A crash course in Thanksgiving wine pairings with Angela Aiello

Thanksgiving and wine are two of Angela Aiello’s favourite things. The iYellow Wine Club founder and sommelier-in-training gives us the scoop on perfect pairings for turkey day.

When we talk about Thanksgiving from a food and wine perspective, what comes to mind for you?

It’s harvest time! I think that’s what makes it such an iconic wine time, because harvest is done, it’s a time of year when you’re supposed to break bread and drink wine.

When summer ends, just like you bring out your fall wardrobe, your wine wardrobe should change out, too. You should be bringing out the pinot noir, the chardonnay and the riesling. All summer long, you’ve probably been drinking moscato, sauvignon blanc and sangria and now it’s time for [those] autumn grapes to make an appearance.

Tell us about your typical wine-fuelled Thanksgiving. What does that look like?

Well, definitely full of family… And wine! I haven’t taken on any of the holiday traditions yet, personally, but my sister takes on Thanksgiving. So we all head to her house and I always bring the wine. I usually ship a case of wine to her before the festivities. Or I’m lugging wine in my backpack – who doesn’t love a traveling wine fairy?

Do you plan out pairings with your sister’s menu?

My Italian philosophy is to keep it simple and it usually works out. I’m not a big detail person. She usually handles the food and I handle the wine, and together we both make everyone happy with lots of options. I have a pretty good sense of what she regularly likes to cook, and this time of year, the flavours are all aligned with root vegetables, game meats and harvest themes for dessert (my Gramma’s apple pie is my fave). We always have Thanksgiving classics, so that helps with understanding what to bring for wine.

So what wines should we be looking at to go with the classics?

The thing I love about Thanksgiving is that if you pick those three wines – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir – you can’t go wrong. They’re going to pair with whatever’s on the table. Squash, baked potatoes, root vegetables, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, and a big friggin’ turkey cooked in wine, rosemary and fennel or whatever you fancy. 

That sounds like one tasty turkey. Do you cook with wine a lot? Any tips?

I love cooking with wine, and the rule of thumb is to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink, so you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got quality wine across the board. We’re always adding wine into the sauces and reductions, salad dressings and even soup! It’s all about quality ingredients from the wine to food. 

How about tricky pairings? Any challenges hidden among those Thanksgiving classics?

Soup would be a challenging one, only because I’ve learned from the French that soup and wine are not the best pairing (liquid on liquid is a challenge, but not impossible). However, butternut squash soup and riesling, it does go together – the acidity and sweetness is a perfect counterbalance to the creaminess of the soup. That taste profile and that sweetness is just amazing. I don’t think there are any real challenges – it’s definitely understanding flavours and how they go together. The sweet and the spicy, understanding that relationship is key.

So what’s the main thing to keep in mind when you’re putting flavours together?

When you pair food and wine, they have to be either similar, like same-same, or different and complementary. It’s kind of the answer to everything in life, really. So when it comes to salads and dressings, sometimes I even remove the vinegar and use wine. If you replace the vinegar – because vinegar is technically wine in a different way – instead of having that really strong vinegar taste in the salad, you can actually meld the flavours a little bit better by using wine in the dressing and the pairing the wine with that salad. Riesling is my favourite for this.

Like a good Ontario riesling?

Oh my goodness. If you’re going to drink any wine this Thanksgiving, it should be an Ontario riesling, or Ontario pinot noir and chardonnay. The best part about Thanksgiving in Ontario is that our wines are built for these types of foods, so going local is a huge way to do it. Ontario has amazing sparkling riesling as well, which is a wonderful starter.

What about dessert wine? Anything to go with a pumpkin pie?

Ice wine. There’s another Canadian icon. A little bit of vidal or riesling ice wine would be a really fantastic match. If you’ve got a rhubarb pie, anything with cherry or other red fruits, pull out a cab franc ice wine. The rule of thumb for pairing desserts and dessert wine is that your wine should always be sweeter than your dessert.

So, obviously we love to support local. What about great wines from outside of Ontario?

Chardonnay and pinot noir from Sonoma County or Monterey County are some others I’d recommend. These wines are going to be very well-liked by everyone. You have to pull out a full-bodied red if you’re going to have a chocolate cake or something rich and delicious. Washington state produces some of the best cabernet sauvignon I’ve ever had, and they are really amazing value too at $17.

Value always wins.

I mean, when it comes to anything you want good value. Especially during a holiday like Thanksgiving and you’re opening 10 bottles of wine. Everyone always underestimates how much you’re going to drink, especially when you’re eating – the wine is always flowing!

So how many bottles should we actually plan on?

My family, we have 15 of us and we easily go through eight bottles of wine. I usually say that the rule of thumb is a bottle per person. If you’re hanging out for five or six hours, people can easily drink a bottle of wine, especially if you grazing and having a huge meal. Plus, don’t forget – the host is usually sipping while they’re in the kitchen preparing. A bottle of wine is really only five glasses. That’s a glass of wine an hour, which is really not that much. Obviously this is a little different if people are driving.

The other thing I always find is that people tend to open one bottle of wine at a time, and then they wait until it’s gone, and then they open another wine. This is the perfect time to create a wine tasting experience for your friends and family, so open a few different bottles and have them available for friends and family to taste and talk about.

What would that look like, exactly?

Open up all the wine. Have every wine bottle open and on the table, and encourage everyone to try it. A little taste of everything goes a long way, and people become really excited about tasting new things. The wine tasting concept is a great concept to bring to family gathering or friends gathering this time of year. Add some adventure to your holidays! Travel the world without having to go anywhere. Open up several wines at once and you create a luxury experience for your friends and family. /