With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it is time to select the wine for this distinctly American feast. And while I will always use a wine or two from the good old US of A among those I uncork, the Thanksgiving meal can accommodate a diverse variety of both whites and reds from all around the globe.
The reason is that turkey is blessed with meat that has a variety of flavors, colors and textures which present opportunities for us to try with a variety of different wines. And, when you add the dishes that traditionally accompany Thanksgiving dinner, things really get interesting.
It is always safe to use a white wine for the main course. Whether you use a light, slightly sweet German riesling, Alsatian pinot gris, a fruit forward Gruner Veltliner, an herbal sauvignon blanc or even a rich and full-bodied chardonnay, you will find that traditional oven- roasted turkey will pair nicely with each of these white wines.
The type of stuffing you use adds a whole other flavor dimension which — depending upon the spices and ingredients used in the dressing — opens up even more wine possibilities.
But what really surprises some folks (particularly those who adhere to the rigid view that you should only pair white wine with white meat) is how well turkey matches up to red wines. In fact, the “national bird” can go quite well with even fuller bodied red wines, particularly when the bird has been grilled or smoked. We’re talking cabernet sauvignon, Chateauneuf Du Pape, zinfandel, syrah, malbec and even Barbaresco can be an excellent match to turkey prepared in this manner.
While the traditional oven-roasted turkey with sage-flavored dressing does wonderfully well with the whites mentioned above, lighter to medium bodied red wines like Beaujolais, Chianti Classico or cabernet franc are also good choices and do not overpower turkey prepared in this manner.
My mother would oven-roast her turkey, but her dressing recipe excluded the use of sage. Rather, she would season with salt, pepper and garlic and then add roast chestnuts and Italian sausage to her bread dressing. In years past, I have used a full, rich chardonnay or a medium-bodied pinot noir to accompany this meal, and both have worked exceptionally well.
But this year, I’m going to place the bird on the grill and concoct a stuffing with southwestern flavors. Here’s how:
One 15-pound turkey
One large container to hold turkey and brine
One cup each of kosher salt, brown sugar and one gallon of water, one quart each apple cider and/or beer for the brine
One large package of corn bread stuffing
Two 12-ounce cans of turkey or chicken broth
Two rehydrated and diced dried ancho peppers (optional)
One tablespoon each of cumin and chili powder
Two finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce (available in small cans)
Eight ounces of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
One-half pound of cooked and chopped chorizo sausage
One-half stick of butter
Mix brine (water, beer, apple cider, salt, sugar) and place turkey in brine
Allow turkey to soak in brine for at least four hours or overnight
Mix stuffing (cornbread stuffing, sausage, broth, spices, etc)
Pat turkey dry, rub butter over all turkey inside and out
Stuff turkey or place stuffing in a separate pan to cook in oven
Light charcoal fire, place coals to either side of grate,
Place a pan of water on the grate in between coals
Put grill over the grate, place turkey over water, affix lid to grill and cook
Add charcoal to grill as necessary to maintain heat
Grill for three to four hours or until turkey reaches 165 degrees
This grilled turkey and spicy dressing would overpower lighter styled wines and requires varietals that can stand up to intense flavors. And while I plan to use red wines this year, I could easily have chosen an Alsatian gewürztraminer or riesling to tame and complement the spice and smoke in the dish.
So here are the wines that will complement my Thanksgiving dinner this year. To toast the holiday before dinner, I plan to open a bottle of Domaine Carneros Brut Rose. With the main course, I will uncork two different red wines: 2002 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel and a 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf Du Pape. And at the conclusion of dinner, we will pair the pumpkin pie dessert with a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Riesling.
Then it’s off to the recliner for football and a tryptophan-induced nap.