Thanksgiving: Holiday pairings are for the bird

Every year about this time, the so-called “experts” offer their insights on holiday pairings. Typically, we see a different pairing with every single course. And when you start thinking about volume, even with just a half glass of wine with every course (appetizer, salad/soup, entrée and dessert), that leaves you with just about three full glasses of wine (3/4 of a bottle in most cases) per person. That’s a lot! Pairing cocktails with courses is even more problematic because distilled spirits are both anesthetic in nature, as well as analgesic. Meaning that they not only kill germs, but they also dull your senses. And last time I checked, taste was a sense. Pairings are also particularly problematic because not everybody likes the same things.

But one of the great things about a Thanksgiving meal is that it’s almost universal in its construct. Unlike a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa meal, which can break several different ways depending upon depth of commitment and/or persuasion, not to mention personal taste, Thanksgiving is almost always turkey (or something that looks and tastes like turkey). Then there are the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (or yams), stuffing and gravy. So as such, it would seem relatively easy to pair an alcoholic beverage with it all. Right? Well, wrong, actually.

When it comes to alcohol, not only do people have different tastes, but those particular Thanksgiving items are not well suited to the most popular of them. And what goes well with turkey doesn’t necessarily go well with sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce. There are two schools of thought with pairings. Pick something that enhances the food or realize that the food and the beverage are separate entities, and if each is good and well balanced in their own right then they don’t necessarily need to complement each other. And, if you don’t like something, you are probably not going to like it paired with something else. The most important thing is to drink what you like, not what someone else tells you to like.

So, my goal here was to find beverages that go pretty well with everything on the Thanksgiving table in one fell swoop. I hope I have covered all the bases from your budding oenophile nephew to your set-in-their-ways elders. Good luck, I say in advance. Here are a few local things to try out, starting at ones for your nephew and working your way up, or down, depending.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

And please remember that drinking and driving never pairs well together, no matter what.

• Dutton-Goldfield 2020 Chileno Valley Vineyard (Petaluma Gap) Riesling, $50

With the closing of Pey-Marin Vineyards in 2021, Marin County lost one of its most unique and iconic wines. Their Shell Mound Riesling had been the benchmark for dry California riesling for many years. Into the gap (literally) comes Dutton-Goldfield’s version. Sourced from the Chileno Valley Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap, this wine is an apt replacement, and will satisfy most of the oenophiles at your holiday gathering. Unfortunately, it’s only available to club members, but maybe a club membership will double as a holiday present? Honeydew and honeysuckle are both apparent in this wine, as is a seashell-like minerality. Goes great with turkey, or so they say.

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• McEvoy Ranch Glass House non-vintage, Sonoma County sparkling rosé, $36

Sparkling wine is the universal solvent. It goes with everything, and/or nothing at all. It’s rare to hear someone say, “I don’t like sparkling wine.” Hidden in sparkling wine’s bubbles is typically fairly high acidity, and it’s that acidity that makes it work with just about everything. Sparkling wine might be the best palette-cleansing intermezzo one can have, period. McEvoy Ranch (actually located in Marin but accessed through Sonoma) produces this effervescent strawberry-ish offering that has enough creaminess to recognize it as a “méthode champenoise” wine, while still having enough tropicality to distinguish it clearly from French champagne. Lower alcohol (12.5%) makes it accessible. Goes great with everything, except driving or operating heavy equipment.

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• Tognetti Family Winery Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine, Sonoma, 2015, $65

This superb sipper will put the zing in any request for chardonnay. It’s chardonnay, 100% from Los Carneros, and it’s a double gold winner at some other newspaper’s 2023 wine competition. The Marin-based Tognetti family has produced wine in Sonoma since 2012 but has grown grapes in Carneros since 1980. Originally, much of their chardonnay went into making Schramsberg’s high-end J. Schram sparkling wine, but now it goes into their own. The 2015 vintage (five years of tirage) combined with a minimal dosage really lets the terroir shine through. As such, it’s a delightfully crisp combination of toasty apple and creamy pear. It will go with everything on your plate, or nothing at all, if it comes to that.

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• Moylan’s Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey, Marin/Sonoma, $47

Longtime Marin resident Brendan Moylan knows a thing or two about whiskey. This whiskey won gold at the 2022 U.S. Open Whiskey & Spirits Championship (Moylan’s also won the Grand National Championship for whiskey). After four years in newly charred American white oak barrels, Moylan’s high-rye bourbon is finished in French oak barrels, previously used for chardonnay. Bottled at barrel strength, 58.7% alcohol (117.4 proof), I defy you taste the remnants of that chardonnay. What you do taste is rich vanilla and caramel floating over a base of coffee and citrus. Yum! Which Thanksgiving food items does it go with? Who cares?

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