By Bill St. John, Special to Tribune Newspapers
November 14, 2012
No crazier culinary quilt do we weave than our annual Thanksgiving Day dinner. Most known life-forms are present on (or at) the table, many of them garroted by gravy. Thanksgiving dinner is truly a meal like no other.
Yet, we ask wine to accompany it; moreover, to enhance it. So the onus is on us to choose well, in hope, wisely.
To that end, I asked three sommeliers for their wisdom and suggestions on this, wine's most special American day. The sommelier, in my experience, knows more about pairing wine with food than do most other folk wielding corkscrews.
"Sommelier" is the name for the restaurant person (in the past, solely male) who used to carry various instruments of torture in the vest pockets of his tuxedo or 'round his neck and, with them, open, decant and serve bottles of wine for (to?) you at your table.
Nowadays, the name "sommelier" remains, but devoid of threat. He — increasingly she — buys the wine for the restaurant and oversees its always unintimidating service.
Sommeliers, of late, are wine's varsity team. They are up on the latest and the finest, in no small part because winemakers want their best efforts to locate on restaurant wine lists, even more so than on merchants' shelves.
Because the open end of a sommelier's bottle points always at food, I asked these three to tell us what bottles they will hold in their hands for their Thanksgiving Day dinners.
Wine director/partner, Grace, Chicago (opening in coming weeks)
So much is going on on the table, so many sauces, so many flavors. It's the weight of everything, dense, so rich. What's 'light' about Thanksgiving dinner? We don't have a wine for that.
It's so much easier to say 'No.' No Bordeaux, no Chile, no Argentina, no Washington State. You need muscularity and concentration, but what good is that without acidity?
So, my in-the-pocket answer is gamay, muscular gamay, cru Beaujolais — it's fantastic. But not nouveau. There's way too much flavor on the table for that.
I want oomph and power and fruit concentration, but also acidity to guide those flavors through the palate. Otherwise, you're dumping heavy on heavy.
I personally never bring high-end wine. If it's Rhone, it's St.-Joseph or Gigondas or Vacqueyras. From Jura, the more contemporary versions. Vouvray from the Loire, for white.
A New Zealand pinot noir would do really well. What it lacks in depth or darkness of fruit, it makes up for in its hyperactivity. ... When you put it in your mouth, it just jumps all around.
Wine director, The Gage and Henri restaurants, Chicago
In any restaurant where I've worked, you don't get turkey, so I've never had to pair any wine with turkey, actually. But, the meal at Thanksgiving is very imbalanced, isn't it? I'd never serve that to my own family any other time (chuckle).
Nonetheless, all my in-laws are coming in from Colorado and we're having it. My wine solution is to buy a bottle for each person of the one kind they like. Everyone gets their own bottle. You can't pair one single wine with everything; it makes no sense.
My mother-in-law loves moscato, so I am getting La Spinetta's single vineyard (moscato), Biancospino. My brother- and sister-in-law drink New World. I want to high-rent them up with Brown (Estate) zinfandel; it's a gorgeous tumble of nutmeg and cranberry.
My husband gets a current vintage of Weingut Donnhoff riesling kabinett. He likes it fresh, sweet and crisp, which has me wondering why he stays with me.
And for me, I am going to drink the baby phat Pierre Yves Morey-Colin Puligny Montrachet premier cru 'Ancengnieres.'
If I die the next day, at least I will be happy.
Master sommelier, Justin Vineyards, Paso Robles, Calif.
My Thanksgiving Day recommendations tend toward American wine as it is an American holiday. Give me some direct and refreshing fruit. This isn't the meal for wines with mere intellectual appeal.
I mean, this meal is a series of contradictions and overwhelming, even combative flavors; and lots of fat, lots of salt, lots of sugar. Perhaps it makes sense to cut through all of that, but I'd rather amplify them and surround all of them with rich flavors.
Pinot noir does that best; it's full-flavored, with a rich delivery. Bethel Heights Estate 2010; the more subtle Adelsheim 2010. I also am most fond of Wind Gap syrah from the Sonoma Coast; and I would not refuse a bottle of Au Bon Climat pinot noir from Jim Clendenen's estate, nor a Qupe syrah Hillside Select from Bien Nacido.
Whites with a little 'sweetness' are best; a richer pinot gris, maybe, or a viognier with a slight residual sugar. The little more roundness, fullness and fatness thematically goes along with the menu.
Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years. If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.