featured photo by by Ashleigh Amoroso

With less than a week till Thanksgiving, it’s time to kick your holiday prep into full gear. We’re trying to tackle the not so glamorous to do lists and grocery store runs now, so we can spend next week decorating, basting, and sitting carefree on the porch with friends, family, and a great bottle of wine. As entertaining experts, we always get a lot of questions from our fellow vino enthusiasts this time of year. We know it can be intimidating, so we teamed up with the true wine experts at La Crema to answer all your burning questions, and deliver the ultimate wine crash course just in time for the holiday season.

Scroll on for pro tasting advice and food pairing tips from winemaker Jen Walsh and Chef Tracey Shepos Cenami that’s sure to have even your wine aficionado in-laws impressed.

photo by Andrea Posadas

Wine 101: The Basics

How long can I keep a bottle of wine, once it’s been opened? 

 Generally between 1 – 4 days. The second you open a bottle, it begins to oxidize (gets exposed to air) so I advise you to do anything you can do to minimize air exposure. Recorking, transferring to a 375 ml bottle, or vacuum sealing  will extend the life of the wine. The fridge helps too—for whites and reds.

 What makes a wine buttery?

 If you enjoy a rich, buttery Chardonnay, you can thank a compound called Diacetyl, which is a natural by-product of malolactic conversion. Malolactic fermentation is a natural, bacterial conversion which converts the grape’s sharper malic acid (found in green apples too!) into softer lactic acid (found in milk). The total acidity in the wine is reduced, and the result is a rounder, more complex wine with that classic buttery mouthfeel.

photo by Andrea Posadas

What are legs? 

Swirl the wine in your glass. Now stop and set it on the table. See the streaks of wine that form as the wine settles back into the base? Those are legs. The thickness of the legs, and how quickly they dissipate tell you about the weight (viscosity) of the wine. Seeing thicker legs that are slow to settle? Most likely a “heavier” varietal with higher alcohol content. 

How to swirl, and when to swirl? 

I like to think of wine in the bottle as sleeping. Popping the cork is like the alarm clock going off. It helps, but you’re still not fully awake yet. You still need that first cup of coffee or hot shower to really get going. That’s what swirling does for wine – the motion mixes air into the wine and wakes up all of the flavors and aromas the winemaker intended. Swirl early and swirl often!

photo by Kate Lesueur

 True or false: a wine’s taste is altered by the shape of the glass? 

100% true. And it’s not just the shape. It’s everything about the glass. What it’s made of (crystal, glass, or plastic), the shape, how it’s stored, whether it has a stem or is stemless – all contribute to how the aromas reach your nose to the amount of aeration when you swirl. Obviously, owning different stemware for every varietal is a little ridiculous for the average person, so I recommend wine drinkers buy glass or crystal glasses designed for optimal enjoyment of their favorite varietal.  I’m also pro-stem—your hand on the base of a stemless glass heats up the wine, and heat tends to accentuate the alcohol in a wine, rather than the fruit.

 True or false: red wine at room temperature, white wine chilled? Best recommended temperatures for each? 

For light whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé, I’d say 40 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For heavier whites like Chardonnay and lighter reds like Pinot Noir, I’d say 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit. For heavier reds like Cabernet and Zinfandel, I’d stick to the 60 – 65 F range. But it’s all personal, I have friends who drink their Chardonnays at room temperature and some who chill their Cabernets! It’s all about finding out what you enjoy best. 

photo by Kate Lesueur

Holiday Wine & Food Pairings

What type of wine goes best with pie? 

The wine definitely depends on the “flavor” of pie. If it’s chocolate, then a Port wine works well. For typical Thanksgiving pies like pumpkin or apple, I recommend a late harvest Chardonnay or Riesling. Think flavors of spice and caramel. 

Which wine would you recommend bringing to a house for Thanksgiving? Specifically for the in-laws?

Oh dear. The in-laws. Okay. Don’t panic. When choosing wines for other people – especially picky people – you have to ask: What do they like to drink? A Chardonnay fan? A Cab enthusiast? Know your audience. Next, what’s on the menu? Since it’s Thanksgiving, Turkey is probably a safe bet. In the culinary world, you might think to pair turkey with cranberry sauce, so for wine, think, “Where am I going to get a light to medium body wine with a lot of juicy red fruit?” For me, this is where La Crema’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir would really shine.

photo by Cindy Loughridge 

What type of wines should I have ready for my Thanksgiving table? Which do I pour first? 

Since Thanksgiving is such a fun free-for-all with everything piled onto your plate at once, don’t worry too much about when to pour what! It’s a communal, interactive holiday, so I recommend placing different types on the table and letting your guests help themselves to whatever they may be feeling. This way, you can enjoy the holiday with all of your friends and family too, instead of spending time serving and cleaning! 

photo by Andrea Posadas

Which types of foods are best to drink red wine with?

I love Chardonnay with the richer dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Riesling is great with turkey, cranberry and sweet potatoes. Pinot is perfect paired with turkey, roasted vegetables, and stuffing. 

Honesty, there are so many delicious foods and dishes served at a Thanksgiving feast that there is opportunity for lots of different wines to appeal to all of your guests desires. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and just enjoy the holiday!

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