Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 - Thinking about Wine Pairings

Thanksgiving dinner is the biggest meal of the year for your average foodie. I, however, am not cooking it. Actually, I rarely cook Thanksgiving dinner- usually we eat with relatives. I did not cook a thing- not even the pies  for dessert. I do usually get asked to carve the turkey- I don't claim to be great at it, but I usually do a passable job. I did, however, have the responsibility for choosing the wine. The problem is, aside from having some semblance of a palate, I am not very knowledgeable about wine, so I took a few best guesses...

My plan was simple- go for at least one red and one white to cover individual preferences, and if something else looks interesting, add a third bottle for a little variety. I'm targeting the mid priced wines- usually anything between $12 and $20 for a domestic wine gets you something fairly good, and add a few dollars more to this range for domestic. I am not choosing wines for a room full of expert somnambulists - just a group of regular people with enough sense to tell when something works and when something doesn't- so I don't have to pull off a miracle, just pick something good that works with the usual, heavy Thanksgiving feast on some level.

My choice for a white wine was Smoking Loon Chardonnay, 2009. The winemaker's official notes claim "Our 2009 Chardonnay opens with big tropical aromatics of papaya, Asian pear, and tangerine. Subtle French oak aging adds soft sandalwood notes and background complexity to the the aroma. The flavors of this wine are bright and fruit-forward; juicy red apple, mango, and brioche, complement a zesty tangerine acidity and a hint of white chocolate that comes from aging the wine on its winemaking yeast. This 'sur lie' aging also lends a silky crème brûlée mouthfeel. Finishing with bright lemon and toasty French oak, this is relaxed California Chardonnay at its finest."

For me, this bottle was everything I would expect from a good California chardonnay - smooth and fruity, light and refreshing, but still with enough body to stand up to a heavier meal. Thanksgiving dinner was still a little heavier a meal than this wine should probably be paired with, but it still seemed to work.

The next wine I chose was the Rosemount Shiraz, 2009, from Australia. I don't have the official write-up for this one, but this is a fairly bold wine. I've read that Rosemount wines have become wildly popular in the UK- to the point where they are considered commonplace. How true this is, I don't know, but this wine worked for me- I like big, heavier reds personally, even if I don't have the training to define what I like about them in accurate wine-tasting terminology. My take on this wine is that it is pretty obvious that it goes well with spicy foods. We had shrimp cocktail for an appetizer with a cocktail sauce that was a little heavy on the horseradish (which I really like) - this wine seems to fit the bite of the horseradish like a glove. This wine is on the heavy side- but it cuts right through the rich sauces, and starchy sides. Even my limited palate can tell that this bottle has spicy and mineral flavors that come through strongly (in a good way). I didn't know anything about this brand when I picked it out, but I would certainly consider it again.

 My third wine was the Sledgehammer Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, also from California. Unfortunately, we did not try this one- two bottles were more than enough for our group this year. Being a Cabernet, this is a big bold wine (which I happen to like), but it is probably a little too heavy for poultry, especially considering the official description - "Sledgehammer Cabernet Sauvignon is a Cab so big we had a hard time fitting it in the bottle. It's a Cab drinker’s staple with deep red color and a bold, full bodied structure. This is what happens when you take a sledgehammer to Cabernet grapes – an explosive wine that packs a powerful punch to the palate. Enjoy it's fully integrated flavor that is truly ground breaking." I'm actually looking forward to trying this one, but I'll probably save it for a meal that features a heavy red meat. I read the friendly description card tacked to the shelf, and it was the big, bold aspects that attracted me to it, even though it sounded like it was going to be too heavy.

All three of these wines seem to be good, solid choices that are also affordable. Wine tasting can be a very deep subject, but it's one that you shouldn't ignore if you have a love of food and dining. Without going too overboard into territory best left to serious somnambulists, trying different wines, and thinking about how they pair with your food is never a bad idea. The same could be said for other drinks- beers, spirits, and even high-quality juices all have a wide range of flavor profiles that pair with foods in different ways- maybe its a contrasting flavor that hits the spot, or maybe it's a complementary flavor that does it. Whatever your preference, the best path to discovery is to experiment- try different pairings, think about what works and what doesn't, and try some more. It will expand your appreciation of both your beverage of choice, and the food you pair it with- and if your personal tastes and perceptions are very different than what the pros say- so be it- it's your food and wine experience, not theirs! Make it your own.


  1. Sadly, I don't get a chance to do much wine tasting. Although there are a few standards that have served me well. Off the top of my head, Yellow Tail has been very consistent for a few years.

    Prices might vary from one area to another, but you can spend even less and find decent wines. By "find" I mean go to Trader Joe's and simply ask the person on duty. Broadly speaking, I've found their recommendations to be exceedingly good and accurate.

  2. I have tried the first two wines and have also tried many of the Australian wind which I like. I have never seen the Sledgehammer Cab before but it sounds like something I would really go for. I will have to look for it. Thanks for the tips.