Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving recommendations from the experts

As published in the 11/18 issue of the Nashua Telegraph (click here to view Telegraph version).

Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.

When I think about these words uttered by the late Robert Mondavi, I cannot help but imagine him speaking about the many occasions that took place during his life in which he shared what he referred to as “the gracious life.” In many ways, I feel that all of us share in the gracious life on one day in particular, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a day unlike any other during the year. It symbolizes something that is so simplistically beautiful and humbling – being thankful. Next Thursday, families will converge on dining room tables all over the country. Little kids at one end, adults at the other, but all joined together as a family. The traditions will vary from region to region, and the spread will include a variety of dishes from the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes, to lasagna, to baked macaroni and cheese. No matter what is on the table, the attention is squarely on the meal and togetherness that this wonderful day promotes.

However, there are some conundrums that may arise. A common point of inquiry surrounds wine. The typical question of “What wine pairs well with Thanksgiving dinner?” will inevitably come up numerous times. There are many possible answers; nevertheless, there are variables to consider first: What is the main element of the side dishes? Are there any harsh flavor components? How is the turkey prepared? Who are my guests, and what do they like?

Now, I could be very general and say that Oregon pinot noir goes well with turkey with cranberry sauce, or that a Gewurztraminer from Alsace would go well with a mushroom and herb stuffing, but I think you all deserve more than that. Thus, I have enlisted the help of a team of experts from the culinary and wine worlds to assist me in this task. I have posed to them this simple question: What is your favorite traditional family dish served on Thanksgiving, and which wine would you pair with it?

When approaching the recommendations, one thing to consider is why these pairings work. Here are a few simple rules to help you along:

• Choose a wine you enjoy.

• It is generally safe to pair hearty dishes with hearty wines and conversely lighter dishes with lighter wines.

• Pay attention to the accompaniments of the dish. Some wines may go well with turkey and mashed potatoes, but not the brussels sprouts or horseradish being served with them.

• Don’t stress about it; wine is meant to elevate, not tear down. You are with loved ones who will likely appreciate your effort.

However, if you have an aunt, uncle or hotshot cousin who is truly into wine and would look down on you if you served Two Buck Chuck, let’s hear what the pros have to say to help you to avoid such a disaster:


• Constantine Brianas, executive chef and co-owner of Unums in Nashua, NH: “Buttered Gnocchi with Toasted Ginger, Simple Pumpkin and Colossal Shrimp is not only a dish that we serve at the restaurant, but also one that I serve during Thanksgiving. The combination of the fresh made gnocchi with the pumpkin puree has an autumn feel that is undeniable and sets the stage for the rest of the meal.”

Brianas’ perfect pairing: 2007 Truchard Chardonnay from Carneros, Calif.

• Merry Edwards, trailblazing winemaker/owner of Merry Edwards Wines in California: "One of my favorite recipes during Thanksgiving is Connie’s Hot Crab Dip. It is made with Dungeness crab and is a dish that was one of my dear friend’s late mother’s and one which we continue to enjoy today."

Edwards’ perfect pairing: 2007 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley pinot noir from California.

Main course/sides

• Jon Carnevale, sommelier and general manager of the Bedford Village Inn in Bedford, NH: “Occasionally, we go with an alternative to the traditional stuffed turkey. One of our favorites is Wild Rice and Chestnut Stuffed Game Hen. It is an incredibly aromatic dish from beginning to end, with the thyme and sage announcing the main courses arrival.”

Carnevale’s perfect pairing: 1997 Domaine des Comtes Lafon “Clos de la Barre,” Meursault from France or 2006 Lemelson “Thea’s Selection” pinot noir from Willamatte Valley, Ore.

• Karen and Stephen Williams, wine loving co-owners of Unums: “Typically, we brine our turkey overnight and then fill it with an amazing Leek and Wild Mushroom Stuffing. The stuffing is a combination of porcini, shiitake and button mushrooms, along with crumbled French baguette, thyme and fresh leeks. On the side, we do a mashed potato with roasted garlic and freshly grated horseradish.

The Williamses’ perfect pairing: 2005 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne from Napa Valley.

• Jason Berkman, executive chef at Legal Sea Foods in Burlington, Mass.: "Ever since I became a chef, I have had to step it up in the kitchen at home during the holidays. Besides the traditional Thanksgiving fare, one of my favorite side dishes is Applewood Bacon Braised Kale. It is quite the crowd pleaser."

Berkman’s perfect pairing: 2006 Domaine Drouhin pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Ore.


• I couldn’t let the column end without dessert! Luckily for us, my grandmother (Dolores Peck) makes a scrumptious traditional cheesecake. Grandma’s Cheesecake is nothing flashy, just Philadelphia and a lot of love. Typically, dessert is paired with coffee or tea, but if you want a truly memorable dessert experience, Sauternes or Tokaji will bring this to the next level.

My perfect pairing: 2005 Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttanyos Red Label from Hungary.

I would like to thank our experts for their thoughtful recommendations. Hopefully, their suggestions will assist you when putting together some terrific pairings of your own this Thanksgiving.

From our families to yours, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Editor's Note: Recipes for the dishes mentioned in this article will be posted one at a time daily beginning tomorrow.


  1. Lets not go down that old road of Clichèville with stuff like "wine is passion" ."Wine is blah blah blah=its a drink, its not better than other drinks and where I live in italy the only people who get a high on its so called passion are people who want to sell a drink as if it is a nectar. My favourite scene of wine is old boys drinking in a typical Osteria=thats wine, a drink.

  2. Gary,

    I am sorry you didn't enjoy the piece. I think you may have missed the point of the article. My purpose is not to sell wine, but show how it can enhance and overall experience. We are all entitled to our opinions however.

    Take care.