Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Oh, Wineaux - this is the perennial question: what, oh what, to serve with Thanksgiving dinner?!?!

This question transcends the usual food-and-wine-pairing quandaries.  Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most scrutinized meal of the year for American families.  It is a gathering fraught with family-dynamic stresses.  Not to mention culinary ones: cooking a large turkey can be a pain in the rear.

Even if you have a relatively harmonious group of relatives and a sure-fire way of brining your bird, the fact of the matter is that Thanksgiving dinner is a pretty bland affair.

Boring turkey, fatty gravy, bready stuffing, other starchy sides mashed within an inch of their lives... maybe, just maybe, a tang of cranberry.  "What in the world do you pair with this?"  Wineaux ask me every year.

The answer is not that helpful:

"Pretty much anything."

Before you fling a spoonful of mashed potatoes in my face, hear me out.  With the exception of a humongous, hearty red wine, almost any other wine will stand up to this blob of boring, starchy food.

A white with a lot of acidity will cut through the fat of the gravy and butter-infused starches.  A heartier white with maybe less acidity will balance out the bland turkey (I mean, come on - even if it's juicy, turkey is pretty bland, people.)  A light red with good acidity and even a medium-bodied red will enliven the table of beige in front of you.

But wait - before you whine, "That Minx is no help at ALL, so we'll just open that Cheapo Chard Aunt Maud brought," let me implore you to have some fun with your wine choices this Thanksgiving!

You put an array of food out there on the table in front of you, why not do the same with wine?  Grab a few extra glasses off the shelf and let your guests pour a few different wines to sample with their meal.  Each guest can have a smorgasbord of food-and-wine-pairing options in front of him or her!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Champagne or other sparkling wine: (White or Rosé)
Champagne is festive, Thanksgiving is festive, Champagne is Thanksgiving, QED.  Plus, the bubbles and acidity will perk up the food.  If your budget is tight, try a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, a Spanish Cava, or an American bubbly like my faves Gruet (from New Mexico, of all places!) and Domaine Chandon.

Grüner Veltliner from Austria: (White)
With light, citrus fruit and a characteristic note of white pepper, GV is an easy-drinking and affordable white option.  Just call it "Groo-ner."  While many people, myself included, usually think of Grüners as a summertime quaffer, they are a good wine to have on hand as a lighter option in this kind of array.

Alsatian Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Pinot Blanc: (White)
I have twice in the past month enjoyed outstanding wines from Alsace with my meal.  The 2005 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins was viscous and rich with outrageously heady florals - a party in its own right, and perfect to pair with food.  (~$60)  Also, scroll down to the prior Hurricane post for my reports on some of MaisonTrimbach's amazing offerings.  Gewürz-es will have rounder fruit and spice, and the Pinot Blancs will show more clean citrus when they're young and gain a special complexity as they age.

Beaujolais (Beaujolais Nouveau): (Red)
Beaujolais is a region in France near Burgundy and it is where the Gamay grape shines.  Gamay is one of the lightest, flirtiest red grapes out there.  And later this week (Nov 15 to be exact,) le Beaujolais Nouveau will be arrivée!  The Nouveau is the first wine - from anywhere - released from this year's harvest, because the freshness of this grape requires no aging.  It is made to be consumed straightaway, so it coincides wonderfully with our Thanksgiving holiday, and darned if it doesn't go perfectly with this kind of meal.

Spanish Grenache: (Red)
Another favorite grape for the crunchy red berry, cranberry, pomegranate experience.  In many cases, it will also exhibit spicy notes, chocolate, and dark fruits for a richer experience.  Ask your wine merchant for a recommendation - as Grenache is a less-common solo grape variety, chances are your purveyor has hand-picked his or her selections and will be very familiar with their personalities.  These should also be quite affordable with many good options under $20.

The Boom Boom Syrah, a rosé from Provence,
and a bubbly (Cava) that is ALSO rosé!
New World Syrah: (Red)
Like our friend Grenache, Syrah wines can swing far into the spicy, meaty, big and bold range.  But there are some, like the 2011 Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah from Washington state, that gloriously exhibit a berry salad of fruit.  I have written about this wine before, and return to it again and again for its fun personality and brightness.

Viognier: (White)
A white grape that should have more fans, Viognier is naturally lower in acid so often ends up as a richer wine-drinking experience in the glass.  Some styles are light and floral, but there are others - many from CA or Australia - that are quite complex.  And many from the South of France have intense herb and earthy notes.

Rosé: (erm, Rosé)
Finally people are catching on to the idea that rosé wines aren't just for the summer.  Since they can be made well from almost every red grape, just imagine the array of styles out there!  With the lightness of a white wine and the oomph from the red grape skins and personalities, you have to try at least one rosé with your Bird.  I did a post in 2011 highlighting a number of different styles if you need a few ideas: Rosé Around the World, or, Not Yo' Momma's White Zin.

Me: "Maggie, put the bottle down before you
drink it all, I need to get a picture for my blog!"

And, please, skip the White Zin - if you want something a little sweet, try a German Riesling Auslese or a slightly sweet Brachetto from Italy, like the NV Banfi Rosa Regale.  Muuuuuuch better.

Here's hoping your Thanksgiving is a glorious celebration with family and friends, and if it is also an opportunity to sample a few different wines, so much the better!


Sunday, November 4, 2012


I am a proud New Yorker.  And, like many of my neighbors, I have spent most of the last week in the dark.  After Hurricane Sandy came through, I have had to read by candlelight and walk 30 blocks to shower and wear two sweaters at night and throw out everything in my fridge except for a few condiments.  Now that my power - oh, blessed power! - is restored, I can post about a topic that just about everyone dealing with Hurricane Sandy knows: hurricanes and wine go hand in hand.

As I write, many are still completely devastated by the aftermath of this storm.  I have dear friends who live in Far Rockaway, literally steps from the ocean, who now have three feet of sand blocking access to their house (which, mercifully, was otherwise unaffected.)  I have other close friends who live in Hoboken, who had to evacuate their building wearing garbage bags as makeshift waders, who have lost everything they were storing in the basement.  Photographs, mementos, linens, clothes, files... irreplaceable markers of their lives.

There are still thousands without power, gasoline, and even homes that may never be restored.  If you are inclined, you can help by making a donation to the American Red Cross. Click here for their Hurricane Sandy relief page.

That said, most people I know spent the past week up to their eyeballs in WINE.

Here's a little about my Hurricane Wine Week:

I was sipping on a NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs when the power went out.  I opened my fridge super fast to grab the bottle and put it in my bathtub (which I'd already filled with water) to keep it cool long enough to drink.  As it got warmer and warmer, I drank it faster and faster.

The next night, my friend Carol (another refugee from NY's newest neighborhood, SoPo [South of Power]) and I walked uptown to some other friends' for dinner and wine and a shower.  Steve and Carlos were incredibly generous with their home... and their wine.  Notably, a Dal Forno Romano Amarone della Valpolicella - as you know, I adore Amarones, and I'm sorry I didn't record the vintage, it was lovely.  A 2001 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva was simply gorgeous and drinking wonderfully.  As the meal wound down and the conversation wound up, we hit a couple of Burgunides: a 2008 Drouhin Meursault-Perrières, and a 2009 Domaine de la Vougerie Pommard Les Petits Noizons, and headed to the finish line with a 2007 Voge Cornas "Vielles Vignes" from the Rhône.  Sooooo amazing, such a wonderful bounty to share - I will never be able to repay them.  But I promised that sometime soon they'd come to my house and I'd try.

When the trains running to CT came online again, I hoofed it to Grand Central Station and hopped out to see my folks.  They had definitely dodged a bullet - a few trees were down on their property but none had damaged the house.  One GIANT pine tree fell on the driveway, but Dad was able to pull out the chainsaw and carve a path out.  However large the tree looks in this picture, it is much bigger in reality.  The upper edge of the root swath stood at least 9 feet in the air.

Luckily they'd also kept power, so I hopped in the shower - praise hot water! - because we were going to a wine dinner in a nearby town that had also managed to keep power.  And not twenty minutes later... my folks' power went out!  Gaaah.  However, Dad had a generator that switched on, so there were a few lights, one working plug to charge our phones, and one shower that would stay warm.

What else to do but... go to the wine dinner and drink lots of wine!  This dinner was an event at Boulevard 18 in New Canaan, CT honoring the wines of the Alsace legend Maison Trimbach.  I have long loved Trimbach wines and it was spectacular to sample so many, beautifully paired with a sumptuous six-course meal from Chefs David Raymer and Kerry Dolan.

I adored the 2006 Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personelle Gold Label.  It was elegant and concentrated, with hazelnut, honey and apricot notes, bright yet rich and sexy, and paired wonderfully with the Wild Mushroom Strudel course.   I also got to try something I'd never had before - the 2009 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve.  It's unusual to find many red wines from Alsace, although Pinot Noir does grow well in cooler climates.  This had a cherry and pomegranate nose and was herbal with good fruit in the mouth.  Of course, the star in the Trimbach crown once again shone brightly, and I just lapped up the 2005 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  It had a heady nose of petrol and white florals, super unctuous yet flirty, just amazing.  My mother has always fancied this wine, and while there are not many 2005s left on the market, I may pick up a couple of 2006s for her for Christmas.  (I'm such a good daughter.)

Believe me, there were many more bottles consumed over the past week by this Minx.  When you lose power, there is a loss of control.  You worry about your friends and loved ones, and even about strangers a few miles away whose lives have been devastated.  Wine is always a beverage for celebration, but it is also a beverage that soothes and comforts in times like these.

I joked about my hurricane essentials: candles, batteries, water, and lots of wine - but nearly everyone I know turned straight to the vino to help them get through and did not laugh about it.

My thoughts and heart go out to those still dealing with the repercussions of the storm.  We seem to have a nor'easter on its way in a few days, which hopefully won't be too bad for anyone, especially those still recovering from Sandy.  But I will make sure that I restock the essentials: candles, batteries, water, and lots and LOTS of wine.

Cheers -

And please, help in any way you can.  Thank you.