Working in a fine wine shop for over 20 years has taught me there are basically three types of customers.
- “I know what I am doing and/or what I am here for”
- “I have a basic idea of what I want but there is no chance I’m asking for help”
- “I have no idea what I want. I am going to browse for a while, and I might ask questions later”
There is a skill in visually identifying Customer #2, and they can often be the most rewarding to help. And that brings me to the middle of November, which may as well be named for Customer #2.
To be fair, pairing wine can be daunting under the best of circumstances. Pair it with turkey, stuffing (maybe sweet, maybe spicy), gravy (maybe smokey, maybe herby), cranberries (?!), sweet potatoes (?!!!)… good luck with that!
I always start by saying don’t even try to pick one wine to perfectly match all of that. It’s a fool’s errand. Instead I have some simple (well, simple to me) rules to help:
RULE A: Pick a red and a white type that will make the most people happy
Does a German Spatlese Riesling pair great with roast turkey? Yes it does. Will your guests/hosts be happy with a German Spatlese Riesling? That depends on your crowd, but my experience says no. There is nothing wrong with serving a Chardonnay or a Merlot if that is what you think people will enjoy and IF you pay attention to Rule B.
RULE B: Know your flavors
Is mom’s turkey kinda dry? Higher acid wines such as Pinot Noir and dry Riesling will make your mouth water… ta-da, turkey’s not so dry now. Does your host make a spicy stuffing, maybe with Chorizo (or am I just channeling my inner me?) Go with a fruitier wine to balance the heat (I’m looking at you Merlot). I use a ton of herbs in both my stuffing and my gravy. Red Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir compliment both by accentuating those herbal notes. Think ‘compliments and balances’.
RULE C: Know what to avoid. If you must open Cabernet, go with a low tannin one
Tannic reds will make turkey taste even drier, and won’t do any favors to fatty sides like creamy gravy. And don’t let the wine get lost in the mix. Pinot Grigio is famous for being a crowd pleaser, but that has more to do with being inoffensive than being special. It will become the kid dressed as the tree in the 2nd grade play. Yeah, he’s in the play, but will anyone remember him? Probably not. I would always rather fail being bold than be the kid dressed as the tree.
RULE D: Drink Champagne
There is no more explanation…just drink Champagne. You should be drinking some now.
RULE E: Pour the wine… then forget about it
Meals are about eating and enjoying company. Wine is an ingredient, don’t obsess over ingredients. You put thought into it, that’s what counts.
My whites this year:
My reds this year:
My bubbles this year:
Cheers (with Champagne, damnit!)