I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving, even if I am not American.
I have a couple of brilliant Italian-American kids and a bunch of American friends living in Florence who have always been cooking every 23rd of November with enthusiasm.
I love to see them getting excited about finding the perfect turkey from the butcher with far in advance notice to make sure they get nothing but the best one.
I guess I just love the whole ritual behind it and any excuse to eat together with family and friends is a good excuse to me.
The only thing that I have never been sure of though has been the matching food&wine part of Thanksgiving.
This time round I wanted to go for an Italian wine pairing contest to make sure you guys get the right bottles on the 23rd!
So for this time round, forget about the Boujolais, the Pinots from Burgundy or Oregon or the powerful Zinfandel and let’s focus on an all Italian-American feast!
The issue with Thanksgiving is the diversity of flavors: the sweet presence in the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the earthy gravy and the buttery mushed squash and the poultry. The light meat would call for a nice creamy and yet crunchy White, like a great Vernaccia di San Gimignano or Verdicchio Riserva.
But what about the cranberry sauce? Maybe a light bodied Red with soft tannins to match the light meat and the analogy of red berry-crush flavors could work?
Something like a Dolcetto, a Chianti Classico or a Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna?
There’s also plenty of Christmasy spices here and therefore a more powerful spicy red like a great Primitivo di Manduria or an Amarone to substitute Zinfandel.
And finally for the gravy an earthier Red like a Syrah or a Nebbiolo would just be awesome.
Hey, hold on a minute! What about the bubblies? Well there’s can’t be a celebration if there ain’t some bubbles.
But would it be better to try a serious Prosecco with a little residual sugar or a more austere traditional method like Franciacorta or Trento Doc? I say both.
Pumpkin pie, apple pie, carrot cake what do they go well with? Well we found it out for you. So rather then going for theoretical pairing we did an empirical pre Thanksgiving brunch for you guys to choose next Thursday.
A few American, Canadian and British friends came over MaMa Florence, our cooking school to experiment ten different wines to see what was the magical pairing.
So what happened?
We started of with a magnum of the highest Prosecco Doc in the planet Amets from the San Maman winery.
This is a withe peach and citrus driven bubbly with a lovely residual sugar to help the beginning of any dinner.
We decided to go for a couple of bottles of White. A 2014 Dipoli Voglar Sauvignon Blanc which with its extreme Alpine minerality, refreshing acidity and a track loads of mango, tropical fruit, a touch of green and super charged minerality was actually really good just by itself that we almost polished the bottle before the turkey was served!
Back to back we opened an aged Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva 2001.
Most people think this wine is to be drank only when young, but actually it’s one of the best kept secret in the trade! This bottle was perfect with a saffron, green tea and vanilla finish on a super round and creamy mouthful with plenty of pineapples and almonds: the table just raved about this wine!
The majority of guests rekoned this was the perfect match for the squash for the resembling smoothness.
I actually enjoyed also the cleansing power of the Sauvignon Blanc though. I then poured four Reds blind. Sorry it was six.
1) To honor the Italian American family who made Brunello famous all over the world I decided to open an old bottle of Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1998.
A licorice, cranberries and cherry driven nose with plenty of mushrooms and underbrush notes. The tannins were actually very tame after 20 years with a relatively mild finish.
2) To try a meaty and peppery Rhone style Red, I cracked open a bottle of Stefano Amerighi Cortona Syrah Apice 2011. An amazingly sweet red fruit wine with magical black pepper notes, a super meaty mid palate and a very juicy finish. Most of us enjoyed the suppleness and generosity of the Syrah, but when it came down to the matching part, the table just went for the Brunello. The cranberry sauce actually didn’t bother the wine and its savoriness helped enhancing the turkey flavors.
Meanwhile the Whites were actually still doing a great job.
The next couple:
3) La Spinetta Vursu Vigneto Valeirano Barbaresco 2001
A light ruby with an orange tinge with a dry rose note and a very intriguing medicinal herbs touch. The palate was pretty structured with some very intense oak spices and a plum finish.
4) Primitivo Es Gianfranco Fino 2013
Well, well, well. What I can say is that now I need to get another bottle of this 2013 almost perfect wine. Cinnamon, cardamom, prunes and dark chocolate. The palate is a velvet and hyper voluminous juice which will be difficult not to get drawn-in. The greatest part of it though is the salty orange peel touch with makes the wine fly. And by the way the 16,5% isn’t detectable at all: dangerous!!!
5) Cecchi Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva 2012
An earthy and leathery Sangiovese with a lot of licorice and broom flower action, some black cherries, violets and an underbrush mineral note.
6) Chianti Superiore Usiglian del Vescovo 2015
A super crunchy, sour cherry light bodied Chianti with some violets.
I thought this could have been a good pair but, despite the nice nature of this wine, it was too light for the game.
7) Planeta Carricante Metodo Tradizionale
To see how a traditional method would have behaved I gave this wonderful Mount Etna sparkling with a very citrus component, a biscuity and intriguing gunflint aromas was a perfect way to begin the brunch but the dish needed more creaminess and structure.
The earthiness of Sangiovese (the Brunello and Chianti Classico) created a lovely balance with the presence of sweet cranberries. The lighter tannic structure and low alcohol (13%) of the Brunello though seemed a better match for the turkey.
Same feeling with the Barbaresco although the tannins were too important for the poultry which was getting over powered.
The rounder wines didn’t do as well as we all thought. The alcohol of the Syrah was actually sticking out more while paired to the turkey and the alcohol of the Primitivo was just too much for the poultry.
The Whites did pretty well all along and the table preferred the Vernaccia as the best match between the two.
The Prosecco did really well with the squash but was too light for the meat.
So the bottom line of our little experiment is that white wines seem to be a pretty pleasant match all they way, although at one point some Red action is needed to enhance the savoriness of the turkey. Between the bone dry, crunchy and zesty or a creamier, smokier and rounder we preferred the second one.
For the Red, just choose something with smooth tannins but high acidity like a Pinot, a Barbera, or a great Sangiovese as mentioned.
One of the thing that stroke my attention was the relatively low alcohol of the Brunello (13%) which helped with the mild meat of the turkey and the red berry complexity was just the deal of the meal.
So when I asked the table to rate the best food&wine matching of this Winesgiving the undisputed winner was the Brunello.
One last thing. We also had a perfect apple pie, a luscious pumpkin pie and a healthy carrot cake.
The Tasca d’Almerita Malvasia Capofaro 2013 frame the island of Salina with its orange flowers, the apricots, the delicate sweet presence and low alcohol made it such a perfect companion to all three desserts that we called it the day.
A Special thanks to all my guests Georgette, Alexandra, Helen, Michela, Nicky who helped with this difficult task, Nina for cooking the amazing turkey and MaMaFlorence with our chef Michele Berlendis for coordinating the kitchen.
Have a great Thanksgiving!