Here in Kentucky and around the nation, tomorrow is Thanksgiving; one of only a handful of days throughout the year where gluttony is not only socially accepted, but fervently encouraged. In spite of trudging through crowded airports and sitting idly on congested interstates only to arrive at a house crammed beyond capacity with people you may not have seen in a year, Thanksgiving still manages to bring out the best in humanity. Sure, your mom will ask you repeatedly when you’re going to settle down or why you feel like you have to live so far away and your crazy uncle will inevitably tell those off-color jokes that make every one super uncomfortable but, beyond the general annoyances we all face, tomorrow is a day when those closest to us come together to reflect on what we’re most thankful for…oh, and to eat heaps and heaps of food.
Christmas has presents and Independence Day has fireworks, but Thanksgiving is all about the meal. It’s an eclectic mix of traditional American foods with a vast array of flavor profiles- savory, sweet, salty, etc. Due to this wide range of flavors and the natural propensity to enjoy multiple dishes in one serving, wine pairing for Thanksgiving Dinner can prove rather challenging. Fortunately, one rule reigns supreme when selecting a wine to pair with food: If you enjoy it, serve it!
Every person has distinct physiological traits that dictate our sensory sensitivities and a wine that I may perceive pairing perfectly with a particular food may provide little or no pleasure for someone else. Having said this, there are a few guidelines to follow when selecting wines by looking at the main flavor profiles of the food they will accompany. The impact food will have on wine is nearly entirely determined by the balance of the primary taste of the food in question:
- Sweetness: Sweet foods will increase bitterness, acidity and astringency in wine while decreasing body, richness and sweetness. What’s this mean? Basically, don’t drink a dry wine with very sweet foods. Dry wines will seem thin, harsh and lacking in flavor. A good rule of thumb when pairing a wine with a sweet dish is to always ensure that the wine is sweeter than the food.
- Acidity: Foods high in acidity (think mustard, vinegar, any sort of citrus, etc.) will increase richness and sweetness in wines while decreasing acidity. This most often results in the wine tasting flat and bland. To counterbalance the acidity in the food, select a wine high in acidity- i.e. dry white wines fermented in stainless steel.
- Salt: Foods high in salt will decrease the bitterness, acidity and astringency of wines while increasing richness and smoothness. Because of this, wines with natural high acidity and wines with high levels of tannins pair well with salty foods.
So, based on the aforementioned guidelines and my personal preferences, which Kentucky wines will I be passing around the table tomorrow?
- Unoaked Kentucky Chambourcin (Dry): A French/American hybrid of unknown parentage, Chambourcin is widely planted throughout Kentucky and produces wines that range from light-medium body and from dry to semi-sweet. Slightly earthy with ripe cherry aromas, soft with a touch of acidity and a hint of spice, a dry Kentucky Chambourcin will pair wonderfully with roasted turkey as well as quite a few of those casseroles your grandma spent all day preparing.
- Seyval Blanc: Another French/American hybrid varietal that is well suited to Kentucky’s unique climate and soil composition. Seyval produces a crisp, refreshing wine with citrus fruit characteristics and racy acidity that will contrast and balance those more savory dishes such as green bean casserole, sweet potatoes and pickled beets.
- Semi-Sweet Vidal Blanc: A perfect accompaniment to Pumpkin Pie, Lemon Meringue , Fruit Tart or soft cheeses, Kentucky Vidal Blanc’s typically display a medium-full body with notes of fresh cut flowers, ripe pineapple, grapefruit and melon. Sharp acidity cuts through the finish to balance the pleasantly lingering sweetness.