Think Red this Thanksgiving

I’m not typically a “rule of thumb” person, but for years I drank white wine with white meat and fish, and reds with red meat and game. Those were the rules. I was concerned about what to serve my guests and I certainly didn’t want to experiment with the wine. As I’ve gotten a little braver, and more knowledgeable about pairing and grape varietals, I like to match the complex flavors of the food with the intricate flavors of the wine. Why not try a great local red wine with your Thanksgiving turkey this year?

When it comes to large festive family meals, most of us want our guests to enjoy the experience and the company. For me, wine at these festive occasions is the soundtrack to the event; your choice of wines can set the mood for the food that you have spent hours preparing. The myriad of flavors, fruits and spices in most Thanksgiving classic accompaniments opens the door to pairing good spicy light to medium bodied reds, dry French style roses, red grape sparkling wine, and luxurious ports with the different courses.

Historically, red wine has been consumed more in cold weather than in hot. In winter, the food choices were more limited: root vegetables, apples, venison, wild game and beef. All good candidates for the heavier tannin-rich wines like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. But in California, and specifically in this region, having a cornucopia of fresh produce and gourmet foods available year round is an invitation to experiment and pair your food with the local wine growing in the field next door.

I polled the San Benito Wineries this week about what they would recommend for your turkey dinner. Most of the wines are available at Dorothy McNett’s in Hollister, a selection is available at Casa Medina in San Juan Bautista, and by calling the wineries directly.

Pinot Noir was the hands down favorite for its flexibility and softness. Josh Jensen, winemaker/owner of Calera Winery makes six different Pinot Noir’s.

“I like its versatility, it goes with any find of fowl, beef and salmon,” he said.

Calera also makes a crisp, dry Vin Gris Rose that would work well.

Pat DeRose, winemaker at DeRose Vineyards, is known for his large, bold red wines, which he advises are too overpowering for turkey. He does recommend his Viognier (vee-own-ni-ay).

“It’s the white wine that thinks its a red,” he explained. Viognier is known for its rich body and fragrant hints of citrus and melon.

Deanna Gimelli of Pietra Santa Winery recommends their Estate Pinot Noir Vache, Cienega Valley 2001.

“It’s an elegant wine,” she said, “soft as rose petals, with an under current of wild strawberry, and a hint of cranberry. Its finish is smooth and beautiful.”

“Thanksgiving is not a subtle meal,” said Sue Marsh of Leal Vineyards. “There are so many different flavors.”

She recommends their $22 “Menage a Trois” Rhone blend, which is 69 percent Syrah, 23 percent Grenache and 8 percent Mourvedre.

“The white pepper of the Syrah works well with turkey,” she said.

Flint Wine Cellars also makes a peppery Syrah and a soft Pinot Noir, and to finish the meal I would recommend the spicy, fruity Hames Valley Vineyard Port from Passagno. It works very well with pumpkin pie.

What bounty in our own San Benito County! I hope you will make a local wine part of your holiday celebrations this season. Happy Thanksgiving to all.


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