Talking Turkey… with wine

cranbbery relish_1






By Laura Pensiero, RD

I recently polled both foodie and non-foodie Gigi customers and friends to see what wines they will be enjoying at their Thanksgiving table. While some stuck with their favorite style of wine (let’s say a BIG red like Barbaresco, or a New World Cabernet Sauvignon, or a crisp Pinot Grigio or Sancerre, or a heavily oaked California Chardonnay), many actually put the turkey first!

Ask just about any wine expert and they’ll go right to Pinot Noir–with its low tannins and bright berry palate, it complements but does not overpower the turkey or the traditional hearty sides that accompany.

Another thing aficionados tend to agree on is that–red or white–the wine must have a certain element of fruitiness. But don’t mistake this for sweet. While a little residual sugar can play nicely with both the sweet and savory flavors on the table, an all out sweet wine will drown them out just a an overly dry one will land flat against the panoply of tastes on the table.

It’s quite unlikely that a single wine will carry you from appetizers to pumpkin pie, so let’s start from the beginning.  Slightly salty nibbles or even crudité before the main event can pair well with Prosecco, Cava, or crisper lighter whites with a little bit of minerality like Pinot Grigio, Sancerre, Tocai, or even Falenghina, one of my favorite Italian whites. If you have any rosés left from the summer months, now might be a good time to finish them off.

Moving to the dinner table, think of the range of flavors: white and dark turkey meat, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet yams, herbaceous stuffing, and tart cranberry relish. For reds, a bright Pinot Noir or a zippy Zinfandel or a Syrah can work nicely and liven up the flavors. The spice of the latter two will definitely not get lost with the fare on the table. Personally, I find Dolcetto d’Alba to be a very under-rated Italian red. With its soft roundness, nice balance of fruit, and firm but not overpowering structure, it’s my choice for the table. The general idea of pairing the red wine is to have fruit and enough heft without too many tannins. Overall goal? The flavors of the meal will be supported and enlivened, not overpowered.

A white wine pairing for the turkey feast should include a balance between acidity and some character of the wine that is able to stand up and shine through the meal.  A reasonably high acidity will help cut through the richness, and the wine must have some oomph to hold its own. I find the Thanksgiving meal presents a unique opportunity to have fun with some white wines that you may not normally select–Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier can all work.

I asked David Bova, the ever-hospitable general manager and vice president of Millbrook Winery, how he handles this holiday harvest feast. He likes to provide his guests with a range of styles and flavors, encouraging people to try the variety of top-quality wines that Millbrook produces. While many of their collection go with Thanksgiving fare, David particularly points out the Proprietor’s Special Reserve Chardonnay and the 2012 Pebble Ridge Zinfandel, saying, “This Chardonnay has enough oak and acidity to hold up to the rich dishes and the dark meat of turkey. Its palate of yellow delicious apple, clover blossom, apricot, and honeysuckle present complex flavors that complement rather than disrupt Thanksgiving flavors.”

No matter your wine picks for this special harvest holiday, you can’t go wrong if you’re sharing food and vino with good friends and family!

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Millbrook Winery
26 Wing Rd, Millbrook, NY 12545

Phone:(845) 677-8383

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

People often say cranberry sauce is the trickiest part of wine pairings on the Thanksgiving table. Like a wine with good acidity, the cranberry sauce can break through and refresh the palate between bites of the buttery potatoes and succulent turkey. This easy-to-prepare relish has just the right contrast of sweet and tart flavors. It is the perfect side to all poultry and can replace the mayonnaise on turkey or chicken breast sandwiches.

10 Servings

2 shallots, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons butter

12 ounces fresh cranberries

½ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 cup fresh orange juice

pinch cayenne

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 lime

In a medium saucepan, sauté shallots over medium heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cranberries, brown sugar, maple syrup, orange juice, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until cranberries burst open and soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in orange and lime zest. Let sauce cool and refrigerate.

A spot of health on an indulgent day:

  • Cranberries contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical that may help boost enzymes that rid the body of cancer-causing substances.
  • Cranberries also have a substantial amount of vitamin C–30% of the DV per serving (canned has about 75% less than fresh).
  • The peel or zest of citrus fruit contains limonene, a phytochemical that may help increase the production of cancer-fighting enzymes that get rid of carcinogens.


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