If there’s one holiday I had to choose as my fave, it would be Thanksgiving.
I’ve always loved a feast that brings everyone together at the table. In my childhood home, there was always the aroma of roasting turkey throughout the house, especially the golden birds my dear grandmother roasted for our huge family each year.
Stuffed with her homemade bread, decadently enriched with marinated pork chops, Pippin apples, celery, and onion, I eagerly helped her by taking on the antique, wood-handled grinder to break down the meat, fruits, and veggies (there were no electric tools in her kitchen).
She was a wonderful cook who made everything from main dishes to breads and cakes from scratch. She also taught me the value of avoiding premade foods, fast foods, and cake mixes, insisting, “Those foods are filled with chemicals!”
Although Grandma wasn’t a fan of drinking alcoholic beverages, she always had decent red wine on hand for cooking. She would take about a cup of red vino, add a cube of good butter and warm it to baste the bird. Wisely, she never bought that cheap “cooking wine.”
If you want to cook with wine, you should buy wine that’s good enough to drink on it’s own. While I don’t use my collectible wines, I do use up the wines we don’t finish at the table for cooking. I always have some good value wines on hand from Trader Joe’s or Costco that I can crack open should I need it for cooking.
Over the many years I’ve been in the business, I’ve read so many articles on food and wine pairing that recommend zinfandel for this very American holiday. But I don’t agree. The last thing I want with all of the various savory and sweet dishes on the Thanksgiving table is a heavy red wine with high alcohol or prominent oak flavors.
Nor do I choose big red Rhone blends, cabernets or petite sirahs. That said, I do prefer a variety of wines on the table, including sparkling wines, fruity whites and elegant red wines. Admittedly, if my cousin Keith is coming to dinner for a holiday, who only drinks cabernet, I have some on hand. He even drinks it with fish and crab (which I find incredibly odd, but to each their own).
I have never found the same variety or blend, red or white, the best choice each year. Once I had a Champagne cremant (slightly sweet from residual sugar) which was the perfect partner with the Thanksgiving menu. Yet I have never been able to duplicate that match that seemed made in heaven. Besides, I prefer serving sparkling wine to kick off the dinner party. While I used to drink Champagne on occasion, I prefer to support our Central Coast sparkling wine producers.
For one thing, local prices are far more reasonable, making it easy to stock up on them. Believe me, if you’re hosting a large dinner party and one wine is a big hit with your guests, you’ll want want to have more at the ready.
There are many artisan producers here that make a single bottling of bubbly, but they usually come at steep prices. I highly recommend our local sparkling specialists like Riverbench in Santa Maria Valley, Flying Goat Cellars in Lompoc and Laetitia Vineyards in Arroyo Grande Valley. Not only do they offer several selections, the prices vary from good value to reserve level wines, and you’ve still got time to visit their tasting rooms with nearly two weeks until Thanksgiving.
For the dinner table, I prefer white Rhone wines, riesling or gewürztraminer, albarino, pinot noir and/or grenache, all of which must have good balance in sweet fruit and bright acidity. Fortunately, we have an abundance of these wines to choose within 50 miles or far less from our homes.
Quite a few of these tasting rooms offer a selection of excellent wines that are sure to be right for you in quality and price. The above mentioned wineries do make still wines appropriate to the holiday meal, but there are many more artisan specialists to choose from.
I have a wine cellar, which I regularly stock up by actively visiting tasting rooms. But for those of you who wait to buy wine for holidays and dinner parties, visit the tasting rooms with a wide selection of red and white wines.
In San Luis Obispo County from east to west, you’ll appreciate the great selection of wines at Talley Vineyards, Chamisal, and Claiborne & Churchill, plus Stephen Ross, Filipponi Ranch and Sinor-LaVallee closer to the Pacific Ocean. On Santa Barbara County’s east side, I highly recommend these tasting rooms with a broad array of wines to taste: Beckmen and Brander vineyards, or Tercero and Dragonette in Los Olivos. In the Santa Maria Valley, choose from Presqu’ile, Foxen and Costa de Oro.
With so many great choices of reds and whites from any or several of these producers, your family and friends will surely feel privileged to dine at your Thanksgiving table.
Reach Kathy at kathymhardesty @ gmail .com
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