Somm Speak: A Season for Sharing – Thanksgiving Pairings

I’ve a confession to make. I like to drink wine.

Another confession is that I didn’t really know very much about wine until I met my wine buddy, unhealthy sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusée. (Leslee’s last name is now actually officially “ThewinesommthatIworkwith.”) We started teaching together in 2009 at Cooks of Crocus Hill. That relationship has grown over the years both professionally and personally. We do regular corporate and private events together as well as teaching, recipe writing, ailment and organizing classes and outings that bring beer and wine together under one umbrella. We also just like to hang out and drink. It has been said of us that we are more recognizable together than we are apart.

As part of this ever-expanding partnership, we have started exchanging blog posts. You can find my Monthly Pint column on Leslee’s Amusée blog. And she will start offering a monthly Somm Speak column on mine.

It’s good to expand your horizons.

A Season for Sharing

Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or a wine fanatic, there’s one thing we can all agree upon this Thanksgiving season, you’re gonna need one or the other for this season of sharing. Knowing that half your holiday gatherings will want beer and the other wine, Michael and I thought it a good point to introduce a brand new exchange of blogs from A Perfect Pint to Amusée – showcasing both libations, so you’re set to go with just one click!

On Amusée, Michael now writes a monthly column called A Monthly Pint and I now pen a monthly piece for all you beer enthusiasts called Somm Speak on A Perfect Pint’s blog.

This month I bring you a few of my favorite wines paired to a variety of Thanksgiving dishes!

Grateful Grapes

Thanksgiving brings a whole variety of food. From traditional family recipes to a slew of fun new finds, we know for most of us that turkey will act as our main dish. From roasted, deep fried, smoked or grilled – the almighty bird needs a few tips for pairing from the wine side.

In for a roasty bird with a gorgeously oven-browned, buttery skin? You know, the kind where you shove several pounds of ‘Paula Dean’ under the skin and roast your birdie for a few long hours, leaving it juicy with bits of melted butter and ‘just right’ browned skin for enjoying?

Generally, the rule of thumb in this situation – and certainly one where you most likely can’t go wrong – is to go with a Pinot Noir. If you head this route, splurge on something nice. I’m a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, yet sometimes a nice Russian River Pinot with bits of minty eucalyptus and dark raspberry fruit does the trick. Want a few Pinot picks for your table? Head here to my Pinterest board – Yes, I’m a Pinotphile – for a list of suggestions.

St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett RieslingLove smoking your bird? Try the second most traditional grape for the season, Riesling! Remember, not all Riesling are sweet! Want fresh, inviting and dry – head to Germany. One of my favorites for pairing to smoked poultry is St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel. Notes of peach, apricot, creamy apple pulp, and spice cake envelope gorgeous aromas of freshly picked blue and white flowers – violet!

Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley Grilled bird? Smoke and char call for one thing – something dark, medium bodied and delicious when it comes to turkey on the grill. I’m a huge fan of Portuguese reds for this category. Go with a winery that I’ve most recently visited, Quinta do Crasto, for the best value! Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley red, Portugal. For just over $22, the dark juicy jammy fruits combined to the black pepper back of the wine’s body snuggle in perfectly with a charred, crunchy skin of a grilled turkey, yet they don’t over power the juicy delicious meat of the bird.

Lastly, deep fried! To all you crazy Minnesotans who are into deep-frying your birds – I’m finally game for this technique. Tender and rich, and when cooked just right, frying will give you a skin that you’ll never trade for again any other Thanksgiving. Try a wine like a light bodied Zinfandel from CA or even a darker, more structured (older vined) Gamay from the Loire Valley of France. Like Gamay but not a Beaujolais Nouveau fan? Try these two ‘sister’ wines from the Loire Valley of France for a bit of a change when it comes to this grape.

Now that you’ve got your main bird covered, you won’t want to forget the opening appetizer wine and your closer. First things first… No one enters my house any time of year without a glass of bubbles. Of course ‘bubbles’ can refer to beer as well, but in my domain, sparkling wines rule!

François Chidaine MontlouisHere’s a fun little winery from the Loire region of France (again) that will keep everyone happy, not to mention, will pair beautifully with anything squash on your table. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, try the François Chidaine Montlouis, yum! Creamy pear, apple & bright stone fruit make this a great opener for all things – cheese, creamy dips, to chips and sweet pickle plates.

Alright, alright – the pie! From pumpkin pie to pecan, I’m telling ya – fortifieds are your answer. Yes, Port will absolutely do the trick, but if you want the ultimate pairing to pumpkin pie, go with a sweet sherry from Jerez, Spain – like Moscatel, with its honeyed, orangey bits, will make any pumpkin pie pairing perfect. Need a recipe and pairing for your table, check out Amusée’s latest ‘Drunkin Punkin’ Pie recipe and pairing blog.

And if you’re just south of the Mason Dixon line (or happen to love a little southern something for Thanksgiving dessert), Pecan Pie and Madeira could be the match for you. Michael, I’m sure, has a gorgeous line up of beers for all these sweets, but when it comes to truly being in doubt when it comes to sweet, go Madeira. Try a sweeter version, like Malmsey, for a perfect pairing to pecan pie!

From top to bottom, we’ve got you covered. Looks like no one should go thirsty this holiday season if you’re keeping up with A Perfect Pint and Amusée! For more monthly wine tips, check in often for my guest posts along A Perfect Pint’s blog line labeled “Somm Speak.”

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Schell’s Fresh Hop: Equinox

Still more fresh-hop beers!

The August Schell Brewing Company is steeped in history. German brewing tradition is what makes it tick. True-to-style German lagers and ales are its signature. “Hops” is not the first word that comes to one’s mind when this brewery is discussed. Yet, for the last three years Schell’s has jumped on the fresh-hop train with a single-hopped, wet-hop brew.

But the brewers at Schell’s do it their way. No over-hopped IPAs from this brewery. They stick to their roots with a fresh-hopped pilsner. Lager fermentation leaves little yeast character to clutter things up. Soft, pilsner malt gives a neutral background against which the hops stand out.

And Schell’s is able to source some interesting varieties. This year’s fresh-hop pilsner features a new variety called Equinox. According to promotional material from the brewery, “Equinox’s high oil content and tight cone structure imparts pronounced citrus, tropical fruit, herbal and floral aromas and flavors to this beer.” Interesting choice for a pilsner. Does it work?

Here’s my notes:

Schell's Fresh HopSchell’s Fresh Hop
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Fresh Hop Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle
ABV: 5%

Aroma: A sweet, pils malt background offsets bright hop aromatics. A blend of herbal, minty, ripe stone fruits, and lime citrus. Somewhere between Tettnang and Citra. A low level of sulfur.

Appearance: Light gold and brilliantly clear. Moderate, fluffy white head with good retention.

Flavor: Very balanced malt to hop. Medium pils malt sweetness clears away for a dry finish. Malt flavor is grainy sweet with light notes of corn. Bitterness is medium to medium-high and lingers into the finish. Bright hop flavors start with herbal/floral character with light, lime-citrus overtones. As the beer warms, notes of lemon zest increase. Low grassy notes. Low sulfur.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Bright and refreshing with lively and delicate lemon-lime overtones. It’s a great, balanced pilsner with a citrusy twist. It will make you want another one – at least it does me.