Wines that Pair Well with the Thankgiving Meal

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We are just days away now from the big Thanksgiving feast. And one of the most common questions is "What wine pairs best with the Thanksgiving meal?" 

As we learned last time, the trick is to pair your wine with the type of sides you are serving, not the turkey itself. Typically, along with the turkey, you are going to have stuffing and mashed potatoes and cover them all in a rich gravy.  And then you throw in the yams, cranberry sauce, a couple more casseroles and the vegetables and you end up with some big, rich favors on your plate.

If you really insist on a white wine, try a dry Riesling (look for 'Trocken' on the label) or a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But I say "Give a red wine a try."

Three of my favorites for Thanksgiving are:

  • Beaujolais - Light, dry and fresh with fruity flavors. And you can serve it chilled.
  • Pinot Noir - A light bodied red with flavors of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. In the French wine section at your store, this is called a red Burgundy. And this too can be served slightly chilled.
  • Rhône Blends - Rhône wines focus on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes, producing medium-bodied blends.

And the timing is also perfect for trying a Beaujolais Nouveau that was just released this past Thursday November 16th.

Regardless, don't stress over the wine. Enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Cheers!

It's Beaujolais Nouveau Time!

Beaujolais Nouveau. Its name literally means 'new Beaujolais.' This wine is named for the village of Beaujeu in France, which is a small region just south of Burgundy.

On the third Thursday of each November, France releases Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the world.

The 'new' part of this wine is due to the fact that the grapes used to make this wine are picked from the vineyards just a couple of months prior to its release! That's compared to most wines that spend a year or more going through the fermentation and aging process before being bottled and shipped to market.  But Beaujolais Nouveau gets from the vineyard to you in about two months!

Word has it that this wine was originally produced for the harvest workers in France to immediately thank them for all their hard work just after harvest was complete. But now its production is somewhere between 30-60 million bottles so that the entire world can enjoy.

Although there are more than 100 Beaujolais Nouveau festivals held each year in the Beaujolais region, the 'Les Sarmentelles' multi-day festival is said to be the biggest and most famous for celebrating the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. The festival includes music, dancing, fireworks and, yes, plenty of wine.

This wine is produced entirely from handpicked Gamay grapes and because it is so new, it is very fresh and fruity. Many describe Beaujolais Nouveau as having flavors of candied cherries, strawberries, red plum, bananas and bubble gum.

Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be enjoyed young, not critiqued. So get a bottle soon and give it a slight chill. Then raise a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau to the French harvest workers. It's Beaujolais Nouveau time! Cheers!

Pairing Wines with Hot and Spicy Foods

When pairing wines with food, the general goal is to make sure that the flavors of the food don't overwhelm the wine and cover up all of the wine's wonderful flavors. And the basic rule of wine pairing says that you should have a red wine with beef and white wine with chicken or fish. But what about a spicy meal? And spicy includes both highly spiced foods and those hot and spicy foods. These foods can easily overwhelm a wine. But pairing options with hot and spicy foods may surprise you because it's not going to be the big bold wines that work best.

One food and wine pairing that works with almost any meal is a sparkling wine. And it works especially well with spicy foods. It can be anything from a sparkling rosé to Champagne. And even an off-dry (slightly sweet) sparkling wine work well with spicy dishes. Putting some sweetness against a spicy flavor is surprisingly good.

The moat common pairing with a hot spicy meal is to go with a Riesling. And it works.  The high acidity of a Riesling will cut through the heat while the lower alcohol won't add to the burn. In addition to Riesling, you might also consider a Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc or an Albariño. These wines all fit into the lighter side of white wines, having lower alcohol and higher acidity. Serve these wines well chilled and they can be the perfect accompaniment for a spicy meal.

Red wine lovers have options too. But stick to a light bodied red wine, especially with a hot spicy food. A slightly chilled Beaujolais or a Pinot Noir would be a great pairing here. The problem with trying to pair a big, bold red wine with a "hot" and spicy dish is that these reds tend to have high alcohol.  And what you'll find is that the higher alcohol level will add to the burn in your mouth, not reduce it.

So next time you are trying to figure out what to have with that spicy Thai food, Kung Pao Chicken, coconut milk curry or Buffalo Hot Wings, try a little bubbly, a well chilled light white wine or a slightly chilled light red wine. Cheers!

What is Red Burgundy?

Previously I covered the most widely known white Burgundy (Bourgogne Blanc) from Chablis. We learned that wines from Chablis are produced from the Chardonnay grape.

The other most notable wines from Burgundy are red wines (Bourgogne Rouge). And, the most widely produced red wine in France's Burgundy region is Pinot Noir.  French wine labels generally only identify the region where the wine is produced and not the grape varietal used to produce it. So you just have to remember that if you are looking for a French Pinot Noir, a Burgundy is what you are looking for.

Burgundy is the original home of Pinot Noir with records of its existence dating back to the 1300's.  And like most French wines, they are highly regulated. There are several levels of classification in Burgundy:

  • Grand Cru
    • These account for just over 1% of Burgundy's production from just 33 vineyards. And because of this, they go for top dollar. These wines are described as being bold, complex and worthy of aging.
  • Premier Cru (or 1er Cru)
    • These 635 vineyards, representing approximately 10% of Burgundy's production, may be located directly adjacent to Grand Cru vineyards, but are certainly more affordable.
  • Villages Wines
    • These wines are named for the town where are grapes are grown and represent 44 AOCs, or a bit over a third of Burgundy's production. These wines are fresh and fruity.
  • Regional Wines
    • These wines are made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and may be labeled as "Burgogne Rouge" which is literally red Burgundy.  These regional wines, from 23 AOCs, account for approximately 50% of Burgundy's production.

Red Burgundy from France has been compared more with the Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley due to their bigger and bolder flavor of cranberry with notable earthiness versus Pinot Noir from the Central Coast of California (e.g., Sonoma and Russian River) that tends to have more strawberry, raspberry and cola flavors. 

While Pinot Noir is the most notable red wine produced in Burgundy, there is another red wine produced in Burgundy. You may have heard of it. It comes from the region of Beaujolais. It's produced from the Gamay grape and is usually known as Gamay Beaujolais.

While the Beaujolais Nouveau is widely popular, it is bottled immediately after harvest, is complete and arrives on store shelves within about two months of being picked.  The more sophisticated and aged Gamay Beaujolais will also offer a juicy, fruity scent, but they deliver a smooth texture with a bit of “earthiness” in the taste.  Because Gamay Beaujolais wine is produced at a much higher volume than the Pinot Noir, it is much less expensive, making it a great value for a nice French wine.

So if you are looking for a red wine with medium body, check out a Burgundy. Both the Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and Beaujolais (Gamay) are unlike any other wines produced in the world. Cheers!


Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Louis Jadot Burgundy ($17)

This Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is widely available and moderately priced. A great medium bodied wine with flavors of raspberries and a bit of earthiness. This wine goes great with most foods.  Louis Jadot is one of the few French winemakers that, for American's benefit, also identify on the label that this Bourgogne is a Pinot Noir.