from traditional oven-baking, to deep frying, to grilling, to smoking (with hardwood such as apple)  -and you have even more wine choices from which to select.    


When you add stuffing to the turkey, you add a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more wine possibilities. One year, for example, I stuffed a charcoal grilled turkey with cornbread, ancho chili peppers and chorizo sausage. What wine, you might ask, did I serve with this non-traditional turkey and stuffing?


Well, I started with Domaine Carneros sparkling wine as an aperitif, proceeded to open a bottle of Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris for those who preferred white wine, and a Ridge   Zinfandel for those who wanted a big red. And guess what, it worked. For dessert, I chose a bottle of Joseph Phelps Late Harvest riesling to accompany the  pumpkin pie, and then plopped on the couch to watch some team beat up on the Detroit Lions.


Here are a few wine-pairing suggestions, based upon cooking methods, for your Thanksgiving Day:


The traditional oven-roasted turkey with a mild dressing is very nicely accompanied by whites such as pinot grigo, sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or reds such as pinot noir, Chianti Classico, or sangiovese. Older wines such as Bordeaux or California cabernet sauvignon go nicely as well. On the other hand, if you smoke or grill your bird, try full-bodied zinfandel, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or even Brunello Di Montalcino.   


So what about my approach this year? Well, I plan to oven bake the critter and then stuff it with bread dressing flavored with Italian sausage, chestnuts, onion and celery.  I’ll start with a bottle of  Domaine Chandon Rose Sparkling Wine $20) for the aperitif, followed by a  2006 Montinore Estate Gewurztraminer from Oregon ($17) as well as 2005 Domaine Serene Evanstadt Reserve  ($60) (both of which will be poured with the main course). We’ll accompany the pumpkin pie with a sip or two of  Scrapona  Moscato ($22) and then let the tryptophan kick in.


Since Aunt Agnes shaved her moustache, the only thing left for me to decide is  the Thanksgiving dinner debate topic.    


Bon Appétit!


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