Unwined: It's Time to Talk Turkey
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Unwined: It’s Time to Talk Turkey

From food pairings to bargain bottles, Unwined demystifies Ontario wines.

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Art by Mike Laidman

I love Thanksgiving. It marks the beginning of turkey season, that sweet time of year between October and January when we get to gorge ourselves on potatoes, gravy and stuffing guilt-free (because we’re hiding the evidence under parkas and denial until the spring). I also love it because this is the time of year when we get a little less cautious about wine. I don’t need to worry about getting a weird look because I’ve popped open a pinot grigio on the dock at the cottage instead of a tall boy.

Of course, not everyone shares my love of turkey. Never fear: here are wine pairings for a few of the holiday dishes you’ll likely face in the coming months.

  1. The Classic Turkey Spread
    Odds are high that you’ll be encountering this particular meal in the next few days. The great news is that the salt, creaminess, and sweetness of a turkey dinner make for a painless pairing with a good bottle of wine. While I would recommend avoiding big, full-bodied reds (hint: Argentinian malbec might not be the best selection), almost anything else is fair game.

    A lighter red wine like pinot noir or gamay would fit the bill quite nicely, thanks to its less aggressive tannins. Plus, a gentle red’s fruit flavours mesh beautifull with the herb flavours you might find in a turkey’s stuffing.

    Our pick: 2013 Keint-He Voyageur Gamay Noir (Vintages 426858 – $25.00 – ****1/2). This is a stunning wine that should be put in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving. With deep fruit flavours that match the nose, lovers of dark meat will appreciate this earthy gamay.

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    That said, chardonnay and turkey are a perfect pair on your table and generally a crowd-pleaser as long as you get a bottle with some acidity. Unoaked chardonnay gets a bad rap for being a little boring but around this time of year it works well. Why? The acidity from this wine helps cleanse the palate, while the citrus and apple notes cut through the salt from so much gravy.

    One great choice: 2012 2027 Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay (Vintages 421362 – $30.00 – ****1/2). While we usually veer toward cheap and cheerful bottle selections, this wine is worth every penny! There is so much going on in the glass, with soft vanilla, roasted pineapple and very ripe peach flavours—a hot vintage, and most definitely from Ontario. Put this wine in the fridge for 30 minutes before opening and serving to enjoy it at its finest.

  2. Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
    For those of you who choose to be blasphemous (jk), you may decide to serve ham on the day you give thanks. Luckily for you, ham is another food that’s easy to pair wine with. The flavours you will find on your plate are similar to what you will find with turkey, but there’s one key difference: salt. Ham dinners are basically a sodium coma, and so you will want to pair wines that offer even more in the way of acidity. It’s also a good idea to consider picking a wine that is off-dry with a little bit of sweetness.

    One suggestion: 2014 Sprucewood Shores Riesling (LCBO 326249 – $13.95 – ***1/2). This wine is very easy drinking. There’s also a nice kiss of sweetness on the finish, but balanced enough to not cloying. At this price point, you can consider this wine a bargain that’s worth stocking up on.

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    Art by Mike Laidman

  4. Bucket of Chicken
    I can think of many valid reasons to pick up a bucket of chicken for your Thanksgiving. You don’t have time to cook because of work, you’re afraid of the oven, or you may just be too darned lazy to put something together. I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to help you elevate your meal. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had to improvise on Thanksgiving before I learned how to cook a turkey, and fried chicken with the right wine cannot be beat.

    The simplest way to enjoy this deep fried goodness is to match it up with sweetness. I have selected two wines that you wouldn’t normally expect to pair with this particular meal, but that work like a charm:

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    2013 Stratus Red Icewine (Vintages 56689 $39.95 – ****+) – Red icewine is still a well-kept secret in the province. If you have never had the chance to taste it, you may as well set the bar high and go with a great producer like Stratus. This is very complex with floral notes mingled in with hints of strawberry and raspberry. To wrap up the whole package, you have a bit of spice on the finish and beautiful acidity.

    2013 Rosewood Harvest Gold Dry Mead – Vintages 346767 – $14.95 – ****+ – (500ml bottle) – I love it when the signature of Rosewood makes its way to the vVntages shelves. This is fun to sip on after or before a meal on its own because it’s so unique. The nose smells like subtle beeswax layered over field flowers and peach, while the flavours in the glass are floral and tropical with the beeswax coming back on the finish.