Choosing a Wine To Go With Turkey

turkeyby Andrew Chalk

Thanksgiving is the season for ill-informed discussions about pairing wine with turkey. Luckily, we ran across the antidote to this babble.

Dan Gatlin, owner of Inwood Estate Vineyards, only has 37-years experience making wine so we decided to reprint his views on pairing wine with food. Dan has gained a reputation for up-front  honesty that isn’t afraid to prick some hubris balloons, and that comes through in this post as well..

From his blog…   

Some Off-the-Beaten-Path Personal Observations about Food/Wine Pairings

This Mini-Blog costs you nothing, and that’s probably about what it’s worth!  Please take my comments in stride as 37 years of listening to much ado about this topic has left me a little jaded.  I’m not trying to throw cold water on a favorite topic of my patrons, but here’s a little different take:

Fine Wines vs. Factory Wines

First, let me be clear about what kind of wines we’re talking about.  I’m talking aboutFine Wines only.  These are quite different than the “Factory Wines” you see at the supermarket.  Here’s the difference:  A “Factory Wine” is made to a pre-determined set of specifications (“specs”) so that the wine will drink perfectly well upon release and not need to improve with age.  This is done with the goal of selling an entire vintage in 12 months so that the shelf space in the store will be clear and ready for the next vintage.

A “Fine Wine” is purposely bottled to reach it’s peak drinkability at some point in the future, often say 6-8 years or more.  A Fine Wine is never at it’s peak on bottling day and is designed to reward the owner with increased complexity and enjoyment for having cellared the wine carefully.  Fine Wines are made to a different set of “specs” and should never be confused with “Factory Wines” although increasing technology in the winery certainly blurs the lines.  That is a topic for another blog.  This discussion is limited to Fine Wines paired with foods.

Fine Wines Paired with Common Foods

Now here’s where it gets tricky: I would say that Fine Wines routinely pair well with foods we eat often, as they should, and that much too much is made of these common combinations.  For example, what Fine Red Wine does not pair well with a great cut of Tenderloin? They virtually all do, and the fact that they do is nothing worthy of attention.  After all, they should.  It’s their role to do so.

Likewise, what Fine White Wine does not pair well with the popular fishes of the day?  Of course, they all should.  Again, nothing unusual.  There is too much made of pairing wines with beef, fish and chicken.  I understand that’s of interest because it’s so much of what we eat.  But Fine Wines should be versatile enough to have all those bases covered without much controversy.

Fine Wines Paired with Less Common Foods

The rubber meets the road when you venture into less common territory.  What it you are serving lamb meatballs, or venison or bison?  Now it gets more interesting.  Maybe regional wines come into play with specific spice character.  Now, how much oak is in the wine, what type of oak, and how much extraction can become a real negative…or a real positive.  Ditto for many other elements of the wines.

That’s why the Palomino is one of the very, very few wines I comment on in relation to food.  There’s something about heavy white meats that overruns light fruity wines, does battle with oak, and is at odds with too much acidity.  I first discovered the unique challenge of these foods many years ago when I would try to find old Meursault, usually about 8 years old, to pair with Thanksgiving food.  It had turned somewhat golden and gained creamy concentration that struck me as exactly the right stuff.

When we started experimenting with Palomino later in the 80s, the weight of the wine became my go-to pairing at Holiday time for roughly the same reason.  This was not Friday night salmon;  the heavy white meats clearly needed the X-Factor that is Palomino.

Great Pairings Often Happen and are Not Contrived

In conclusion, it seems to me that great food/wine pairings are usually a creative force of Nature.  Too often, people set out to “create” a great pairing only to end up with something clumsy and “contrived”, nothing more than what great wine OUGHT to always do for food and nothing over and above the ordinary.  When a truly great pairing happens, it’s always a great learning experience to discover what makes it so special.


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