A friend recently asked my advice in planning a Friendsgiving dinner – she lives far from her hometown and has decided to invite other friends to share the day with her. She’s quite accomplished in the kitchen and has decided to prepare all the courses herself, with the exception of dessert. Good for her!
Years ago, I used to host Thanksgiving at my home, inviting a rag-tag group of friends, family members, neighbors, and friends-of-friends unable to go home for the holiday. The mix changed each year, depending on who was where, and it led to some interesting interactions. But that’s a whole other post . . . .
Naturally I was flattered when she sought my help and, to be honest, I looked forward to the thought exercise. My husband and I are celebrating the holiday quietly this year and I’m sort of missing the pre-Thanksgiving festivities. Best of all, I can indulge in some creative culinary thinking without having to wash a single pot or pan.
I recently received a selection of sample bottles from the Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) of Spain, and I thought they would lend themselves perfectly to this Friendsgiving dinner. Best known for its fresh and fruity Rosado wines, Navarra is also a center of fine-wine production, making use of both indigenous and international varieties. Tempranillo, Graciano, and Muscat mingle with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in an intriguing array of wines that pair easily with holiday feasts. I took each of the six wines I received and matched it with a particular course or dish.
Hors d’Oeuvres and Light Bites
Understanding that my friend would be busy in the kitchen as her guests arrived, I suggested she set up a sideboard with easy appetizers. Charcuterie, a cheese or two, olives, and almonds are all you need there. People can chat with each other as they nibble, and enjoy a nice glass of wine.
To drive the conversation, I would open two bottles from the same producer but made from different grape varieties. Wine aficionados love nothing more than debating the comparative qualities of two similar wines, agreeing and disagreeing until the last drop has been poured and enjoyed.
Castillo de Eneriz Mas de Berceo offers up two tempting wines that will have guests sniffing, swirling, and speculating about two of Spain’s major red grapes: Tempranillo and Graciano. Most famous for their role in Rioja wines, these varieties differ quite a bit in their flavor and aroma profiles. Tempranillo tends to be more neutral, where Graciano offers up pronounced black fruit aromas. Both wines receive the same treatment in oak barrels (70% French; 30% American) so you really can compare their varietal characteristics. And with a price under $10 a bottle, these wines won’t blow the Thanksgiving beverage budget.
First Course: Seared Bay Scallops in Lettuce Cups
When just a few guests are expected, I like to prepare a plated first course that’s easy to make while the turkey is resting. This recipe for seared bay scallops is quick, easy, and delicious – and you can jazz it up however you like. It’s also a light prelude to the more robust dishes to come.
For this pairing, you want a white wine, maybe one with a hint of sweetness. Most times I would reach for a German Riesling, knowing I could serve it again, with the turkey. But the Rayo de Sol is a delight: orange flower aromas, and citrus-floral flavors that make me think of Spain. (For you drumstick lovers, this wine’s for you!) It’s not overly sweet, but rather semi-sweet, and it’s got lots of acidity – so important in food pairing. The wine brings out the salty sweet character of the scallops and the lemon zest on top. It’s an unexpected addition to the Thanksgiving table; one your guests will enjoy.
Main Course #1: Garrigue Roasted Turkey Breast
My fellow blogger David Crowley of Cooking Chat has tons of amazing recipes on his website, all with dynamite wine pairing ideas. Last week during a chat, he referred to an easy plan for hosting a small group at Thanksgiving – a whole, roasted breast instead of an entire turkey. This turkey, rubbed in butter and fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme (garrigue, as the herbs are called in southern France) will leave your kitchen smelling like a restaurant in Provence. Get the recipe here.
What to pair with turkey and all the side dishes? Crianza comes to mind. This category of wine represents the youngest of the wood-aged red wines from Spain. Its distinguishing feature is that it must spend a minimum time in barrel: six months for most regions; 12 months in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Crianza wines strike the perfect balance between ripe, fresh, fruit and the vanilla and spice flavors imparted by the oak. A perfect Thanksgiving wine.
As with the hors d’oeuvres, I’m recommending two Crianza wines that your guests can compare and contrast. One is 100% Tempranillo, the other a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Merlot. Both spend time in oak, but different types. Get people talking about the merits of each wine and you’ll avoid any diversion into politics or religion.
This is the blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Tempranillo, and 20% Merlot that spends 12 months in French barriques.
This Crianza is 100% Tempranillo, and spends 12 months in American oak, a tribute to the classic style of many Rioja wines. My guess is folks will have strong opinions on which wine they prefer. That’s okay, most of the wine world is split on this question, too.
(And don’t forget about the Castilla Rayo de Sol white wine; it’ll make a great match with the dark meat turkey and any side dishes with a hint of sweetness to them.)
Main Course #2: Herb-Roasted Butterflied Leg of Lamb
If you’ve got two ovens, why not give your guests an alternative to turkey? My friend has plenty of room in her kitchen, and loved the idea of offering two meat dishes for dinner. Not that it has to be complicated, though. Seasoned with garlic and herbs, this recipe is super-easy and delivers tons of flavor – the holy grail of holiday dishes. It comes from the New York Times and can be adapted any number of ways.
The other advantage of serving a lamb dish at Thanksgiving is that you get to pair it with an aged Spanish wine – a Reserva. This one is a blend of Tempranillo (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Merlot (15%). And it is oh, so delicious! It’s round and smooth, with bright black fruit flavors. It spent 18 months in a mix of French and American oak barrels, and rested on its lees for three years before bottling. If you’ve got a few red wine lovers at your table, you might need two bottles of this one!
I hope my Thanksgiving dinner with a Spanish twist has spurred your imagination and inspired you to get in the kitchen and cook up a storm! And, even if you’re not cooking this year, do yourself a favor and check out the wines of Navarra DO. They’ll be great all year long!
NOTE: I received these wines as samples, to taste and review independently. There was no requirement to write a positive review, or any review at all. Opinions expressed in the article are mine alone.