The Trick to Matching Food With Wine at Thanksgiving
In the rush of the holiday season, we thought you might enjoy some tips on wine for turkey day. Since our goal is to provide some guidance about the marriage of food and wine, we decided to approach several very talented food and wine people in Austin to provide some expert advice. As for the wine experts, we contacted Russell Smith of Twin Liquors and John Roenigk of the Austin Wine Merchant. Then we turned to several local gastronomes for some innovative recipes along with wine recommendations. Their recipes, given below, form a whole Thanksgiving feast of food and wine. Picking wines for the holiday is a difficult proposition. Let's start with the traditional Thanksgiving meal -- turkey and dressing. Already, the wine decision is complicated. Turkey has a wide range of flavors, from the earthy tastes of the leg to the soft, almost sweet white meat. Add to that the fact that most people serve a gravy or sauce to accompany the turkey. When side dishes are brought into the fray, the complexity quotient goes up exponentially. Unfortunately, the old concept of red wine with red meats and white wine with white meats is no longer a good law. As soon as people began adding new and different spices from around the world, all the rules changed.
One fairly accurate generalization about Thanksgiving dishes: They are frequently heavy. A good rule with wines and food is to seek similar weights. There are many exceptions, but overall, this is a decent default rule. Therefore, heavy food demands heavy wine; light food calls for light wine. So for the normal Thanksgiving dinner, you might choose either a very hefty and acidic white wine to cut through the fats and sauces. Or you might choose a blockbuster, jammy red with enough tannin to stand out in the company of the food.
Some of the better choices in the category of whites derive from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Typically, this wine has good acidity and would mate beautifully with the dinner. Our favorite brands are Casa La Postelle ($10) from Chile and Caymus ($14) from California. For more money, the wines of Alsace are virtually unbeatable with this food. One of the biggest white wines on earth is Gewurztraminer. This is not to everyone's fancy. Even though almost all of its sugar is fermented out, this wine has so much fruit that people will still believe it is sweet. But the nose of roses and lychee nuts combined with the steeliness and fruit on the palette will definitely stand up to the turkey. Favorite brands are Schoffit, Albert Mann, and Trimbach (all in the $20 range). As you will see later, all four of our food experts chose an Alsatian wine to pair with their dish.
When it comes to red wines to pair with Thanksgiving, we think two good choices would be a Cotes-du-Rhone or a Merlot. Both wines come in a dizzying number of styles. Again, ask your wine merchant to steer you toward the heavier versions of these wines. Possibilities include the Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone ($12) with a plummy nature and substantial tannins. Another possibility is Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Merlot, which is difficult to find but worth the search ($22). Whitehall's wine has everything you look for in Merlot in terms of fruit and heft, but it adds a pretty stout shot of bright acid that will help with the gravy.
Russell Smith has been a winemaker in California and Texas and currently is the manager at Twin Liquors on Bee Caves Road. He has a discerning palate, and people frequently seek his opinion on wine/food matchings. "One thing I like a lot for Thanksgiving is the 1998 Valdemar Rosado [$8]," he says. "It is a dry rosé with a nice fresh strawberry flavor that complements turkey, ham, and cranberry sauce. It's a great compromise wine when you want just one wine at the table. Everyone seems to like it." His favorite single varietal for the holiday is Pinot Noir -- particularly the 1996 Fess Parker Santa Barbara Pinot Noir (yes, that Fess Parker who played Davy Crockett on the old Walt Disney Show). "It has a deep black cherry flavor with toasty French oak and vanilla overtones and is a wonderful bargain at $16," Smith says. His other favorite Pinot Noir is the 1997 Tria ($17) from the Carneros area in California. "It's a little broader and more robust than the Fess Parker. It is deeper in color with a plum jam nose and hints of cinnamon, again with nice barrel character. Both wines are supple and rich and just great with either turkey or ham."
We next turned to John Roenigk, owner of the Austin Wine Merchant. "I personally like a bottle of sparkling wine for an aperitif," Roenigk explains. "The Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut is an excellent choice at about $28. Riesling from Germany is a good recommendation because it is a little fruity and mates well with turkey, which is sometimes a little dry. I especially like 1997 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese by Merkelbach [$14]." Again, since turkey meat can be dry, a fresh or fruity Pinot Noir can go a long way. "It has a berry character that goes with turkey just like cranberries do," Roenigk says. "One of the best is Drouhin 1997 Cote de Beaune [$23]. Also, Beaujolais Nouveau is festive and since the harvest occurs right around Thanksgiving, it makes sense. Both the Pierre Chermette and the Drouhin (around $10) are very good. Don't forget to serve them around 65 degrees."
With all this information in mind, we set out to have some of Austin's best food people develop a Thanksgiving menu, along with their recommendations for matching wines. Whether you re-create this meal or just try some of the recommended wines, remember that a few moments contemplating how to artfully combine the flavors of the food and the characteristics of the wine will always pay off. Have a great Thanksgiving!
The Cellar in Westlake
Carter created a very nice opening course, Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Candied Squash Slices, and Pecans. Sue's abilities in the kitchen combined with her knowledge of wine have many chefs in town inviting themselves for dinner. "This is a simple beginner," she says. "I tried to come up with something that could be assembled fairly quickly and easily, yet still look elegant on the table, and represent the flavors of fall." Sue recommends buying her favorite fresh goat cheese, Pure Luck (from Dripping Springs, carried at Central Market). She specifically likes the marriage of the sweet flavor of the candied squash combined with the sharp edge of the goat cheese. With this course, she recommends the Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($16) because "the crisp, herbal citrussy flavor of the wine goes perfectly with the sweet/sour notes of this salad." Her other choice is an Alsatian Gewurztraminer. "I love the exotic, spicy lychee flavors of the Albert Mann Gewurztraminer [$20]. It has a vibrant acidity, yet lush mouth-feel that will combine particularly well with the sharp tang of the cheese."
Spinach Salad With Goat Cheese, Candied Squash Slices, and Pecans (serves 8)
2 lbs. fresh spinach, leaves washed and stems removed
2 butternut squash, sliced crosswise into 32 even slices
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
24 oz. goat cheese
2 Tbs. chopped shallots
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Melt four tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add squash slices (it may be necessary to do so in two or three stages) and cook over moderately low heat, turning once until tender. This will probably take around 15-25 minutes. Add sugar and stir until melted. Increase heat and continue to cook until nicely browned. Let cool. Then sprinkle with nutmeg.
Divide goat cheese into eight round, flat pieces. Coat the goat cheese discs with breadcrumbs and saute in the remaining two tablespoons of butter until crisp on the outside.
To make the vinaigrette, add balsamic vinegar and salt to chopped shallots, then add olive oil slowly and whisk to emulsify, then add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange spinach on eight plates. Place four pieces of squash on each plate and top with a round of goat cheese. Sprinkle with toasted pecans. Dress with vinaigrette just before serving.
Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Fest
For our main course, we asked Fox to produce a turkey dish that was a little out of the ordinary. The Fox family's home meals are always brimming with high-quality wines. But they are intent on recommending one wine above all others. "The 1997 Trimbach Gewurztraminer [$15] is perfect for this meal. It has great acidity. The mixture of cranberries, escarole, turkey, and cheese is tough to match. But the Trimbach is such a great food wine it works well with all those items and even enhances them." His other choice is a red wine from Italy. "I like the 1995 Hofstatter Barthenau Vigna St. Urbano Pinot Nero. It's a little expensive [$43], but it's a holiday. Some people prefer red, and this one is earthy with great fruit and balances the escarole perfectly and will still be able to compete with the sweet sauce."
Turkey Cutlet With Parmesan and Sage Bread Crumbs, Orange Cranberry Sauce, and Sauteed Escarole (serves 8)
Turkey Cutlet1 turkey breast cut into eight 4-oz. portions and pounded to 1/4 inch (a butcher can do this for you)
2 cups bread crumbs
2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
3/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
3/4 Tbs. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Brush the turkey with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, sage, salt, and pepper. Place on a plate or platter so that the turkey breast can lie flat on the bread crumbs. One at a time, place each breast on the bread crumbs and coat completely using the palm of your hand. Press the bread crumbs into the turkey breast. This can he done three hours in advance if needed. Place in refrigerator until cooking time.
Place the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat, letting it heat up before adding the turkey. Place breast in the preheated pan and let brown for three to five minutes on each side.
1 lb. fresh cranberries
2 whole oranges, zest and juice
4 cups orange juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn heat down to a simmer and cook until the orange juice and the cranberries are level with each other (this will take 45 minutes to an hour). The orange juice will become syrupy and the cranberries will break down. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
If you would like a smooth sauce, place in a blender when cooled and blend for three minutes (if you put the sauce in the blender hot, it will explode all over the kitchen). This can be done the day before and kept in the refrigerator.
Escarole Saute With Garlic and Lemon
2 heads escarole chopped into large pieces, rinsed well
8 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Choose a pan that will hold the escarole. Place on medium-high heat on your stove top with the olive oil and garlic. Cook the garlic until just before it starts to turn brown. Add the escarole, stirring until it cooks down (three to five minutes). Season with salt and pepper. This should be cooked just before plating.
To Serve: Place escarole in a mound in the center of the plate. Cut the turkey cutlet into two pieces and overlap the pieces positioning them up the side of the escarole. Place cranberry sauce around the base of the plate.
Side DishesTim Albright
Albright, like many chefs in Austin, loves Riesling. This varietal comes in many styles. Generally, the German style is light, fruity, and low alcohol. In Alsace, they go for a massive style with lots of extraction and high alcohol content. His first choice to meld with the spicy yam dish he created is the 1997 Pfeffo Kabinet Riesling by Weingut Pfeffingen ($16). "I like this wine a lot. It's just off-dry and has bright fruit with mineral notes and a wonderful, cleansing acidity," he says. "It's also lower in alcohol so it's a great food wine." His other choice was an Alsatian 1997 Riesling by Schoffit ($25). "This wine is also great. It's got more mineral content and a bunch of apricot fruit. Its alcohol level is a lot higher. Either wine would be great with my yam mashers."
Yam Mashers With Roasted Garlic and Horseradish (serves 8)
4 lbs. yams
4 oz. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. horseradish
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. roasted garlic puree (see below)
Peel the yams and cut them into large cubes.
Boil the yams in a large pot of salted water until soft (about 20 minutes) and strain through a colander, setting aside about one cup of the boiling water. Put the boiled yams back into the pot and add the butter, garlic, horseradish, cinnamon, and some salt and pepper. Let the butter melt for a moment.
Begin to mash or whip the yams (mashing is lumpier and more rustic; whipping will make them fluffier), adding cream as necessary. Your preferences may require a little more or less cream than a half-cup. If the yams are too dry, add some of the boiling water. When they are properly mashed, taste and adjust salt and pepper. Serve in a warmed bowl (a little drip of honey or molasses on top is a welcome addition).
Roasted Garlic Puree
30 Garlic cloves, whole, peeled
Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame. When hot, cover the bottom with olive oil. Carefully add the garlic cloves without splashing the hot oil. Add enough olive oil to not quite cover the garlic cloves and stir to coat the cloves with oil. Reduce the flame to low and simmer the garlic until fully cooked and soft. Let the garlic and oil cool. Strain off the oil. Place the garlic in the food processor and puree, adding back enough oil to make the puree smooth. Keep the pureed garlic in a plastic container. The infused oil is great for salad dressings.
Jean-Luc's French Bistro
Jean-Luc Salles' restaurant provides excellent French bistro-style food and a very interesting wine list. Matching wine with dessert is always tricky, so we were interested in what magic he might be able to pull out of his toque. Jean-Luc's first pick was from Alsace. "With my cheesecake, I would recommend a Schoffit Gewurztraminer [$20]. It has a beautiful spiciness and the floral qualities necessary to match the sweet/spicy nature of the desert." His second choice went in almost the opposite direction, but is inspired nonetheless: a brut champagne, "particularly one predominantly made with Pinot Noir, like Veuve Cliquot [$33]. The approach here would be to cut through the sweetness of the dessert."
Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake (serves 8)
11é2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup plus 3 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese at room temp.
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp. pure orange oil
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
6 eggs, lightly beaten
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Cover the outside of a 9" springform pan with foil. Butter the inside of the pan. In a bowl, mix together cracker crumbs, three tablespoons of sugar and ground ginger, gradually adding melted butter; mix well. Press crumb mixture evenly over inside of pan to reach 2" up the sides. Chill for 30 minutes.
Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Slowly add one cup of sugar while beating. In a separate bowl, mix together pumpkin, ginger, oil, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, then beat into the cream cheese. Add eggs gradually, beating well after each egg -- the batter should be smooth. Pour batter into pan. Bake until top is lightly puffed all over, 60-70 minutes. The center should be slightly underset. Cool on a wire rack, remove foil and sides of springform pan; refrigerate overnight.