Turkey Wines

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turkeyWines.jpgby Courtney Cochran

It's that time of year again, and you have no idea which wines to pair with your turkey feast during the Holidays. Do you stick with your usual favorites, Pinot and Cab, and throw in a nice Chardonnay for contrast? Or do you try something you've never had before, like a Gruner Veltliner, to make a big statement?

The answer lies somewhere in between. On upcoming Turkey Days you ought to offer a blend of whites and reds, but you also ought to seek out specific wines whose flavor profiles and weight complement heavier foods, which are often laced with a combination of sweet, savory and spicy notes. Some of these wines are exotic-sounding and can add an exciting contrast to your otherwise traditional table - never a bad thing!

To jump start your creative process, I'd like to suggest three wines I find perfect for Turkey Days. The first is a bubbly, which sets a festive tone for the special day, followed by a white and a red that are uniquely suited to turkey and its sidekicks. Please excuse me if my mouth begins to water while I write this.

Champagne
There's no better way to start a meal than with Champagne, and the Holiday season, with its abundance of salty and nutty starter foods, is perhaps the perfect occasion. Start things off with a bang, literally, by popping open a bottle of bubbly to pour alongside mixed nuts, puff pastry-based appetizers and other salty and savory hors d'oeuvres.

I recommend Taittinger's non-vintage "Prélude" Champagne, which is made from grapes sourced exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards and features a distinctive salty pretzel aroma and flavor. Backed up by pleasant notes of lemon custard, flowers and peach fuzz, this wine's flavor profile is at once delicate and deep - classy, in other words.

Tip: Champagne, with its crisp acidity and refreshing effervescence, is as much at home at the beginning of a meal as it is throughout; it's largely held to be the most versatile of all wines when it comes to food pairing. For the ultimate extravagance, make Champagne available to your guests throughout the meal.

Gewurztraminer
Looking for a white that can pair as well with turkey and stuffing as with cranberry and sweet potatoes? Then look no further than Gewurztraminer, the "spicy" white wine with a full body that's perfectly at home. Gewurz literally means "spice" in German, and wines made from the pink-skinned Gewurztraminer grape are known for tasting subtly of baking spices like cinnamon and ginger - seasonings used frequently in seasonal meals.

And as one of the richest white wines, Gewurztraminer can stand up to the hearty dark meat found in turkey as well as the savory sides that go along with it, such as stuffing and creamed potatoes. Perhaps the best part yet, Gewurztraminer is loaded with heady aromas including musk, lychee fruit and rose water that make simply smelling it a treat in and of itself. Look for dry versions from France's Alsace region, such as Bott Frères 2002 Gewurztraminer.

Cru Beaujolais
A wise sommelier once told me that the Cru-caliber wines from France's Beaujolais region make the perfect turkey wines. Sourced from any of 10 superior regions or "crus" within the vast Beaujolais territory in eastern France, Cru Beaujolais is a medium-bodied red wine that strikes a deft balance between structure, complexity and food-friendliness.

The food friendliness comes from the Gamay grape, which makes the uncomplicated light-bodied reds we know as Beaujolais Nouveau. The added complexity comes from superior vineyard sites and better winemaking practices than those used for the entry-level Nouveau. Together, these additional elements impart a distinctive earthiness reminiscent of forest floor and dried leaves - of autumn, in other words.

The wine's appealing dried cherry notes, along with this woodsy autumn-like character and Beaujolais reds' renowned food friendliness, make it a great match for the entire spectrum. Its medium body won't overwhelm turkey (which, after all, is a white meat) while its deeper notes allow it to stand up to hearty stuffing, pork and gravy. Watch for versions from the top three crus: Morgon, Fleury and Brouilly.

Happy Celebrating!

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13 Comments

I am a wine professional and I would agree with the choices but I would also add a really nice dry rose, there are a couple of good domestic ones try Paul Mathew or Solo Rosa. There are also some really nice domestic Pinots that are in the Beaujolais Nouveau style like the Schug Carneros Pinot. Good eating all!!!

As a food & wine writer and judge, I agree with Vaughn, but there are more wines out there that go nicely with turkey and all the fixings. I especially like the Donatoni Sangiovese or a good Syrah by Malloy-O'Neil, Poalillo's Petit Syrah, and of course there's always a good Zin! Experiment a little! Don't always go with the regulars!

I too am in the wine biz making wines- I am always surprised that the same types are brought out over and over again. I know it is because they are recognized, but I love that you brought out a couple more options. I also agree with Vaughn that Rose's are a great match and can satisfy the red and white wine drinkers many times- and it's FUN!

Well, this is beginning to look like a wine-pros forum, because me, too! Great suggestions and I'll give a special Hear-hear to the rose and bubbly options! Dry rose is so easy-going and you can NEVER go wrong with bubbles! In my family it's become pretty much anarchy -all kinds of wines on the table and suit yourself. Happy T-day everyone!

We always enjoy a rose champaign with our deep fried turkey. Works very well.

Peju Winery in the Napa Valley makes the perfect wine for holiday pairing...Peju Provence. Provence is a blend of three red varietals and two whites - served chilled. It's got great structure, texture and fruit, which make it an extremely versatile wine that can pair with almost anything. It’s especially perfect with hard to pair dishes such as turkey, ham, hors d’oeuvres and the holiday side fixings.

It's really fun, and unique! Your guests will love it!

I agree w/ Katie on the Peju Provence. Some of my personal favs from past Thanksgiving feasts are Piedmonte Brachetto or a Sparkling Shiraz. Try it w/ a Turducken (Chicken stuffed in a Duck stuffed in a Turkey- Cajun style).

As a restaunt owner, open on Thanksgiving, we too love the above suggestions but we are doing something different this year. Broadbent Vinho Verde from Portugal and several Gruner Veltliners from Austria.

............at our home for the past four years it has been a five year old Pinot Noir ...... absolutely incredible with roasted or fried turkey for Thanksgiving!

I agree with Katie!

The Peju Provence is fantastic. It is a great bridge wine from white to red wine drinkers. Provence is served chilled and for us non tradtional Holiday food people - this goes great with Spicy Food as well!

Tai food for Christmas - why not?

As a wine writer, I have to agree with Katie, from Peju, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last month. The Peju Provence is great and easy to drink, fits in with most Thanksgiving dishes. Your guests will love it. If you don't have access to it however, there are some alternatives: The 2007 Martin Ray Angeline Gewurztraminer is fab---light and new to the line, full of tropical fruit and spice--will compliment your Thanksgiving line-up. If you want Chardonnay, round and full-bodied, but not so oaky and buttery, try the 2005 Arnold Palmer Santa Barbara Chardonnay. It will be perfect. A good light red would be the 2007 Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir--available at any Cost Plus/World Market store.

Being not a professional wine person, but a red wine devotee ... I am looking forward to sharing the Vin De Casa from Ceja with my family for Turkey Day!

...even California wine folks will swoon over Maryhill's Viognier (Wash. State) and Sokol-Blosser's Evolution (yes, this is the S-B of early Oregon Pinot Noir fame)...both luscious on a holiday table. Given the choice, I'd have to select from among the many outstanding Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, with the Carneros offerings coming in a close second. Salud!

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