From the archives
Wine for turkey: the difference between a Thanksgiving turkey and a British Christmas turkey
Looking at the recipes online for Thanksgiving turkeys, stuffings and sides they’re very much sweeter (and more imaginative) than the typical UK Christmas turkey. They’re often brined, glazed or spiced (or all three), sometimes deep-fried and often accompanied by cornbread-based stuffings and sweet-tasting vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash.
The American taste in wine is also different from that in the UK - big chardonnays - actually very good with turkey - are much more popular than they are in the UK. There appears to be a preference for Cabernet over Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. And Pinot Noirs are typically much sweeter.
We Brits, although enamoured of the vibrant fruit flavours of new world wine, often revert to more traditional choices at Christmas: such as Rioja, Bordeaux and robust Rhone and southern French reds. Our stuffings and gravy may be rich but are not generally that sweet - our preferred side of sprouts actually has a touch of bitterness. Only our fondness for cranberry sauce (an American import, of course) introduces an US-style note of sweetness.
So what would my choices be? If I were cooking a Thanksgiving turkey this Thursday I would go for a lush fruity red - a Pinot, Merlot or a Zinfandel, possibly even a Grenache. I might even choose an Aussie-style sparkling red though I think that’s better suited to a southern hemisphere Christmas than a European one. I would pick a full-bodied Chardonnay (for good value I might look to Chile) or Viognier for those who wanted a white.. A fruity rosé would also work well.
For a British Christmas I’d be more inclined to abide by the findings of the Decanter tasting I ran last year where our high powered panel of chefs, sommeliers and wine writers surprisingly voted a seven year old Chassagne Montrachet (Jean-Noel Gagnard’s Les Chenevottes 1er Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet 2004) their top pick. (It proved an incredibly refreshing contrast to the richness of the bird and chestnut stuffing.)
The two most popular reds were an 11 year old Bordeaux, a Château Branaire-Ducru, St-Julien 2000 and a four year old Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the Bosquet des Papes, Chante le Merle 2007, both rich and generous but not too tannic.
Of course these were quality wines that still had a good deal of life in them - I wouldn’t necessarily recommend drinking 10 year old wines of a more modest provenance but it does suggest that the more restrained, classic style of cooking a British turkey may be the one to go for if you want to pull out that special wine. And hold that cranberry sauce . . .
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