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  • Thirsty Thanksgiving

    Our American cousins enjoyed their Thanksgiving celebrations last week, a full six weeks after we Canucks.

    For historical reasons, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the 2nd Thursday of October, which is close to the end of our harvest season. The more southerly climes on the Yankee side of the border have a longer summer, so the American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November.

    Despite the different times of the year, there is one thing the two Thanksgiving celebrations have in common, and that is the age-old question of which wine goes best with turkey.

    Your humble narrator likes to jazz up a Thanksgiving celebration by starting with a little sparkling wine, complete with a few holiday-appropriate cranberries thrown into each glass of bubbly.

    This starts out the guests on a high note during the pre-dinner cocktail hour, and sets the stage for rest of the evening.

    When the plates are set, and the turkey is being carved, I like to pour each of the guests a nice crisp white wine to complement the relatively dry white meat. It’s hard to go wrong with a Sauvignon Blanc, but Riesling or unoaked Chardonnay also pairs well with turkey.

    Many people are afraid to venture outside of the old guidelines of white wine for white meat, and red wine for red meat.

    There is certainly some truth this that old yarn, because red meats tend to be more flavourful, requiring a bigger and more structured wine to complement the richer flavours.

    Pairing a lush and tannic red wine with a mild white meat like turkey can overwhelm your taste buds, leaving the turkey tasting bland and boring. Just like walking the line in one of those roadside sobriety tests, balance is key when pairing wine with food.

    Always looking for an excuse to uncork a new bottle, your intrepid liquor reporter attended both Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations this year.

    My first wine of choice for pairing with turkey was the Gray Monk Gewürztraminer from the Okanagan Valley of BC. Made from a German grape varietal that grows well in the cool Canadian climate, Gewürztraminer is a remarkably aromatic white wine, with hints of spice and lychee fruits.

    The crisp flavour of the wine cleans the palate without saturating the taste buds, making the following mouthful of turkey and gravy all the more satisfying.

    I went way outside the box when hosting an American Thanksgiving dinner this year, throwing caution to the wind by serving a red wine instead of the traditional white.

    Adventurous foodies and wine snobs have been singing the praises of turkey with Pinot Noir for years, so I took the opportunity to test the waters.

    For those not in the know, Pinot Noir is considered one of the lightest of the red wines, with very little in the way of tannins. The light structure makes it easy to pair with mild foods.

    Pinot Noir is a very fussy grape, so it is difficult to grow in Canada’s short summers. However, Californian Pinot Noirs are still very reasonably priced, and can be the equal of many of the finest wines from Burgundy, the traditional home of this grape varietal.

    Washing down mouthfuls of turkey and mashed potatoes with a light and fruity Pinot Noir brought out flavours of cranberry and cherry in the wine, and refreshed the palate for the next bite.

    Pinot Noir is a highly revered wine in Europe, but the North American market has been less kind to this grape, preferring the more fruit-forward jamminess of the New World wines.

    Luckily, when it comes to the dessert course, the richer red wines are finally brought out of their exile into the waiting glasses of the satiated diners.

    As a general rule, you want the dessert wine to be sweeter than the dessert itself, so a sweet dessert like pumpkin pie needs a rich red wine or even a port for proper balance.

    I like to sip a nice tawny port with my dessert, with the nutty and raisin flavours of the port complementing the cloves in the pumpkin pie.

    If port isn’t your thing, Brandy or Madeira also pair well with rich desserts, so try out a few different tipples at your next party to see what makes your palate sing!