Suzi’s Blog

Wine and the Thanksgiving Table

Our Thanksgiving table has an iconic image: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, and maybe something less recognized, wine. I personally cannot remember a Thanksgiving feast without those components, but for most Americans, wine on the Thanksgiving table — on tables period — is actually a relatively new addition.

A holiday table in the 1950’s may very well not have had wine at all. Visit a typical restaurant in the 1950’s, and you might have found a handful of European wines, but often no American bottles.

With what can be considered the United States’ most culinary-centric holiday, let’s take a look at two different themes that are relevant to this staple meal: what is the pattern of wine consumption in the U.S., and what will Americans be drinking this Thanksgiving in 2015.

If wine was often absent on our tables in the 1950’s, what happened? Didn’t we have wine starting with Thomas Jefferson? Remember that quote from Benjamin Franklin:

The discovery of wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.

American winemaking began in this country in 1562 with some French Huguenots in Jacksonville, Florida using a native grape called Scuppernong. But the first commercially successful winery did not open until 1830 in Cincinnati, and the first California winery opened only in 1861 under the leadership of Charles Krug.

In the 19th and early 20th century, Americans drank beer and spirits, but not much wine. Just before World War 1, Americans drank 40 times more beer than wine, 3 times as much spirits as wine. Most Americans in that period lived on the family farm and that farm grew wheat, corn, and cows. There were few family vineyards. The average American drank three bottles of wine a year.

Still in 1919, there were about 2,500 local wineries in the United States. Then came the Triple Whammy that hammered the wine industry: Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War 2. The 2,500 American wineries dwindled to less than 100. For thirty years, American wine was in the Dark Ages.

Restoration was very slow. The California Wine Advisory Board began a marketing and advertising campaign starting in 1938. In 1940 the now world-famous UC Davis wine program took first steps. Still, progress was slow and even in the 1950s and 1960s we were a beer and spirits nation. There were just 360 wineries in 1955 California, two decades after prohibition ended. Today, there are over 3,400.

And then there was a California milestone, a true seismic jolt that actually occurred in Paris. In blind tastings in 1976, California reds and whites won major contests against French wines. The world took note and Americans reacted with pride. American university wine programs began the fertilization of technology and techniques. Orchards and berry fields in Oregon and Washington were converted to vineyards. Now every state in the union offers a selection of wines.

That 1976 event just happened to coincide with the Baby Boomers having entered drinking age. There has been, ever since, a contest between quantity and quality. Wines of the 1970s and 1980s were not always carefully developed. But over time, under the influence of consumer pressure and the development of a true wine industry, wine quality has appreciably improved. Wineries have learned how to industrialize wine product to achieve desired market share, but at the same time have managed to retain, even improve, the art of their wine making.

Ah, the art of wine making. While Boomers make up about 45% of the current wine market, the Millennials are an expanding 25% and Millennial perspectives are changing our wine industry. The change began, not with wine, but with beer. Millennials have sharply decreased their consumption of big-label beers, shifting instead to craft beers. The rise of artisan breweries across the nation is evident in any drive down Main Street.

Now, with the impressive growth of the wine industry and its impact not only at the dining table, but particularly at celebratory meals, one’s first concern may be what wine to drink alongside certain dishes, and in this instance, it is what to serve alongside turkey. If you consult web sites or an authority like the award winning What To Drink With What You Eat, you’ll find your wine choices are vast: red, white, pink or sparkling. With both dark and white meat, you wine selection can go either way in red-versus-white debate. More importantly, the turkey meat on your table may be the most subtle dish there. Rich stuffing, intense gravy, Brussels sprouts or perhaps carrots spiced with cumin or mint — all those dishes will send flavor cascades through your mouth.

So your side dishes play into your wine selections. For turkey itself, suggested wines are Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot for reds and White Burgundy, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer for white. If you plan on a platter of sweet potatoes, for example, then the Chardonnay or Gewürztraminer will do double duty by matching the potatoes and the meat.

Our Thanksgiving tables are expanding. The turkey will always be there, but the wine component will surely evolve, multiply, and intensify our satisfaction. Here’s to the wine revolution, and in a way to indulge in its glory, here are a few American wine recommendations we think will go perfectly with your holiday feast. The prices here are from websites and you may different values at your local wine store.


Reds of Distinction

Folie à Deux Pinot Noir: 2012: $20


Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir: 2012: $55


Trinchero Napa Valley Meritage: 2011: $61


Whites for Your Turkey

Napa Cellars Chardonnay: 2013: $22


Terra d’Oro Chenin Black Viognier: 2011: $61



Thanksgiving Ideas: Turkey Mole for Leftovers on Friday

wc-2011_12_25 Turkey Carcass

Ah, yes. That terrible last act of Thanksgiving night. The meal is over. Everyone is resting. Maybe having another piece of pie. Watching the third and final football game.

And there you are. In the kitchen finishing off that turkey. It’s a tedious job and somebody has to do it. You, I guess, are somebody.

What to do when you reach this point? Crush it. Just press down, break the critter into pieces, and put the pieces into a plastic bag. On Friday, open the bag and make turkey stock. Or, or, freeze and months later make the stock. Snowed in on a February day? Make stock.

Now, that carcass means you have stripped away the meat. What to do with that meat? What to eat on the Friday after Turkey Day?

Here’s a very lovely idea from HOT! by Judith Choate. This is her spin on classic mole with lots of chiles, almonds, seeds, spices, chocolate, avocado, and even maple syrup. If there is something else you would like to sneak it, I’m sure it would be welcome.

I’m repeating this recipe from scratch and Judith wrote it assuming you using raw turkey, not leftovers. With leftovers, you can skip the cooking turkey part and get right to those chiles.

 Remember, when working with chiles, please use rubber gloves and don’t rub your eyes. Otherwise you will be saying, “Holy Mole!”

Oh, yes. Look here on Friday and Saturday for more turkey leftover ideas!

Turkey Mole

Yield: serves 6


  • 5 pounds turkey parts [legs, breasts, thighs]
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 6 ancho chiles
  • 4 mulato chiles
  • 6 chipotle chiles
  • 1 ½ cups chopped red onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped, peeled, seedless tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
  • Pinch cloves
  • 1 cord tortilla, quartered
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup chopped avocado
  • 1 teaspoon fresh juice


Wash turkey parts and pat dry.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add turkey and fry, turning frequently, for about 5 minutes or until turkey is well browned. Place browned turkey in a heavy saucepan.

Add stock, water, salt, and pepper. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about I hour or until turkey has just cooked through. Drain, reserving broth. Set turkey aside.

Cut chiles into pieces and place in hot water to just cover for about 30 minutes or until soft. Pour into a blender with the onion, % cup tomatoes, and garlic. Process until smooth. Add almonds, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, spices, and tortilla quarters, and process until it is a coarse paste.

Heat remaining oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add chile paste and sauté, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups turkey broth and cook for 3 minutes or until hot. Add chocolate and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until chocolate has melted and sauce is thick. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Add maple syrup if sauce needs sweetening.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pull turkey from skin and bones. Lay meat in bottom of a 2-quart casserole. Pour sauce over the top, cover, and bake for about 20 minutes or until flavors are well combined. Remove from oven, uncover, and sprinkle top with sesame seeds. Keep warm.

Combine avocado, remaining tomatoes, and lime juice, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish edges of casserole with avocado mixture and serve

Source: HOT! by Judith Choate [Kenan Books, 1992]


Thanksgiving Idea: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Blue Cheese and Walnuts


Fall is the time for exploiting all the wonderful flavors of squash and pumpkins, and — pumpkin pie aside of course — no dish better uses this flavor succulence than soup. It can be very astonishing to enjoy a great bowl of soup. A great bowl, that is.

Most of us associate soup with red-and-white cans. Decent perhaps. Never exceptional. Or, you may remember one of those soups, usually offered on Fridays, from your grade school. Those watery bowls begging for salt, and in my grade school the happy cook used salt by the handful.

So, by the time we become adults, the word “soup” is four-letter word.

And that is a tragedy.

Suzi and I are addicts of butternut squash soups, rich, thick as porridge, and steaming with flavor. Here the soup has a bounty of other, subtle flavors. There is pear and white wine, some onion, and even honey. And there is the topping: a combination of crumbled blue cheese and toasted walnuts.

The soup is decidedly rich and fun to put in your mouth. That very thick soup, the tang of the blue cheese, and the crunch of those nuts. Oh, we added the honey on top rather than integrating into the soup itself.

The recipe calls for vegetable stock and we used a vegetable bouillon cube instead of a can. I know that, if we had the time to make our own veggie stock, the soup would have been even better. Though, I must day, I’m not sure if it could be better. It was magnificent.

As a side, this would be a zesty introduction to your Thanksgiving turkey. You can make this soup in volume over the weekend and then enjoy during the week. A large serving in a bowl, with some bread and salad and a glass of white, will give you a true comfort meal.

And, it’s soup!

The directions below say to process the soup in your blender and then sieve. I think that would have resulted in the loss of way too much of the volume and I love a thick soup. So, you can skip that step, or thin the soup with water before sieving if you prefer.

If this soup idea intrigues you, investigate Artisanal Cooking by Terrance Brennan. Lots and lots of similar excellent ideas.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Yield: serves 6


  • 3 pounds butternut squash [1 large squash]
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 3 teaspoons plus a pinch kosher salt
  • White pepper in a mill
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon crushed walnuts [about 12 walnut halves]
  • ½ cup Spanish onion, medium dice
  • ½ cu cored, peeled pear, any variety, medium dice
  • ½ cup Riesling or other full-bodies white wine
  • 5 ½ cup vegetable stco9ik or low-sodium, store-bought vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ½ cup crumbled Roquefort or other blue Cheese [from about 2 ounces cheese] at room temperature


PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Cut off the ends of the squash. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings, using a tablespoon or small scoop. Rub the cut sides lightly with 2 tablespoons of the oil, season with a total of 1 teaspoon salt and 4 grinds of pepper, and place cut-side down on a cookie sheet. Roast until tender to a knife-tip, approximately 1 hour. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh. You should have 3 cups of roasted squash.

MEANWHILE , put the nuts in an 8-inch sauté pan and toast over medium heat, shaking constantly, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

POUR the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, pear, and a pinch of salt and cook without browning for 20 minutes. Pour in the Riesling and cook, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, until all of the wine has reduced by two-thirds, approximately 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the roasted butternut squash. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

WHEN soup is done, pour it into a blender in batches and blend until smooth. Season with the salt and add the honey. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer: if it seems too thick, add a few tablespoons of water to thin it slightly. (It should just coat the back of a wooden spoon.)

DIVIDE the soup among 4 warm soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon crumpled cheese and one-fourth of the crushed nuts. Serve.


Source: Artisanal Cooking by Terrance Brennan [John Wiley & Sons, 2005]

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/5.6 for1/30th second at ISO‑500