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Vines & Vittles: What's in my glass on Thanksgiving?

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've proclaimed this many times before, but it bears repeating: Thanksgiving is truly a wine lover's holiday!

Simply put, it's the culinary versatility of the Thanksgiving dinner, and the way turkey and all the fixin's can be successfully paired with just about any type of wine.

The turkey itself possesses meat that has a variety of different flavors, colors and textures, which can match nicely with any medium- to full-bodied white or red. And, when you add the dishes that traditionally accompany Thanksgiving dinner, things really get interesting.

Whether you use a light, slightly sweet German Riesling or Alsatian pinot gris, a fruit-forward Grüner Veltliner or an herbal and dry sauvignon blanc (which pairs nicely with a sage-flavored bread dressing) or a rich and full-bodied chardonnay, you will find that oven-roasted turkey will pair nicely with each of these white wines.

However, what surprises so many folks (particularly those who adhere to the rigid view that you should only pair white wine with white meat) is how well turkey matches up to big red wines, especially when the "national bird" has been charcoal-grilled or smoked. Full-bodied reds like syrah, cabernet sauvignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape or even zinfandel go especially well with smoked or grilled turkey.

Oven-roasted turkey is also very nicely accompanied by medium-bodied reds such as Chianti Classico, pinot noir or tempranillo, from Spain. Several years ago, I even opened older Bordeaux to celebrate the holiday.

But this year, I'm going for a semi-smoked, charcoal-grilled turkey.

Here's how I'm doing the national bird this year. After soaking my 15-pound turkey in a brine of kosher salt, brown sugar, water, apple cider and beer for about three hours, the bird will be stuffed with bread dressing to which Italian sausage, chestnuts, onion and celery will be added.

I'll prepare a charcoal fire, move the coals to either side of the grill, place an aluminum pan half filled with water between the coals and then place the bird directly above the water and grill for about 3 1/2 hours.

There will also be the usual Thanksgiving dinner accompaniments of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, giblet gravy, peas and mushrooms and pearl onions along with freshly baked rolls and pumpkin pie. Of course, cranberry relish will also make an appearance, as will the following special wines.

To get everyone in the proper mood, I'll open a bottle or two of Domain Chandon Blanc de Noirs as an aperitif. Then I will decant into separate carafes a 2007 Schlumberger Alsatian Riesling along with a 2008 Domaine Serene Evenstad Pinot Noir to accompany the meal. I think it's fun to experiment with both wines and discuss the relative merits of each with various components of the meal.

For a dessert of pumpkin pie, I will open a bottle of 2005 Two Hands For Love or Money (a late-harvest Semillon from Australia). This wine rivals the storied sauternes of France and is infused with apricot and honeyed sweetness and just a touch of the "noble rot" so sought after in great late-harvest wines.

By the way, all of the wines mentioned here were purchased locally.

After such a meal, it is prudent to take a slow walk around the neighborhood before plopping down on the couch in a tryptophan-induced coma to watch football or old James Bond movies.

Happy Thanksgiving.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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