CHICAGOTRIBUNE.COM – The beautiful mishmash is near, and I can’t wait to mix my food together.
I always felt bad for the kid who, with extreme vigilance, made sure that no group of food on his plate ever touched another. If the person scooping food onto his plate accidentally bumped a pile of mashed potatoes with an errant kernel of corn, the kid went ballistic. Mixing foods together was always a goal of mine, and if a third-party scooper were to give me a head start on the task with a sloppy scoop, all the better. Go ahead, dribble some gravy on my corn — I was probably going to do that anyway.
Now, I don’t adhere to the “It’s all going to the same place” philosophy of food mixing. Too fatalistic. I’m of the school that says several flavors, textures and temperatures in a single bite are often better than a series of single flavor/texture/temperature bites. You know the school.
The Thanksgiving meal is a great one for mixing. A little turkey here, a little stuffing there, a flourish of mashed potato mixed with some green bean casserole. And hey, let’s drink our Thanksgiving wine with the same freestyle spirit.
Rather than pour one red and one white, put out a selection of bottles, and let people decide what they want to try during the meal. If you can manage, put two or three wine glasses in front of each setting, so your diners can customize their pairings. One wine with the sweet potato and toasted marshmallow-topped piece of dark meat, another with the stuffing and cranberry sauce melange.
Just keep a few ideas in mind for your wines. Lean to the lighter side for the most part. Save your California chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons for another night. Opt instead for lighter whites and reds like pinot gris and pinot noir. And, of course, sparkling wine is always welcome at dinner. Food loves acidity in wine, and it’s especially important when you’re trying to cut through the gut-slugging richness of traditional Thanksgiving fare. Keep your acidity up and your tannins down, and bring the fruit whenever possible. Thanksgiving is fun and lively, and your wines should reflect that.
Below are some Thanksgiving wine suggestions, grouped generally by style, all from the USA. Encourage guests to try as many as they like, and remind them to pour small, so they can sample several styles. When they find a favorite or two, fill ’em up and clink glasses.
You could start with one of these sparkling wines as an aperitif or drink it through the entire meal. The Gruet Blanc de Noirs ($17) from New Mexico is a nonvintage blend of 75 percent pinot noir and 25 percent chardonnay — creamy and full of citrus, with a hint of stone fruit and bright acidity. The Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut ($28) nonvintage sparkler is composed of 53 percent chardonnay and the rest pinot noir, offering toasty minerality, a whiff of smoke and tiny hints of lime and cherry.
For whites, Oregon pinot gris is usually a good bet. The 2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris ($16) was lively and fresh with mouthwatering acidity to bring out notes of pear and candied lime. The 2015 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris ($20), also from Oregon, offered lime and orange zest, with subtle stone fruits, prominent minerality and zippy acidity.
For sauvignon blanc lovers, the 2015 William Hill Estate Winery North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($17) had pineapple and other tropical notes along with a burst of citrus and minerality. The 2015 Priest Ranch Napa Valley Grenache Blanc ($22), fermented and aged in stainless steel, was bright and clean with lush melon, minerality and a suggestion of honey.
The 2014 Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($12) is from Washington state’s Columbia Valley and offered a classic whiff of petrol followed by fresh citrus, minerality and a touch of sweetness balanced by tingling acidity. From Orange County, Va., comes the 2014 Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng ($25), which was viscous and rich, but also bright and full of layered tropical fruits, citrus and honey.
Pinot noir is the classic Thanksgiving red, and here are two nice ones. From California’s Santa Barbara County, the 2015 Inconceivable Pinot Noir ($25) offered jammy, ripe raspberry, strawberry and cherry notes to accompany its floral aromas and lingering finish. The 2014 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40), from one of the finest pinot noir regions in California, had lush raspberry and cherry along with orange zest and spice.
A Rhone-style blend of grenache, mourvedre and cinsault, the 2012 Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee ($22) from California’s Santa Ynez Valley was full of blackberry, blueberry and spice, with soft tannins. The 2013 Quivira Vineyards Grenache ($32), from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, offered fresh strawberry, cherry, vanilla, cloves and spice.
For a more powerful wine, try the 2014 Peachy Canyon Incredible Red ($14), a silky California zinfandel full of ripe plum and blackberry, plus a touch of vanilla and baking spices. Another great pick is the 2014 Frei Brothers Reserve Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($20), which offered luscious plum, mocha, baked apple and cinnamon, with a balancing spice on the finish.
Michael Austin, Chicago Tribune