When most people think of wine experts they tend to imagine someone snooty who would definitely make fun of you for not knowing the difference between a Moscato and a Merlot.
Zachary Marcus Cesare Harris, owner of Ikavina Wine and Spirits, eschews the term “wine expert” because he says no one is truly an expert.
“I would consider myself a wine vivant. I have read some of the course work for several different certifications, but I think that to really understand wine, you have to drink it ... a lot of it.
“Some say that if you were to have a different type of wine every day from the time you were born and you made it to 100 years old, you would still have only had maybe 34% of just the types of wines that exist,” says the Philadelphia native.
The holidays are perfect time to raise a glass and share it with the ones you love but it can be confusing trying to figure out which wines go best with what dishes. Harris says it’s all subjective and can depend on an individual’s personal preference but there are some guidelines to help us figure it out.
“While it has been taught for years that there are specific pairings to use, outside of certain generalities, what you like is what you like, the exemption being that sweet wines should really not be consumed with anything other than spicy foods or desserts; the sugar overwhelms your palate otherwise and you can’t taste the flavors of the food,” Harris says.
White wines are usually a safe dinner bet and tend to mix especially well with many of the flavors expected to be on the Thanksgiving table.
“White wines typically go with salads, vegetables, poultry and white fishes, with the exception being dark meat of the chicken/turkey or game or water fowl (duck, quail, goose). An oaked Chardonnay, which usually also has some aspect of butter can go with anything, provided you like that kind of taste in a wine. You can go with an unoaked Chardonnay or a Chablis (also Chardonnay but vinified differently), which is going to give you more of a clean taste and lots of minerality and maybe even lychee. Sauvignon Blanc — done new world style — is going to be full of acidity and citrus flavors, mainly grapefruit, but also possibly including guava and passionfruit. While Pinot Grigio — or what many people import — is also filled with citrus flavors of Meyers Lemons, try a Pinot Gris from either Oregon or the Alsace, which will be filled with flavors of stone fruits like nectarines, peaches and apricots, and usually just the white ones. You might even catch a little hibiscus. If you’re going to go with Riesling, try Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling, which is inexpensive at around $11 a bottle; I won’t give it away, but wow yourself,” Harris says.
Sparkling wines are great for celebrations but are they practical for Thanksgiving dinner? Harris says you can make them work if you choose carefully.
“Sparkling wines can go with anything, but it is wise to understand the dosage (sugar level) as well as the grapes used. I usually stick to extra dry or dry — brut is actually extra-extra dry and don’t even pick zero or natural — but when you’re dealing with Prosecco, the whole range is wide open; you can get some nice green apple character. Blanc di Blanc is usually Chardonnay (can be other white grapes) and has flavors that can range from toast to apricot. Blanc di Noir, usually Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, is more gamey with flavors that can include strawberry and raspberry,” he says.
When people think of what goes best with red wine, they tend to think of steak but Harris says it’s not a one-trick-pony.
“Red wines are meant for meats, but also waterfowl and even fish like grouper and red snapper. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are going to give you dark fruit, tobacco and leather in general, with the Merlot also yielding more green pepper aspects. A better bottle will yield deeper concentration of flavors. Zinfandel, which might have a little peppery aspect, is all about dark cherries, blackberries, and dark plums; try getting one where it’s at least 14.5% alcohol. Syrah will give you more pepper, white especially, as well as some dark fruits, herbs and smoke, while Pinot Noir traditionally will give you tart cherry, but can be deep and complex as well, following up with blackberry and earth,” he says.
Everywhere you look it seems as though 2019 is the year of rosé. It’s everywhere, but Harris says to keep it off of your Thanksgiving table — unless you’re going vegetarian.
“Rosés are fine for everything but meats, well the rosés that you can currently get,” he says.
Harris says dessert is the perfect time to wow your guests with wine, although it’s often overlooked.
“For dessert, I recommend Port or Madeira (Bual or Malmsey). As an after-dinner celebration, I would recommend either the 100 Year Toast (Cem Anos) which is a 3-ounce glass each of a 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old aged tawny port, in order. Another option would be everyone splitting a bottle of vintage Port, preferably older than 2010,” he says.
Harris says the biggest tip he could share about choosing a wine that it’s OK to step out of your comfort zone.
“As far as myself, my choices would lean against these wines and delve into things like Barolo, Barbaresco or Nebbiolo, all made from the Nebbiolo grape, which gives you leather, raspberry, anise and earth. Barbera is a nice spicy red. For Sangiovese, the workhorse grape of Italy, go with either a Sangiovese Superiore from Emilia Romagna or delve deep with a Brunello di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino is also an option). For an ultimate full-bodied red wine with fruit-forward aspects, go with Amarone, and hopefully one with Oseleta in it (Tedeschi is one such brand). For whites, try a Vermentino from Sardinia (Sardegna) or a Lugana,” Harris recommends.