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Drinks for Turkey Day if there's no turkey
2013-04-03
By John H. Isacs

I adore a properly roasted turkey and love it even more when accompanied by a synergistic wine. But this Thanksgiving I'm absolutely not going to write about or eat this bountiful and flavorful fowl.

One reason is that I've already written several articles on turkey and wines and the other, perhaps more important reason is that there's no documented evidence of turkey being part of the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621. Instead, in this week's column I'll explore wine pairings with the foods we know were consumed by the Pilgrims and Native American tribes 391 years ago.

The 120 Pilgrims who left Plymouth, England, in 1620 due to religious persecution were courageous souls fortified by faith. What they lacked was the requisite knowledge and expertise to survive the often brutal winters of what is now the state of Massachusetts in the northeast of the United States.

The extreme weather and privations of their first New England winter killed half of settlers who were more accustomed to and prepared for the milder winters of England. By late October or early November in 1621, when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated, there were only 53 settlers remaining.

But the following autumn with new homes and food gathering and cultivating skills learned from the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims were far more confident and prepared for their second winter.

The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted for three days with big meals being served, after which there were games, songs and dancing. The foods of 1621 that graced their tables included some ingredients that are still common today and others that are not.

What they ate and drank

There are only two primary source accounts of the foods enjoyed that first Thanksgiving celebration, from Edward Winslow and Governor William Bradford. Neither mentions wild turkey. Their accounts do mention wild water fowl, almost certainly ducks, geese and swans, as well as venison provided by the Wampanoag.

The fare from the sea most probably consisted of locally caught cod, sea bass, eels, mussels, clams, oysters, lobsters and even seals. Vegetables almost certainly included cool weather crops like corn, onions, pumpkins, turnips, cabbage, carrots, and spinach. Walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts and acorns were also indigenous to the area and most likely accompanied the meats and seafood.

Unfortunately for the Pilgrims and Native Americans, there's no mention of wine being enjoyed at the first feast, but it's highly probable that the Pilgrims, who were experienced brewers, served beer at the 1621 feast. In fact, documents from the colony show that primitive brewery equipment was already in use by mid-1621.

Reliving the first Thanksgiving

A fun and creative way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to enjoy the same or similar foods that the settlers enjoyed in 1621. Save for the swans and seals, most these ingredients are readily available in Shanghai markets and can be used to make Western- or Chinese-style dishes.

Whether you choose to relive the first Thanksgiving and enjoy dishes ranging from water fowl and venison to fresh bounty from the sea along with winter vegetables and nuts, or you take the more modern approach and have a turkey with trimmings, mash potatoes and cranberry sauce, your wine options are many.

If only one wine will grace your table this year, it's best to stick to the most versatile food-pairing wines like sparkers, whites or young fresh red wines.

Bubbles are always a good answer and one of my favorite US producers is Chateau Ste Michelle. Their Brut sparkler is a high-quality, good-value wine that goes nicely with seafood, white meats and a host of vegetables. Should your dinner include dark meat fowl, then try their 100 percent Pinot Noir sparkling wine Blanc de Noirs.

Both sparklers are also great matches with turkey. Other reasonably priced sparkling options are the Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut from Australia and the Nederburg Foundation Premiere Cuvee Brut. Both of these wine offer generous ripe yellow fruit flavors and refreshing acidity.

Should you yen for a white wine to accompany your holiday feast, then I highly recommend an Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain. The lively flavors and acidity of good Albarino wines emphasize the freshness of seafood while also awakening the natural flavors of both seafood and white meats. Martin Codax is one of the best producers of Albarinos and their wines are readily available in Shanghai.

So far I have resisted suggesting red wines since so many of the dishes the Pilgrims enjoyed in 1621 and the dishes we commonly serve at modern Thanksgiving meals go better with, or at least equally well with, sparkling or white wines. However, should venison or some other red meat be part of your meal, then a bottle of red makes sense. Zinfandel has become a favorite of many on Thanksgiving.

Resisting the conventional, take a bottle of sparkling wine to accompany the lighter dishes. I'll be serving two Ausi wines comprised of three red varietals usually associated with the Southern Rhone, namely Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre.

GSM wines are some of the best wines to pair with fowl of all sorts as well as other rich meats like venison. The combination of elegant dark fruit flavors, spices and gentle, mouth-coating tannins embellish the best of meat dishes. On my wine list this Thanksgiving are two GSMs from the excellent Barossa producer Torbreck. They are the budget-worthy Old Vines GSM and the slightly more pricy and elegant, The Steading GSM.

 

 

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