The Mountain Times

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May the spirit be with you — and enjoy the turkey, too

As we gather with family and friends to share the annual big meal, what could be better to share and enjoy a few bottles of wine? Obviously the amount of wine depends on how many people participate in the feast, responsible drinking is paramount, especially if someone has to drive afterwards.

It is almost as much an annual ritual of making plans to roast the turkey and preparing all the accompaniments as is to choose wine to go along. While I know the beverage of choice for many will be beer, to go along with the football games, I personally think with a big meal such as Thanksgiving dinner, beer can be a bit too filling.
But wine can be a bit intimidating.

If it were just for the roast turkey, it would be an easy choice: turkey being a game bird would traditionally be paired with Pinot Noir. Of course, as with all pairings personal preference would trump any choice, but a nice earthy Pinot will go great with wild birds or one coming fresh from the farm.

Poultry being light meat is best enhanced with light wine (both in color and weight)… unless you light to contrast the flavors, then you might opt for a rich and spicy wine such as Syrah or Zinfandel. So here is already the biggest dilemma, there is not just one choice in wine but also in the approach of choosing a wine and food pairing.

The classically elaborated French system of old, calls for specific wines to go with specific dishes, Sautrenes with Foie Gras, St.Emillion with Rack of Lamb, Chablis with oyster on the half shell, Riesling with smoked fish, Ruby port with Stilton cheese and so on. In French books of the 19th century one can find pairings for every imaginable dish. But this was then, a time when mass transportation did not exist yet and wine and foods where local or at least regional.

The classical question arises, what came first the regional cuisine or the regional wine. Were specific grapes grown to go with the foods of the land or vice versa? I think in this case the choice of grapes was more determined by climate and soil, and the regional cooking adapted to this.

At any rate, a good approach to choosing wines is to think regional, Italian wine with typical Italian foods, same for French, Spanish, what have you.

In modern times however we have so many choices and foods became so international that this principle does appear that easy anymore. Back to basics, in successful pairing neither food nor wine should overpower the other in intensity. And we should reflect the flavors our mouths detect: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (umami). All the smells add more dimensions, but let's keep to the basics:

* Match intensity of the food with the intensity of the wine.
* Avoid spicy/hot foods with bitter/tannic wines. Try off-dry or medium sweet wines instead.
* Fats bind tannins. Serve tannic red wines with fatty foods, or high acid whites if you prefer white.
* Salt reduces the perception of bitterness, acidity, and tannin. Season with salt if the wines show these attributes.
* Sweetness in food will make wine taste sour, wine needs to be sweeter than the food.
* Match high acid wines with almost any food. They need it. Particularly savory dishes with bitter or acidic elements.
* Pair bitter foods with wines with residual sugar to balance.
* High alcohol wine amplify spiciness, choose less alcohol the more hotter the food gets.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, Thanksgiving Dinner