Wine and Beer for the Holidays

Season's greetings from the Bloomingfoods Beer and Wine team.  I am writing today to reflect a little on the puzzles and pleasures of pairing wines with the Thanksgiving feast, to highlight a few choice items (some of which are on sale!) and to mention our upcoming Holiday Beer and Wine tasting on Saturday, December 7.

Let’s begin with the Thanksgiving table.  Here is what we are looking for in a wine: it must pair well with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, tofurkey, cranberry relish, sweet pickles, olives, three bean casserole, Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, several kinds of gravy, green beans, a garden salad, dinner rolls slathered in butter, asparagus, a bread stuffing redolent of sage, apple sauce, a French Canadian pork dressing, and a few other items specific to your particular Thanksgiving table (spiral ham anyone?).  It must be rich enough to handle the bird, light enough to bridge the salad and the relish, crisp enough to cut the fats in the gravy, red enough to pair with meats and other things tasting roasty, white enough to pair with the fruit-based dishes, dry enough for the budding wine snobs (who have yet to rediscover their love of Riesling made just so) and sweet enough for the folks who only drink wine with the yearly feast.  In short, it must be the Wine with a Thousand Faces.

So, what is this mythic Campbellian wine, the drink at the heart of the collective psyche of the multiplicity of grape varietals and wine-growing locales?  Which one will be the Hero of the Table?  The truth is, feasts like this, family-style sit downs, do not really allow for perfect pairings.  Meals with this many strong and unique flavors, if they feature wine pairings as prominent and important moments, are usually built and presented in Courses.  Doing so allows for the thoughtful presentation of flavors for both food and beverage.  Sometimes the food and wine are in sympatico, mirroring and echoing each other.  Sometimes one serves as the foil for the other, setting its particular beauty in high relief against a stable and supportive backdrop.  This level of artistry at the table is much more easily accomplished when the meal is presented in successive stages.

So, what is there to do about this meal, this Thanksgiving that is served all at once, where each participant picks and chooses the contents of their own feast?  I think there is an important detail to remember, and I think there are several good strategies to apply together.  The thing to remember is this: Thanksgiving is not about wine.  Not at the core, not at the heart.  Thanksgiving is about gratitude and about the gathering of hearts, minds and the bounty of the planet at the close of the harvest season.  Thanksgiving is about joyful reflection, about marshaling the good things in our lives and relishing them as we prepare for winter.  The Thanksgiving feast is a moment in a yearly cycle, a time when we take the seeds of gratitude and lovingly place them in the fallow soil of our souls that they might rest safely in the days to come, always ready to rise to new warmth and light.

So am I suggesting we forego putting wine on the Thanksgiving table?  Absolutely not.  Of course not.  Wine can accent and support this feast as well or better than any beverage.  And here are a few strategies for including wine with your holiday meal.  First, go ahead and get several different wines.  This will allow for a variety of pairing possibilities and mitigate the red/white and sweet/dry quandaries.  Encourage people to do smaller pours and try an ounce or so of each wine as they move through their meal.  Just as we load our plates with the many and varied flavors and textures of food, so can we, in a more limited way, do with our beverages.  Light pours throughout the first course (I think of it as the tasting course) allow us to fill a glass with whatever most pleased our palates when we look to accompany our plate full of “seconds”.  Next, try to stay away from heavily oaked wines.  Such wines pair fabulously well with certain foods, but not generally well enough for this style of meal.  Thirdly, don’t forget those “other” wines that you may not bring to the table on a regular basis.  I mean the rose and sparkling wines.  Both of these classes of wine do very well with lots of different foods.  The rose wines help bridge the red/white gap and the sparkling wines work because of their effervescence.  Finally, and most importantly, if there is a wine you really like, by all means set it out there on the table.  Given the variety of the feast, that wine you love is going to work well with a few things for sure.  Given that you like it, that wine will bring at least one very important person (that’s you!) a little extra pleasure during the meal.  And given that, as we noted above, this feast is not really about wine, who cares if it’s not the perfect beverage for the day?

Here are a few specific wines offered for your consideration as you gather your provisions for the Thanksgiving meal.  Most of these items will be offered at all three of our locations which sell wine.

Ruta 22 Malbec $7.99/bottle (regular price $11.99) Fruit-driven style of Malbec, light tannins, medium body.
Underwood Pinot Noir $9.99/bottle (regular price $12.99) Medium bodied Oregon Pinot Noir with varietally correct flavors and good acidity.
Cameron Hughes Lot 352 Cotes du Rhone $7.99/bottle (not sure about the regular price, but we bought a pallet to get this price and we’re pleased as punch to offer you this one at this price!).
Castle Rock Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon $8.99/bottle (regular price $10.99)  A nice bright Cabernet with delicate enough oak shading to pair well with a good range of foods.
Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir $10.99/bottle (regular price $12.99)  In the slightly lush, well-rounded style, for Pinot Noir, but not at all poofy and silly.  For those who prefer California to Oregon.

Duck Pond Wahluke Slope Chardonnay $7.99/bottle (regular price $12.99) Really a classically styled Washington State Chardonnay, the fruit is more tree fruit than tropical and fairly clean.  Priced so well because this is a vintage closeout and we bought a whole bunch.  This wine shows how well Chardonnay can age over the short term if it is not over-manipulated at the winery.
Barone Fini Pinot Grigio $8.99/bottle (regular price $10.99) This one has become a favorite at all of our locations.  Properly crafted Italian Pinot Grigio is getting hard to find under about 13 dollars, so snap this one up.
Aveleda Vinho Verde $7.99/bottle (regular price $8.99/bottle) We sell cases and cases of this during the warm months, but Vinho Verde, with its crisp, aromatic profile and its hint of spritz make it a fantastic food wine year round.  The price is hard to beat for a wine this versatile!
Anna de Codorniu Brut Cava $8.99/bottle (regular price $10.99)  This wine is an excellent choice if you wish to set some bubbles on the table.  This deal just kind of fell into our laps.  This is a bit better than the Cava we usually offer at this price.  While supplies last (so stock up for the rest of the holiday season too!).
As you shop in our wine sections, please remember our 6 bottle (mix and match encouraged) discount of 10%.

And for those who like beer and cider, there are also excellent opportunities with these beverages, so grab what you like or have a chat with one of our staff at the stores!

My last note is simply an announcement that we will have a Holiday Beverage Tasting on Saturday, December 7 from 1pm to 4pm in the enclosed patio at our Bloomingfoods East Location.  We will have wines, beers, and ciders available for tasting, as well as a bit of finger food.  Admission will be a mere five dollars, every penny of which will go to one of the charities we regularly support.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Jason Hill, Beer and Wine Merchandiser