Twice a week a group calling itself the Gang meets to drink a tableful of wines and compare tasting notes. One of those post-Sideways tasting groups that’s sprouted in the area since the film got people pining for Pinot Noir? Louder, and a lot more knowledgeable. Also, more diligent and more focused. The Gang is three sommeliers who have submitted themselves to the multiyear process needed to join the ranks of the 74 North American sommeliers who can call themselves Master Sommeliers. They shared with us their wine picks for Thanksgiving.
Jarad Slipp, formerly of Ray’s the Steaks, acknowledges that several wines are likely to work well with the Turkey Day feast–among them Burgundy, red and white; Bordeaux; Chianti; Barolo; Super Tuscans; Riesling; Vouvray; Priorat; Champagne. All were among the 18 bottles he had on his table last Thanksgiving. Eighteen bottles? It’s impossible to “match every little nuance of a singular wine to the vast array of different foods on the table,” Slipp says. “One wine can’t be all things to all people–though Riesling does come damn close.”
His Riesling fondness notwithstanding, Slipp’s pick is a Merlot. “Paul Giamatti, Miles in Sideways, does a huge disservice to this varietal. Let us not forget that Merlot is the base for the most expensive treasured wine in the world, the esteemed Chateau Petrus. But I’m talking about the indigenous stuff. After all, this is an American holiday. Oddly enough, Napa Merlot is a lot like Paul Giamatti: chubby, a little clumsy, but sweet and well intentioned. So for the love of God, put the Pinot down for a day and reacquaint yourself with this American workhorse. It’s a simple, easy, solid pick on what can be a daunting holiday. Some names to look for around $20 to $30: Franciscan, St. Francis, Havens, Clos Pegase, Selene.”
Kathy Morgan of Ristorante Tosca echoes Slipp’s choice of a red. “Although turkey seems like white-wine territory, light to medium-bodied reds actually are better matches for both dark and white meats as well as the typical bevy of side dishes,” she says. “And speaking of side dishes, that’s where things get a bit tricky. There are flavors that are sweet, spicy, tart, smoky, all vying for attention on your palate. Your red wine should have appropriate amounts of fresh fruit flavors, spice, smoky and earthy notes and enough structure to pull it all together. The challenge here is to choose a red that is not too big or too tannic.” Her choice: Cusumano Nero d’Avola “Sagana” Sicily 2003 ($32).
“Sicily is the hottest frontier in modern Italian winemaking, and while Nero d’Avola–its most important indigenous varietal–may not roll off the tongue, it is a luscious mouthful that manages to please every palate.” This medium-bodied wine is big enough to meet the demands of dark meat “while maintaining the sense of zestiness” that white meat requires. It has “loads of spice notes, both aromatic and on the palate, that complement the herbs and spices that go into a delicious stuffing.” Meanwhile, it is balanced enough and juicy enough to offset the tartness of a cranberry sauce.
John Wabeck, the chef at Firefly as well as the restaurant’s wine director, breaks with his study mates and goes with a white. He suggests a Gewürztraminer, such as Marc Tempé, Zellenberg, Alsace, 2002 ($25). “Surely you remember from your sixth-grade German class that ‘gewürz’ means spiced. Clove and nutmeg are neatly wound around a core of apples and apricots, deftly matching the candied yams that are certain to show up, and a healthy dose of rosewater pays homage to Aunt Bea’s bad perfume. As a bonus, Gewürztraminer is round enough to offset all but the driest turkey.”