A Twist On The Traditional

Originally published in South Shore Senior News, November 2018

A perfectly paired wine will have dinner guests talking long after the dinner itself. Wine creates memories, it brings family and friends together, and it is the ultimate condiment to enhance our food. Wine evokes all five of our senses, and when paired with the proper food choices, leaves a lasting impression on both our palates and our minds.

Thanksgiving is filled with tradition, both cultural and family. Warm and inviting side dishes, casseroles, and homemade pies are just a few of the food traditions we honor. The wine options can often get lost in that tradition, and we might tend to grab random bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot just to have fairly acceptable whites and reds available. Imagine stepping outside that traditional box for just a moment and providing your guests with wine selections that will dazzle their palates and bring out the absolute best flavors and textures of every dish on that table.

Typically speaking, any given Thanksgiving offers a myriad of flavors, from cranberry to sweet potato, pumpkin, and squash, to green beans and Brussels sprouts, corn dressing and sausage stuffing. The possibilities are endless. So how does one offer a great wine selection that will pair well with each of these foods? That is indeed the challenge for many, but it doesn’t have to be.

It is my belief every celebration should begin with bubbly of some sort, but that does not limit you to Champagne. Prosecco is Italy’s go-to bubbly, and offers a lighter, fresher, fruitier flavor than many Champagnes. Spain brings us Cava, which can be a tad drier than Prosecco, but not as complex as Champagne.

When selecting white wines, I suggest considering wines with an aromatic quality and a medium to heavy body, such as Vourvray (the Chenin Blanc grape from the Loire Valley of France) and Condrieu (the Viognier grape from the Northern Rhone of France). Both regions produce wines of varying degrees of dryness/sweetness, so whichever your palate desires, you can thoroughly enjoy. You can also go the non-aromatic variety route with a Pinot Gris from either Oregon or Alsace, France. Each will offer a bit more weight and creaminess than a Pinot Grigio (same grape, different name) from Italy, but without the aromatics of the aforementioned grapes.

When choosing your red wines, you want to make sure they are not too overpowering for the dishes they will be served with so you create a nice balance of both flavor and weight. I suggest varieties with lighter tannins and more pronounced fruit, such as Pinot Noir in the form of red Burgundy, or Gamay in the form of Cru Beaujolais. You can find delicious Pinot Noirs outside of Burgundy, France as well. Russian River Valley in California is producing stellar Pinot Noirs that will leave lasting impressions.

Wine can enhance a dinner so much, it is truly worth a little extra effort to make a warm tradition such as Thanksgiving an exceptional experience.


Friendsgiving Food and Wine Pairings

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It brings about warm feelings, and of course, much celebration. I adore spending time with my family, enjoying great food, wine, and especially the company of friends. When Friendsgiving became a thing, it felt like hitting the jackpot! The same warm, comforting celebration, but with my closest friends whom I consider my extended family.

I hopped on the bandwagon and began celebrating Friendsgiving with my friends, and each year it gets better and better. I typically host at my home a week prior to Thanksgiving, and we make it a potluck style dinner where I cook a turkey, supply the wine, and each friend brings a side dish, appetizer, or dessert. It’s an evening we all look forward to every single year.

A Warm Welcome with Cranberry Recipes and Wine

Every celebration should begin with small bites for nibbling, and the perfect wine to sip while saying your hellos, and mingling. As much as I personally love pumpkin flavors, the Massachusetts native in me always includes cranberry flavors in my Friendsgiving menus. There is so much one can do with cranberries and pairing that fruit flavor with wine is truly fun and exciting.

I particularly enjoy having cheese selections to nosh on, but one that is a bit more eclectic than a simple cheese plate. Cranberry Pecan Mini Goat Cheese Balls are full of flavor and texture and would truly pair with almost any wine you pour in your glass. The goat cheese, which is highly acidic, will smooth even the sharpest white wines, the pecans are a beautiful pairing with off-dry and semi-dry whites, and the cranberries complement the tart red fruit notes of many red wines, whether lighter-bodied or fuller-bodied. I would reach for an unoaked Chardonnay, an off-dry or dry Riesling, and a Petite Sirah, respectively.

Perhaps you prefer the warm creaminess of baked brie. An alternative option would be Baked Stuffed Brie with Cranberries and Walnuts. Pair this crowd pleaser with a more sophisticated white like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, or a dry Rose’ from Provence or Tavel, or even a medium-bodied Syrah/Shiraz.

I am a huge fan of cocktail meatballs, and one of my favorite styles combines the sweetness and tartness of cranberry sauce with the spicy kick of chili sauce. We all know sweet loves heat, and Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs would pair perfectly with an off dry glass of celebratory bubbly, such as Prosecco.

And a Savory Side (Dish) of Fun

Side dishes can be extremely fun and unique, and at a potluck celebration this allows each guest to get creative. I love stuffing with a little something special, like Sausage, Apple, and Walnut Stuffing, which is one of my all-time favorites. The protein portion of the dinner doesn’t need to begin and end with turkey. The savory sausage, tangy apple, and nuttiness of the walnuts in this recipe make this dish a great partner for a wide spectrum of wine styles, depending on your preference for white or red. A beautifully balanced Chardonnay from Oregon will wow your white wine lovers, and a Portuguese red blend will more than satisfy your red wine loyalists.

My Friendsgiving would not be complete without a batch of buttery Spoon Bread Casserole on the table. It’s another side dish I crave all year long. This dish is incredibly simple to make and offers all the comfort of cornbread, but with a richer, creamier, more buttery flavor. It shines with any Chardonnay, and I’d reach for either a California Chardonnay, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, or even an Oregon Pinot Gris would be welcome pairings that wine drinkers will cling to even after that last bite. A selection of reds would also work wonderfully.

Wine holds more memories than any other beverage in the world.


Another mainstay for your Friendsgiving table is a heaping plate of Oven Roasted Root Vegetables.They’re not only beautiful and healthy, but they add satisfying textures and tastes that complement turkey and stuffing—and are as satisfying as turkey as an entree for your veggie-loving guests. My pick for the best wine pairing would be a soft, fruit forward red or a lighter-sipping Torrontés.

More Than Just Pie

Family Thanksgiving dinner is always followed by countless pies of all sorts, so for Friendsgiving, I find it fun to include non-pie desserts that still showcase autumn flavors. I’m a fan of trifles, because they are super easy to make and can be made in virtually any flavor combination you like. Pumpkin Butterscotch Gingerbread Trifle combines all the fall spice flavors we love so much in one big, delicious trifle bowl. This would be incredible with an off-dry white, such as a Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Moscatel.

Bite-sized desserts and cookies are a great way to end Friendsgiving, as well. Viognier is an ideal complement to Gingerbread Biscotti. How could anyone refuse the coffee and chocolate combination of Coffee Roasted Pumpkin Seed Chocolate Clusters with a nice glass of Pinotage? I know I sure couldn’t!

Jon Acuff once said, “Wine holds more memories than any other beverage in the world.” How incredibly true that is! Whichever dishes and wines you choose to serve at your celebration, Friendsgiving is all about creating new memories. Cheers to family, friends and friends that are like family!