Thanksgiving is a time for tradition. The traditional turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce and yams with that marshmallow topping. A safe, time-honored wine, Pinot Noir. Yawn.
This year I’m gonna shake things up a bit. I’ll be pouring a sweet wine for the main event and not just for dessert.
I’m inspired by Aline Baly, a champion of drinking what most of us consider to be dessert wines, from the beginning to the end of the meal. Aline’s family is the proprietor of Chateau Coutet in Barsac, a sub-district of the Sauternes region in the southern part of Bordeaux. Chateau Couter is a Premier Cru Classe Sauturnes. That’s all they make.
Last time Aline was in the San Francisco Bay Area, she invited me to join her for lunch at Wood Tavern in Oakland (one of my fav restaurants). To demonstrate how versatile her Sauternes wines are, we ordered straight off the menu, with no changes or special requests. I have to say I was pretty dubious. Sure Sauternes is a great match with Roquefort, but what about pulled pork?
With glasses of the ’06 and ’03 Chateau Coutet, first up, burrata & proscuitto di Parma, with roasted peaches (yum), citrus oil and a Madeira glaze. Aline set expectations…pairing wine with a fresh burrata can be risky. Yes, but worth the risk, it really works. What makes it work is the creaminess of the cheese and the rich body of the wine. Plus the citrus helps bring out the dried fruits in the wine, and a minerality and ginger notes also are punched up. The saltiness of the proscuitto is a nice contrast to the wine’s sweetness.
You’d think a creamy tomato soup, with shrimp and avocado might get lost in the mix. The sweetness of the Sauternes works nicely with the sweetness of the tomatoes and shrimp. Talking body again, the rich avocado works with the sweet, syrupy wine.
Next, a crispy pork shoulder confit sandwich (aka pulled pork), and a hot pastrami sandwich. I would never think to pair a sweet wine with either of these. A big Zin or a hoppy beer wold be my choice. The ’03, with more complex flavors developed, handled these spicy dishes just fine. While a pan roasted chicken dish didn’t seem like too much of a stretch, the grilled radicchio with it could be challenging. But the smoky notes of the ’03 was a great match.
Now I’m a believer.
Aline’s motto is “when in doubt, bring Sauternes.”
OK, but there must be something that is a total clash with Sauternes. Chocolate cake. Aline says that’s usually too rich for her sweet wines.
Aline’s last suggestion is to serve Sauternes, preferably Chateau Coutet, for Thanksgiving. Had I not just tasted this wine with a variety of savory dishes, I’d scoff at that suggestion. Now I’m thinking brilliant. She’s got a Thanksgiving menu on her website, and says her favorite pairing is with the butternut squash and Gorgonzola gratin. That’s what I’m making.
You’ve probably heard of Chateau d’Yquem, the most famous of all Sauternes. It’s liquid gold in a bottle and it’s super super pricey. You’ll find the current vintage of Chateau Coutet, the 2007, for about $25-$30 for a half bottle (375 ml) and $50-$60 for a full bottle (750 ml).
So it’s not too late…grab a bottle of two of a Sauternes for Thanksgiving. This could become your new wine tradition for the holidays.