Talking Turkey, Tempranillo, and Tannins
Perfect wine pairings for the big feast
Eric S. Crane has a serious name—anyone who uses a middle initial does. The Atlanta-based advanced sommelier also has a serious job—he’s the director of training and business development for Empire Distributors, Inc, and is a certified wine educator. First impressions can be deceiving, though. He’s actually a laid-back guy who loves wine for the reason it should be loved: It tastes good and elevates food. Crane’s number-one rule for wine presentation is that there be no judgment. Snobbery has no place at his Thanksgiving table. He does, however, like to gently guide diners with pairing ideas, and he lets the Local Palate in on some of his recommendations for each step of the holiday festivities.
What to serve before the feast: I like wines that are high in acid before a meal. They get the mouth watering and the stomach grumbling. Here are categories I generally look for.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. These are nice wines before a meal and can transition to the dinner table as well. You can find great bottles for around fifteen bucks. They always have incredible citrus flavors ranging from key lime to ruby red grapefruit. Those from the region of Marlborough are particularly quenchy.
Cava. The great thing about this Spanish sparkling wine is that it’s generally inexpensive, very easy to find, and overdelivers. I use it in sparkling wine cocktails and mimosas. It’s made in the same way the French make Champagne, with secondary fermentation (the part that creates the sparkle) happening inside the bottle.
Beaujolais Nouveau. Everyone loves to hate this wine and I just don’t get it. It’s super fruity and easy to drink. Also, the speed and precision in the way it’s made is pretty heroic, considering it comes from grapes that were on the vine in September and are bottled and ready to drink in November. It’s lip-smackingly delicious with fall foods.
Prime wines for meal-time: The flavors of fall are rich. Don’t be scared to try wines with a touch of natural sweetness. I tend to favor red wines that are higher in acid (it makes your mouth water) than tannins (they dry your mouth out).
German Riesling. There are few wines as versatile as riesling. I always recommend German wines for any meal in the fifteen to twenty-five dollar range. Look for wines with Kabinett or Spätlese on the label. They’re low in alcohol, high in acid, and off-dry.
Chablis. I’m not talking about jugs of wine here. This is one of the most amazing values on the planet. Chardonnay grapes do well in the northern section of Burgandy, with its cool climate and crummy soil. The wines rarely see oak and can be powerful. If you see wines with Premier Cru or Grand Cruon the label, even better (though the prices for these can skyrocket). I’ve found that these wines deliver for their cost and that traditional anti-chardonnay drinkers tend to love them.
Oregon Pinot Noir. Pinot noir is a wildly versatile grape for meals. It isn’t overly tannic and has nice tart fruit flavors. I really love wines from the Willamette Valley—they groove with vegetables as well as roasted meats and birds. While good pinot noir is never cheap, you can find some great examples in the twenty to twenty-five dollar range.
Rioja. Very few regions in the world make me as happy as Rioja. The red wine is based on the indigenous grape tempranillo. The grape naturally produces a wine with great acid, fine tannins, and wonder-ful red fruits. The wines are traditionally aged in American oak barrels, which impart flavors of vanilla and spices. This is a delicious wine that doesn’t break the bank.
Vinos for dessert: Thank goodness for dessert wines! Sadly, folks don’t take enough time to indulge in them. My general rule is that a dessert wine should always be sweeter than the dessert it is being paired with.
Rutherglen Muscat. The dessert wines of Australia are some great values. They’re made similarly to the fortified tawny wines of Portugal, and they’re perfect for fall dessert flavors. If you have anything with nuts (hello, pecan pie), oranges, or caramel, keep an eye out for these.
Brochette d’Acqui. This is an interesting wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. It’s usually low in alcohol (which is great after a big meal) and slightly efferves-cent. It pairs well with chocolate and berries.