Nov. 20, 2007 -- While here in Paris, I have been thinking a lot about our great American tradition of Thanksgiving, such an intriguing concept to the French. This holiday is the only American fete based on food. Oh, there are many other celebrations of which food is a central part, but there is only one based on food.
Our joy in giving thanks for our country, its founding, its bountiful harvest and the gathering of family and friends is, I think, unique to America.
This leads me to ponder what wine to serve with our Thanksgiving meal of turkey, ham, stuffing, myriad vegetables, salads and deserts. Think about it ... isn't this the holiday meal in which you have the greatest array of tastes and spices? Turkeys cooked with apples, raisins, onions, celery, bread, sage and all those spices. Cranberry relish made with orange, lime and Grand Marnier. Hams baked with pineapple, cloves and honey. Sweet potatoes made with honey, nutmeg, allspice and all those spices. Green beans with almonds and all those spices .... Then there are the deserts: apple pie made with cinnamon, vanilla and cloves. Pumpkin pie made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. All those spices ....
Do you get my drift here? This is not a steak-and-baked-potato meal where you can open a great red Bordeaux and be happy. (If it's a great Bordeaux -- make it Delirious.) The Thanksgiving meal gives you an opportunity to drink any wine you like. A great white dry Chablis, a heavier-bodied, more buttery St. Aubin white, a fruity red Brouilly, a mellower Merlot, a full-bodied Red Madiran from southwestern France or a rich Bordeaux. These can all stand up to all the tastes and flavors that come from the variety of spices in your feast. Put a couple or three different reds and at least two white wines on the table. You and your guests can pick and choose what wine they like with what dish.
Sweet wine is noted in the title of this article. I have discovered the appeal and complexities of this category of wine. For so many years, the American wine lover frowned on sweet whites, and sometimes rose wines. True, sweet wine has been on the scene, but rarely paired correctly with the time of day to drink it, or the food to serve it with. It was a white wine that "tasted terrible with the meal -- too sweet!" Well, it does not go with the "meal." It goes with certain portions of the meal. A great foie gras is enhanced by a smooth sweet Monbazillac, Domaine d'Arton Victoire or a Jurancon. These wines have a full mouth -- they are "meatier," have great "legs" in the wine glass and are enhancers to the right dish. A creamy, sweet desert is dulled by a dry white or red wine. A sweet white or rose complements the richness of pastries or poached fruit. Some cheeses, such as Roquefort or other strong blue, go very well with sweet wine.
There are dishes that are so well paired with sweet French wines that you should experiment with this often-overlooked style of wine. The great sauternes are famous because they go so well with some foods. I have not found a great sauterne that can sell at less than a couple of hundred dollars a bottle, but those southwestern French sweets I have found are, in my opinion, on an equal footing at a far more reasonable price.
Now, I have to tell you about one of the best ways to enjoy sweet French wines apart from food pairings: as a before-dinner aperitif! There is a little secret here ... it's a sweet wine, and you won't drink three or four (or more) glasses before dinner, perhaps just one or two. "Less is more ... " Try it instead of a sherry. You'll love it!
A note: Our listings of sweet wines will be viewable on our website in just a few days. The wine has arrived, but we are letting it "rest" for awhile before selling.
I would love to hear back from my readers with comments or questions. Please email me or check out our website.