This One is for the Bird (Thanksgiving Wine Pairings)

#191 – November 18, 2011

For most people the onset of fall means gorgeous color-changing foliage, the World Series (a very sore topic for me this year), football (jury is out for now on this one), S’mores, sweaters, blazing fireplaces and Thanksgiving weekend. While some wine lovers may perk up at such minutia, most oenophiles tend to focus on important stuff like the intricacies of the harvest and fermentation, the timely depletion of our summertime Rosés and the wine selection for the coming Holidays, Thanksgiving and Chanukah.

Since your Chanukah wine issues will be solved with the upcoming shipment of the Leket Wine Club, this newsletter is focused on helping you make the right decision for your Turkey repast, coming up next Thursday evening. As a reminder, the Leket Wine Club makes a great holiday gift (especially for yourself) and provides a great entree into the wonderful world of exciting Israeli wines, all while helping Leket Israel fulfill its mission of eradicating hunger in Israel (a portion of the proceeds go to benefit this great organization’s exceedingly important work). For my new subscribers, you can read more about the wine club (and my involvement) here and here (where you can also sign up). Also, while I no longer make Mazal Tov wishes from this platform, this week I am making a well-deserved exception for my sister Serylle and her fiancé Yair, and sending them a huge Mazal Tov on their engagement (and thanking them for the “excuse” to open up some heavy hitters this weekend in happy celebration)! Welcome to the family Yair!

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, in addition to the onset of a never-ending loop of Christmas Muzak in every retail store you enter over the next six weeks, one is hit with an onslaught of articles, videos and educational (i.e. promotional) material, dealing with the apparently very complicated question of what wines to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. While turkey is a bland slate for wine pairing; the potential mélange of textures and flavors typically present at a traditional Thanksgiving feast can complicate wine pairing significantly and choosing the “right” wine to seamlessly accompany all this gluttony can be slightly overwhelming, especially coming on the heels of preparing all that food. However, this task is not nearly the Herculean task all these articles and experts would have us believe and the “right” wine is really the wine that you enjoy the most.

As I have mentioned many a time in the past, the most important aspect of food and wine pairing is to drink wines you enjoy and on a family-oriented holiday like Thanksgiving, even more so. Therefore, the fact that there isn’t a perfect pairing for the day (akin to my personal favorite of Sauternes and foie gras), allows choosing the wine to be dictated by wines you (and your guests) enjoy – which is the way it should be. In this newsletter I have attempted to lay out some general thoughts and suggestions to guide to you a good pairing but don’t get stuck on them – wine pairing rules and conforming to them is for the birds…

General Suggestions/Tips

When picking the wines, look for wines which are relatively low in alcohol which will help limit (palate and general) fatigue during the long meal. A key criterion for any white wines to be served with the meal is high acidity, which contributes to their food versatility. For red wines, you are looking for those light-bodied wines with little tannins which can sometimes overpower foods. For a large family gathering I’d aim for more moderately priced wines and save those special bottle for a more intimate affair where the will better shine and be more appreciated. That said if the planned meal is more of a classy intimate dinner than large gregarious pot luck gathering – by all means, crack open that special bottle. I would recommend leaving those aged bottles in the cellar for another occasion as the cacophony of the meal will significantly hamper their appreciation and they may fall apart before anyone has a chance to try them.

Given Thanksgiving’s role as the American holiday, there are those who try to drink an “American” wine, typically Zinfandel (despite its potentially murky origins). However, given their propensity to be big and higher in alcohol, in my opinion they don’t exactly have the light, nimble and refreshing qualities we are looking for. That said, as a sentimental traditionalist, I like to have at least one good Zinfandel at my Thanksgiving meal since, if you can get over the high-alcohol issue, provides a nice big wine for the meal. Both Herzog and Hagafen produce some great California Zinfandels. In addition to its patriotic profile as an American invention, its bold fruit and spicy notes makes a good match to the varied taste profiles of sweet, spicy and bitter.

While no perfect pairing awaits, one wine has the potential to successfully pair with whatever Thanksgiving Day treats you decide to throw at it – sparkling wine. Champagne or other sparkling wines make a pretty good choice bringing food-paring versatility, elegance, and festivity to your meal. It also happens to be the wine of choice for special occasions and does it get any more special than the celebration of our freedom with close friends and family?

In addition to the sparkling wines I mentioned above, there are a few additional varietals that would make for good all around Thanksgiving pairings; however the kosher world still lacks high quality versions of these varietals. On that list, I’d include Riesling, Beaujolais and Gewürztraminer (although the Yarden 2009 Gewurztraminer is really nice and the varietal is an awesome match for Turkey).

If you are looking for a red wine then Pinot Noir is the obvious choice and a traditional favorite for a Thanksgiving Day celebratory feast. Pinot Noir’s notes of earthy forest and mushrooms, meld nicely with bright red cherries and other red fruit, making it a good match to the traditional turkey and savory stuffing combinations. Throw in the characteristic low tannins and you get an extremely versatile wine that pairs well with many foods. Four Gates, Ella Valley, Tzuba, Livni and Hagafen (among others) all make good options (if not “true” pinot Noir).

If you are looking for a white wine any non-oaky Chardonnay like the ones offered by Binyamina, Dalton and Ella Valley would be good. Another, slightly more “adventurous option would be Viognier, which can provide a new varietal which pairs nicely with food as well. As you know, my favorite is the Dalton Wild Yeast version, but Galil Mountain and Yatir make good ones as well, providing two additional different price points. Another good choice is Pinot Grigio/Gris which is capable of standing up to the various garlic, onions and herbs and the high-fat and flavorful dishes. Goose Bay and Cantina Gabrielle provide passable but somewhat unexciting options. A final and somewhat non-confirming suggestion would be a Rosé. While usually considered summer wines, a crisply dry and refreshing Rose would fit the bill perfectly and, as an added bonus, its glorious cranberry color would compliment the Thanksgiving table beautifully. I love the Rosé from Castel which is unfortunately long gone from the shelves (and was only sold in Israel) but the 2010 Recanati version is delightful and well-priced as well and the newly arrived Agur Rosa is a particular favorite (stock up since there won’t be a 2011 Rosé).

I have included below some recommendations of wines I like but remember – Thanksgiving is a celebratory day and when it is all said and done, choosing a Thanksgiving wine is more about what you prefer and what your guests will enjoy than picking the “right” wine.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,


Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Pinot Noir, Fagan Creek Vineyard – Block 38, 2006: While not a classic Pinot in the full sense of the varietal, this wine remains one of the best Pinot Noirs I have enjoyed. Tasting it together with the other Pinot available in the Prix line (from the Soleil vineyard) is a lot of fun, and effectively presents the terroir effect on a wine. I had the 2004 a couple years back which was very much enjoyed and am delighted to see that Ernie has duplicated his prior success. Plenty of black forest fruit on the smoky nose together with dark espresso, cloves and some steely minerals poking through, all leading into a rich palate laden with black cherries, raspberries, anise, more warm spices and freshly baked pound cake. A long and caressing finish lingers.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Pinot Noir, 2008 (Shmittah): While not every wine I have tasted from the vaunted 2008 Israeli vintage is the superstar some would have us believe, this wine made from 100% Pinot Noir Grapes harvested from Ella Valley’s Aderet vineyard was really delicious and something special. An elegant wine and full bodied (yet so gentle) with plenty of black and red fruit on both the nose and palate including black cherries, cassis and strawberries with some spicy oak resulting from the 16 months in French oak leading into a strawberry and cherry-laced finish with a hint of tannin. Bold tannins that needed some time to settle down in the glass but with a stylish structure that bodes extremely well for the continued development of this wine. In an effort to pamper this fickle grape, Ella Valley actually erected a canopy over the vines to protect from the harsh Israeli sun. I don’t know if it helped but the proof is surely in the wine which is scrumptious. Great now, this wine will be better in six months and should cellar nicely for 3-4 years.

Four Gates, Pinot Noir, n.v.: I don’t know if I have ever used beautiful to describe a wine but there really isn’t any other word to describe this medium bodied violet scented wine with a gentle nose. Blended with 50% each from the 2007 and 2008 vintages, this wine was great on its own but incredible with food. Plum, cherry, raspberry and cranberry on both the nose and palate with some nice hints of roasted herbs, toasted oak and kirsch. A medium and caressing finish rounded out this lovely wine. Four Gates’ traditionally high acidity is an added benefit to the food-versatility of this wonderful wine.

Binyamina, Reserve, Zinfandel, 2007: This is a big Zinfandel that spent 15 months in both French and American oak, while managing to retain a relatively low (for Zinfandel, which tends to be higher in alcohol) 14% alcohol level and staying true to the varietal. Typical notes of black pepper and leather match up with ripe raspberries and strawberries. Hints of bittersweet chocolate and mint on a medium finish round out this powerful wine. I enjoyed the wine more on its own than as a match to food.


Binyamina, Reserve, Unoaked Chardonnay, 2010: While delightful, I actually enjoyed the 2009 version of this unoaked treat more. However, that should not detract from your enjoyment of this light-bodied and refreshing treat. Following the lead of many Israeli wineries to “unoak” their wines and allow the fruit to show in a more pure manner, Binyamina now produces both an oaked and unoaked chardonnay under the Reserve label. Tasting these two wines side-by-side makes for a fascinating comparison and great tasting experience and well worth your Lirot for the drinking and tasting experience. With no oak to get in the way, tropical fruit notes of white peaches and guava are accompanied by white peaches, limes, tangerine and pears, all kept nicely in check by stony minerals with a nice lingering clean fruit finish. I’d venture that a bit more acidity would have made this wine even better, but there is plenty to keep it lively and a good match to lighter fare.

Carmel, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Riesling, 2010: The last release of this wine was the 2006 vintage but the drought is finally over with this release. As with every other wine Lior coaxes out of the magical Kayoumi vineyard, this wine is a nearly a perfectly-crafted wine, with a very aromatic nose, generous acidity. Ever-so-slightly off-dry with plenty of peach, apricot, grapefruit, blooming flowers and hints of minerals on a crisply acidic background that lends itself to great food-pairing. A really delicious wine and definitely worth seeking out.


Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc De Blancs, 2005: Fortunately this wine finally made it to our shores as it is easily an YH Best Buy and the best substitute for true kosher Champagne at a much lower price. After successive (and successful) releases in 1998, 1999 and 2000, the last marketed vintage of this wine was the delicious 2001 vintage. I am not sure why they waited four years to make another, but am happy they finally did! I have also heard rumors of a late disgorged 2000 version which I’d love to lay my hands on and compare with my last remaining bottle of “regular” 2000, so if anyone has any info on that, please let me know. If I needed to sum up this wine in one word it would be an easy task (even for me) – delicious. Grapefruit, lime, apple, melon and hints of pineapple abound in this delicious wine which is bone dry and loaded with crisp acidity. Toasted yeasty brioche and sharp, long-lasting bubbles make this wine a delight and an awesome match with almost any dish you care to throw its way. Stock up while you can since, at around $20 a bottle, it won’t be around for long.


Domaine Netofa, Rosé, Galilee, 2010: Read about the winery at the bottom of this page. Pierre Miodownick also has a higher-end wine and this Rosé which, like the blend was really fun and enjoyable to drink beating back the heat and humidity with a cheerful smile. Utilizing the same grapes as the blend (Syrah and Mourvèdre), this wine has a bit more body than many of the other Rosés I reviewed, good fruit and a nice reflection of terroir with some flinty rock on the mid palate. I recently tasted his new vintages as some exciting new stuff at the Sommelier fair in Israel so stay tuned for more notes from me and great wine from Pierre.