PORTLAND, Maine — The menu’s planned, the turkey’s brining this year, and maple and bacon have been tucked into creative recipes. The wine’s the easy part, right?
Not when the path from shrimp cocktail to pecan pie is paved with pairing pitfalls.
With so much happening on the Thanksgiving plate, how do you match your mother’s green bean casserole and Aunt Sue’s Jell-O mold with the perfect vino? We asked Portland-based sommelier Erica Archer of Wine Wise to uncork the confusion this mega food holiday presents.
“As creatures of habit we reach for what we like, what is familiar, and have not been trained to consider the complexity or simplicity, flavors and body of the food,” said Archer, who holds weekly wine and food walks through Portland to clear up these culinary conundrums.
“There’s nothing more exciting than when the perfect pairing is discovered and the union of the food and wine are better than their individual parts,” she said.
Easy for her to say.
So what’s the game day plan for Thanksgiving wine?
You are sitting down to a meal that lots of care and love went in to. You don’t want a wine with too much mast or coverage or too much essence. A good wine made from pinot noir allows that grape variety to shine through. It has nice bright acidity, clarity and elegance.
Pinot noir has been pegged a top turkey wine for years. Any alternatives to the usual?
Another red I like is barbera. Or a red from Austria such as Blaufrankisch. It has beautiful acidity, bright red cherry fruit and is earthy. It is really interesting.
I’ll go with an off-dry white that’s balanced with plenty of acidity, such as an off-dry Riesling or Vouvray. These wines are naturally sweet from the grapes getting really ripe in the vineyard and the fermentation is stopped prior to all the sugars being converted into alcohol. With good concentration of fruit and plenty of acidity to balance the natural sugars, these can be great choices for a Thanksgiving meal that includes some of the traditional side dishes such as sweet potatoes, squash or carrots made with brown sugar or maple syrup, for example. There always tends to be something sweet on the plate.
What do you recommend to start?
Bubbles. I like cremant from France, it’s like champagne but is not grown there. This sparkling wine is a blend of Burgundy’s four grape varieties … pinot noir, chardonnay, gamay, Aligote and made in the traditional champagne method. It is ripe and concentrated with biscuits, cream, orchard and tropical fruits with a persistent palate cleansing finish. A great way to welcome family and guests to the table.
What are common wine mistakes people make at Thanksgiving?
They go too big and bold. That Napa cabernet has too much heft. Your plate is medium bodied at Thanksgiving, so you need something that’s elegant but one step down. That’s why pinot noir, a thinner skin grape and barbera are better choices.
Any other traps to avoid?
People don’t slow down enough to taste the wine and enjoy it. So maybe don’t fill the glass to the tippity top, leave some room to smell and enjoy it and discover what’s unique about the wine you are sharing.
What do you serve with dessert?
Depends on if I’m reaching for chocolate cream pie or pumpkin pie. For something fun and unexpected, try an off-dry gewurztraminer with pumpkin pie. Neither are too sweet, and both are aromatic, spicy and an interesting pairing.
Beaujolais nouveau wine is released in France this time of year and is often uncorked at Thanksgiving. Your thoughts on the phenom?
It’s more tuti-fruiti, not overly complex. The whole process is different, the wine is made in steel vats. The grapes on top combust for a super bright wine of very young gamay grapes. I’m never one to judge a wine by its cover, but I don’t reach for it, but I will reach for a cru beaujolais as often as I can.
If you are only going to splurge on one bottle, which goes the distance?
An absolute perfect wine for Thanksgiving is Thimiopoulos Vineyards “Uranos” Xinomavro from Greece. It will carry you all the way through to pumpkin pie. It’s concentrated and complex; layered with black and and red cherries, figs, plums, cranberry, orange peel, wild herbs, au jus, tea leaves, tobacco, cedar, spice, with great acidity to brighten everything up, medium fine-grained tannins, medium body and a long lingering dry finish.
Archer’s Thanksgiving wine recommendations:
Bailly Lapierre, Reserve Cremant De Bourgogne, France — $18
Almost Dry Whites
2007 Georges Brunet, Vouvray Demi-Sec, Loire Valley, France — $25
2013 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington — $13
2011 Copain “Tous Ensemble” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, California — $25
2011 Prieler Ried Johanneshohe Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria — $22
2010 La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bionzo, Piedmont, Italy — $42
2011 Thimiopoulos Vineyards, “Uranos” Xinomavro from Naoussa, Greece — $27