It is easy to turn your back on wine media around Thanksgiving. Hundreds of wine and food writers boldly recommend thousands of wines to pair with millions of holiday ingredient and flavor tapestries. It all looks as delusional as amusement park revelers wagering on spinning arcade lottery wheels; the odds say your instincts for picking right will be wrong most of the time. Now that Thanksgiving has passed and we are still far enough outside the window of Christmas and New Year’s holiday pairing blabbering, it is once again legitimate for wine writers to turn sensible. For my part, I can admit revisiting Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin for Thanksgiving courage and then turning to my own cellar for wines that pair best with children and only incidentally with food.
It is worth watching this seven minute video that Ripert (inarguable master of the human palate, finny creatures, culinary arts, and flavor combinations) produced with Aldo Sohm (Le Bernardin Wine Director and arguably the best Sommelier in the world) where both tested their pairing biases. While Sohm leans towards best technical pairings, Ripert defaults to red Bordeaux with everything and neither can agree on one best strategy that fits all. Listen to two of the best trained palates in the world stumble around to prove that nobody should ever trump your personal preference for which wine is more enjoyable with certain foods:
Four family children, aged 18, 21, 22, and 26, made it to our Thanksgiving meal this year. How do you get kids, their girlfriends, in-laws, and senior citizens alike to have some fun with wine at family gatherings? Serve wines from the children’s birth years, that’s how. Not everyone will get excited about the rosemary and thyme mashed potatoes pairing perfectly with the garrigue tinged Southern Rhone Mourvedre, but anyone can enjoy drinking a wine that was born 26 years ago, just like themselves or their relatives. It was a great hit at our meal this year, and I can’t imagine any wine pairing that would have created as much fun, laughter, learning, and good feeling as this type of holiday wine service produced.
Buying the most expensive wines is unnecessary. I try to pick the world regions with the best outcomes in any particular birth year vintage and then try to buy wines that have enough stuffing and substance to last twenty to fifty years. Who would have thought that our $15 bottle of 1991 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel field blend would produce holiday fruit cake aromas with old Port flavors with zip and verve twenty one years later? Why did $20 1986 Monticello Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon jolt our taste buds with Asian barbecue and soy sauce flavors on top of lasting berry and zippy tannic structure even though it did not cost $100 on release? While the $50 1990 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon showed less secondary advancements and more fading fruit in the face of stubbornly stiff tannins, it served as a backdrop to understand the beauty of the Corley Reserve and Ridge. And then there was a French entry from birth year 1994; $25 Chateauneuf du Pape from Clos des Papes. While our son and his wine were still under legal drinking age we all (wink, wink) enjoyed the wine’s ability to show how French wines from venerable regions age in graceful balance, slowly taking on secondary flavor advantages while protecting original balance and flavor profiles on a march toward the ages.
Here is a link to a Wall Street Journal how-to-guide for assembling your own arsenal of birth year wines. If the horse is out of the gate and your children are older, check out WineBid two to three months before the next family get together. Over a few weeks of auctions, you should be able to piece together a reasonably priced set of your family’s birth year wines at current market values. It is always worth remembering that it is not about Lafite Rothschild status nor technical ingredient pairings at holiday gatherings. It is about the joy that the introduction of wine brings to as many members of your family as possible. Who could ever argue with any momento that celebrates the people you love most?
Extra Note: Magnums are fun. They are built for large, celebratory, holiday gatherings. There are holidays every year, so it should be easy to plan your magnum purchases without excuse. When you find special wines that you love and plan to buy a half dozen or dozen bottles of, add a magnum to the order. After a few years you will have dozens of magnums ready for years of holiday gatherings.
This year we drank 2007 L’Angevin Laughlin Vineyard Chardonnay from magnum. I bought the wine back when I spent an afternoon talking with proprietor Alan Pierson. Years later the hazelnut and lees aromas sat on top of coconut flavors and a gentle oily mouthfeel that glided on the back of lasting US Chardonnay structure that otherwise might have dissipated in standard 750 ML bottles. We sat around before our meal and luxuriated over this wine for hours.