How can it be that Thanksgiving is next week? I walked out of the house in a t-shirt two days ago and was still a little warm. But the calendar tells us that it’s true. And of course, the number of Thanksgiving wine recommendations clogging my e-mail in-box would remind me, even if the calendar didn’t.
I was all set to write the same kind of thing when I came across some notes from a wine conference I went to back in January. And they made me rethink my annual Thanksgiving wine lecture altogether.
One of the conference talks was given by Tim Hanni, a well-known wine educator. He insisted that much of what we think we know about wine – and about lots of other things, actually – is “outdated, outmoded, and filled with errors.” To illustrate, he started off with a question: Who discovered America? The answer is, we don’t know. But we probably think we do.
After a few of these, he got around to wine and asked: Did the French promote food pairing, or matching wine to the dinner? Again, many of us would probably think so. But Hanni put up a photo of a page from Larousse Gastronomique, the famous French food and wine tome. It was originally published in 1938 and had an introduction by none other than Escoffier, the august chef, restaurateur, and hotelier. There, in authoritative black and white, was the following:
“With the entremets… the Bordeaux-Lafite, the delicious Romanée, the Hermitage, the Côte Rôtie, or if the guest prefers, the white wine of Bordeaux, the Sauternes, the St. Péray, etc. should be served.”
The first four wines are definitely fine and pricey reds. But if the guest prefers, he or she can have a white or a sweet wine instead. There’s no right or wrong wine to serve. Many of us probably wouldn’t think of having a sweet wine with our meal. But Hanni also pointed out that port, generally sweet, was traditionally served with the soup course. And that the category we think of as “dessert” wines – higher alcohol and higher sugar content – was actually a creation of TTB, the federal agency that regulates alcohol trade and taxation. These wines might not have been considered strictly as accompaniments for dessert before then. But hey, if there’s a regulatory category for them, who’s going to argue with that?
Hanni’s purpose was to get us to question the things that we wine writers consider truisms. But he also got me thinking about my own annual appeal in this blog to serve rosés with Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, Cy and I like them for that meal, and I can give you a bunch of reasons why I think they work together. In the end, though, it’s about y’all and what you want to drink.
Luckily, Thanksgiving is one of the rare group dinners where attendees feel free to bring wines of their choice. Most people wouldn’t think of bringing wine to a fancy dinner party and insisting on drinking it despite the host’s choice of wine for the meal. And it’s probably still good to check with your host for Thanksgiving dinner, too. But especially these days, when many celebrations include food that our parents and grandparents wouldn’t have even remotely considered for Thanksgiving, why not go with what you like?
Just make sure to bring enough for others to try. And be sure to taste some of the wine other people bring, too. Who knows what you might discover? As Hanni told us in his talk, “People who tell you [certain wine and food] pairings don’t work haven’t tried them.” At least try them and see if you can prove him wrong.
I would be a terrible wine merchant if I didn’t point out that First Vine has wines for anyone’s taste. So here’s a list of recommendations that should fit anything you have in mind.
Cave la Romaine Côtes du Ventoux ($10). A blend of grapes from the southern Rhône valley that has a little of everything: citrus for acidity, a slight floral aroma, some tropical fruit for body. Clean, with a nice finish, eminently quaffable anytime.
Società Agricola Bulichella Tuscanio Bianco ($18). 100% Vermentino, from the Maremma in Tuscany. It’s also organic, although due to a mix-up with the certifying organization, we can’t put it on the label until our next order. Still, you’ll know it and can tell everyone at the table. It’s a big white, juicy and refined. I have one customer who insists that wine he drinks must be red, but he’ll happily drink this white.
Domaine de Mairan Cabernet Franc ($13). Many Virginia wineries produce Cabernet Franc, but this is a French progenitor. Some Cab Francs have a kind of green pepper flavor to them. This one doesn’t. Just ripe fruit, a little earthiness too.
Cave la Vinsobraise Emeraude ($18). 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, lightly aged in oak. A beautiful spectrum of flavors from ripe fruit and spice to tobacco, and even a hint of flowers as you first sip it. It may be the best value at First Vine.
A little bit sweet
Domaine la Croix des Marchands Méthode Ancestrale Brut ($18). It’s a naturally-sparkling wine made from Mauzac, a grape with a light green-apple flavor. I plan on expounding on naturally-sparkling wine and its long history in a future post. For now, it’s enough to know that the production method maintains a little residual sugar, and it’s a lightly-sweet, tasty wine. The apple-ness goes well with Thanksgiving food, too.
Finally, a rosé
You didn’t think I wouldn’t sneak one in, did you? Try Domaine Sainte-Cécile du Parc Notes Frivoles ($14). It’s made from Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah. It’s a medium-bodied rosé that hits all the right notes (OK, enough with the puns on the name) from acidity to lushness. It’s also the first First Vine selection labeled “Made with Organic Grapes.”
As for a recipe, well, I’ve posted a lot of Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving leftover recipes over the years. You probably don’t need anything way new. But there’s always room for a little twist. When Cy and I started spending holidays together, I discovered that his family likes to have hors d’oeuvres before the big meal. I don’t know how this started, but it’s a great way to work it so that guests bring something (and can feel virtuous for doing so), and no one has to worry about his or her offering coordinating with the main meal. It also gets people out of the kitchen while you’re working, another bonus.
Here’s an appetizer spread that will do nicely on all counts: ricotta cheese mixed with lemon zest, finely chopped dried apricots and walnuts, and chopped parsley. It’s worth finding good, fresh ricotta. A local market here in DC sells what’s called basket ricotta – the curds are scooped into a perforated plastic basket to drain, then each little drained basket gets sealed in plastic and shipped out. The closest thing to right-from-the-farm you can get. Mix it all up and serve it with cucumber or apple slices, bread, or crackers. And to drink with it? That’s up to you.
Eat and drink well next week, and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
12 ounces good-quality ricotta cheese
¼ cup finely chopped dried apricots
¼ cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Finely grated zest of half a lemon (about 1-1/2 teaspoons)
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Fluff the ricotta with a fork to lighten its texture. Gently stir in everything except the salt and pepper. Taste, and see how much salt and pepper you’d like to add. Put the mixture in a small, decorative bowl and serve with cucumber or apple slices, baguette slices, or water crackers.