By George Kassianos
Christmas is full of traditions, most specifically eating turkey on Christmas day. You may already have your own favourite wine pairing for turkey but if you are looking for something different, try one of the following.
It is easy to partner turkey when roasted and served on its own. You may say there is a straightforward partner. None of us, though, eats turkey solo. There is herb-filled stuffing, roast veggies, rich sauces and an assortment of savoury sides. These must all be considered when working out the best wine pairings for roast turkey.
On the plate, there are many dishes vying for attention so look for a wine with medium or high acidity that can match all the flavours – cranberry, bacon, parsnips, stuffing and brussels sprouts…
In the past, I would always get out the best claret or something similar for Christmas lunch, but getting wiser, I do not think it is the only one that works with turkey. In fact, I have discovered there are better propositions. Dry, structured wines suit red fatty meat better. Let us not forget that butter carrots and cranberry sauce for example with sweet taste.
Avoid young, tannic reds. Tannins are great in a balanced wine with bottle age but the mouth-coating tannins of a young red will ruin hours of work in the kitchen. Choose a claret but with several years of bottle age. A medium bodied red with relatively high acidity will be just perfect.
There are many options out there, let us explore some of them.
In the case of Pinot Noir try bolder crus from Burgundy such as Gevrey -Chambertin or Pommard. You may also try the less pricey options like Fixin or Santenay. Outside Burgundy and France look for Pinot from New Zealand Marlborough or Central Otago, or from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and Sonoma’s Russian River in California.
Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent are two of the ten Beaujolais Crus that have the power and depth to be partnered with turkey. The Gamay grape is not always lightweight. I could make a similar comment about our Mavro grape as there are a few examples now in Cyprus that can make a dinner to remember. From Greece a medium version of Agiorgitiko from Nemea with its forward fruit, medium acidity and tannins will be also another great combination.
Think of a wine with a delicate balance of fruit, acidity and integrated tannins. A wine that can work with some tertiary aromas developed from a few years of bottle ageing. Then think no further than Bordeaux especially specially from the right bank where Cabernet Sauvignon is in a different universe and Merlot carries its weight. Age is important, so choose at least a 10-year-old bottle. On this bolder end you can try also aged Barolo or Chianti Classico. The bright red fruit along with the earthy mushroom aromas and medium-weight tannins of a mature Rioja, will combine equally well with turkey.
There is a reason why Zinfandel has long been a Christmas staple – it is because it is one of the best wines with turkey. Jammy, juicy and fruit forward, it pairs gorgeously with both light and dark meats, as well as an array of sides.
In this respect we can say the same thing about using aged Cyprus vinified Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot – at least five years old. The same applies for Maratheftiko and Yiannoudi too.
But I cannot think of anything better than a Châteauneuf-du-pape or a Gigondas from Southern Rhône in France. Outside France you may also try a GSM (Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre) blend from Australia.
Enchant your turkey with a full-bodied Chardonnay with oaky richness, sweet spice notes and that creamy lactic acid will help you with meat that can sometimes be on the dry side. The acidity as backbone helps balancing things. Chardonnay from Côte de Beaune in Burgundy will not disappoint, and a Mâconnais with its riper fruit in particular is good value. The high levels of minerality will cleanse the palate and enjoy the trimmings. California is another area to look for bolder style Chardonnay, however, avoid the over-oaked ones. Try from Napa Valley or Sonoma and especially Russian River. South Africa, Greece, Australia, Chile and Argentina also make also excellent Chardonnay that is available in Cyprus, which itself has a couple of good Chardonnay proposals.
With local grapes I would try a couple of Xynisteri oak aged but Promara is the grape than can stand up to turkey. While Viognier might not be as popular a variety as Chardonnay, it’s certainly one of turkey’s greatest matches. Fleshy and round, the wine’s juicy stone fruit flavours and floral, honeyed undertones are ideal. Search for solid expressions from the Northern Rhone and Australia. Two vineyards in Cyprus can also contest the matching with roast turkey.
There’s no better time to break your guests’ Riesling stereotypes than Christmas! Forget the explosively sugar-ridden bottles that used to dominate the market, dry Riesling is back and better than ever, proving to be one of the dinner table’s most versatile wines. High in acid, abundant in minerality, and overdelivering in versatility, I cannot think of a better wine to go with turkey stuffing. Outside Germany, try Austria and Alsace in France as well as Australia’s Claire Valley.
Finally, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the top white wine picks for turkey and savoury sides as it tends to bring its own herbal tones to the table. Try Loire’s Sancerre especially for the minerality, sleek, smooth, elegant wine that bursts with fruit that does not lose any of its bracing acidity. Some fine example from Greece and Cyprus are also available, lightly oaked will be just great.
There are a lot of interesting choices to make your Christmas turkey a heavenly meal. And don’t forget, a good sparkling to start the meal is essential as well as sweet wine for the pudding.