The Thanksgiving Table, Part 1

Crowd-pleasing side dishes with white wines to match
Nov 18, 2008

Thanksgiving is a little more than a week away, and if you're responsible for some or all of the cooking on what is one of the most anticipated meals of the year, it's time to start planning and shopping. With so many food traditions to honor at one meal, making smart wine-pairing choices can be tricky, which is where we come in. First, we'll share a selection of white wines to go along with some time-tested side-dish recipes. Then be sure to check back on Friday, Nov. 21, for turkey tips and a list of well-suited reds.

According to Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman, at the Thanksgiving table, "The safest solution is to drink young, lively, uncomplicated wines, which lose fewer of their charms to the riot of flavors in your standard Thanksgiving meal." On the white wine side, says Steiman, that means Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc. In general you'll want to seek out wines that are not tannic, and are minimally oaked, if at all, as sugars in foods like candied yams or berry relishes can make tannins taste bitter. He adds, "The answer is not light, delicate wines; their flavors will just disappear. The same thing happens to the nuances of aged wines. The primary consideration in finding a wine match with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is to seek fruit character in the wine."

As for the holiday table, contributing editor Sam Gugino puts into words an essential Thanksgiving truth: "We may talk turkey on Thanksgiving, but what we really want is the stuffing. That's why many Thanksgiving tables have two kinds of stuffing." You'll find Gugino's stuffing recipe below, and you can read more about stuffing, "the soul of Thanksgiving," as Sam calls it, including basic principles and regional variations, in his article "The Right Stuffing."

Basic Bread Stuffing

• 8 tablespoons butter
• 4 cups chopped onion (about 3 medium onions)
• 2 1/2 cups chopped celery (about 6 ribs)
• 2 pounds good-quality sliced white sandwich bread
• 1 3/4 cups homemade chicken broth (or 14-ounce can)
• 2 to 2-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 2 to 2-1/2 teaspoons dried sage
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
• 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Increase the heat to high and add the onion. Sauté about 10 minutes, stirring periodically, until onions just start to turn brown. Lower the heat, if needed, to prevent burning. Scrape the onions into a large mixing bowl. Put another 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pan, add the celery and cook, stirring periodically, until it just starts to turn brown. Add to the onions.

2. Meanwhile, put the chicken broth in a small bowl. Lightly dip slices of bread into the broth. Squeeze out the excess moisture, then crumble the bread into the large mixing bowl with the cooked celery and onion. Season with the sage, parsley, salt and pepper, and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Place the pan used for cooking the celery and onions back over medium-high heat. Add half of the remaining butter. When the butter stops sizzling, add half of the stuffing. Cook, turning every few minutes with a spatula, until the bread stuffing is lightly toasted. Lower the heat if needed to prevent burning. Remove to a bowl, and then repeat with the second batch. Allow stuffing to cool.

Stuff the turkey, or bake stuffing in a buttered casserole at 350 F for about 25 minutes. Makes about 10 cups.

And whether you're cooking the whole meal or just contributing a dish, be sure to check out all of these great Thanksgiving side dishes:

Chestnut and Chicken-Apple Sausage Stuffing
Quick Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Truffle Oil
Broccoli with Walnut Butter

And, take a look at this list of wines that will help bring harmony to your Thanksgiving table.

ROBERT EYMAEL (MÖNCHHOF) Riesling Kabinett Mosel Ürzig Würzgarten 2007 Score: 91 | $22
Peach and Golden Delicious apple notes combine with the slate edge in this sleek, well-defined kabinett. Brilliant and succulent, with a lime and mineral aftertaste. Drink now through 2022. 6,000 cases made. —B.S.

ST.-URBANS-HOF Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2007 Score: 90 | $15
Needs a little air to reveal its floral, apricot and slate aromas and flavors. Beautifully integrated, with a lingering, stony, savory finish. Drink now through 2018. 10,000 cases made. —B.S.

ELK COVE Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2007 Score: 89 | $19
Light and fragrant, with cantaloupe and pear aromas and flavors, lingering on the silky frame. Drink now. 18,500 cases made. —H.S.

NIK. WEIS SELECTION Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Urban 2007 Score: 89 | $11
The smoky matchstick aromas give way to floral, black currant and slate flavors in this alluring white. The structure emerges on the finish, so give this a little time to integrate. Best from 2009 through 2017. 5,000 cases made. —B.S.

KING ESTATE Pinot Gris Oregon Signature Collection 2007 Score: 88 | $17
Light and fragrant, with a crisp edge to the apple and honeydew aromas and flavors, echoing nicely on the finish. Drink now. 90,000 cases made. —H.S.

WILLAMETTE VALLEY Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2007 Score: 88 | $15
Smooth and silky, with pear and melon flavors riding harmoniously over the dry finish, echoing nicely. This integrates its elements especially well. Drink now. 30,000 cases made. —H.S.

MCWILLIAM'S Riesling South Eastern Australia Hanwood Estate 2006 Score: 88 | $12
Fresh, lively and relatively delicate, with pretty pine, lime and apple aromas and flavors that linger gently on the dry finish. Drink now through 2013. 26,000 cases made. —H.S.

A TO Z WINEWORKS Pinot Gris Oregon 2007 Score: 87 | $12
Light and refreshing for its nectarine and spice flavors, lingering gently on the open-textured finish. Drink now. 30,500 cases made. —H.S.

PONZI Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2007 Score: 87 | $17
Bright and generous, offering unusual guava-scented pear flavors that remained focused through the tight finish. Drink now. 8,200 cases made. —H.S.

PEPPERWOOD GROVE Riesling South Eastern Australia 2006 Score: 85 | $9
Soft and slightly sweet, with pretty apple and floral flavors, finishing with some delicacy. Drink now. 22,700 cases made. —H.S.

Cooking Holidays / Celebrations Thanksgiving White Wines Riesling Recipes

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