The turkey, as a Thanksgiving-table icon, is in trouble. We are roasting much less of the whole bird than we used to. According to Turkey Farmers of Canada, which relies on statistics compiled by Ipsos-Reid, consumers purchased 44.8 million kilograms in the form of whole birds last year, down from 55.9 million kilograms in 1981.
That's a drop of almost 20 per cent. Considering our population expanded by 41 per cent during the same period, from 24.8 million to more than 35 million, it's been a big blow to that shellacked, food-magazine-cover October staple.
Families have been getting smaller, and an increasingly diverse and urbanized population naturally has felt less bound by a custom that calls for a four-hour roast-a-thon and produces two weeks of decaying leftovers.
It's not that we hate turkey per se. Add in turkey parts and processed birds and total turkey-meat consumption in Canada fell only marginally over the past 36 years (though it did fall per capita when you factor in the population bulge).
I ran into a gentleman recently at the Toronto Garlic Festival, where I buy garlic to plant for spring, who offered an example of the turkey tradition's evolution. Sugith Jagdeep owns The Pie Guyz in Brampton, Ont., which specializes in savoury meat pies that Jagdeep used to sell in his native South Africa. They have standard offerings, like steak and kidney and butter chicken (Brampton has a sizable Indian-immigrant population), and they do custom orders. Last year one customer, who was planning a feast for 25, ordered an 18-by-24-inch mega-pie filled with you know what.
"Let's not go the roast-turkey route, everyone does that," he recalled the customer saying. "Let's do a turkey pot pie."
However you take your turkey, or even if your centrepiece involves butter chicken or Peking duck, wine-wise I'd suggest the following general tips.
- Don’t fret, sommelier-like, over surgically precise matches, procuring gruner veltliner simply because there’s a teaspoon of horseradish or Dijon mustard in the stuffing. Keep the wine style flexible enough to span a range of flavours, including the appetizers in our food column today.
- When it comes to flexible, few wines qualify better than red or white Burgundy (or pinot noir or chardonnay, their varietally labelled counterparts from elsewhere in the world). Other good options: dry or off-dry riesling, gruner veltliner, gamay (as in red Beaujolais), cabernet franc, sangiovese (as in Chianti and Vino Nobile) and Côtes du Rhône.
- Resist cabernet sauvignon. Everybody may love this big-boned, sturdy red. But, really, are you grilling $35 rib-eyes for a Thanksgiving crowd?
- Make it special. Bargain pinot grigios and malbecs are fine as Tuesday night house wines, but they’re the oenological equivalent of wearing blue jeans and a CAT Diesel Power ball cap. Thanksgiving calls for something a little finer. Pick a wine with a story you can tell, even if that story amounts to “It’s French! And that guy in the paper said it tastes good.”
- But not too special. Don’t spend much more per bottle than the price of a humanely raised whole turkey. Leave the trophy wines in the cellar; all subtlety will be lost at a large gathering.
That said, I'm starting with a stately Chablis from Burgundy, which is pricier than your average Butterball – because I adore Chablis, and I think it goes with almost everything.
Jean-Marc Brocard Vau de Vey Chablis 2014, France
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $43.95
From a premier-cru vineyard. This is medium-bodied, energetic chardonnay, not one of those lazy-turkey chardonnays slathered with oak. Attractive, leesy-autolytic depth. Pineapple, bruise apple and saline tang. Available in Ontario at the above price, $32.50 in Quebec.
Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc 2015, Ontario
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $29.45
Substantial for a sauvignon blanc thanks to time in French oak. Lusciously textured. Imagine flambéed mango in butter with vanilla, spice and a whiff of smoke. Beautifully crafted by an exacting Niagara winery. Available in Ontario.
Te Pa Pinot Gris 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Remarkably Alsatian in style, with fleshy texture and an almost off-dry, syrupy quality. Impressive balance and seductive, musky-gingery spice for lift and structure. Big value. Perfect for roast turkey or roast pork, among other things. Available in Ontario.
Kaiken Las Rocas Ultra Malbec 2015, Argentina
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
A heavyweight, yet not lethargic or overly sweet. Smooth, with dense dark fruit, leather, dark chocolate and smoked-meat overtones, with oak spice for lift and integrated tannins for good structure. Available in Ontario.
Trerose Santa Caterina Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2013, Italy
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $24.95
Succulent yet firm, with pleasantly grippy tannins. Substantial Tuscan sangiovese. Judiciously oaked. Dried cherry, plum, vanilla, leather and, in the far background, a note of chocolate. Available in Ontario.
Nk'Mip Dreamcatcher 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.49
A smartly made aromatic blend of riesling, sauvignon blanc, ehrenfelser, pinot blanc and chardonnay from an aboriginal owned winery in the south Okanagan. Medium-bodied and dry, yet with a ripe, suggestively sweet, fleshy core suggesting flavours of peach, green apple and lime. Excellent balance and tension. Available in British Columbia at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $17.99 in Manitoba, $22.99 in New Brunswick.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve 2Bench White 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $22.99
A blend of sauvignon blanc, sémillon, viognier, chardonnay and muscat. Medium-full, polished to a sheen. Soft, ripe peachy fruit and dollop of vanilla, lifted as much by a toasty-smoky nuance as by the well-integrated acidity. Available in B.C. and Alberta liquor stores and direct, www.tinhorn.com.
Gorgo San Michelin Custoza 2015, Italy
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
An unusual white blend of garganega, cortese and riesling from Italy's Veneto region, where garganega is best known for making Soave. On the lighter side of medium-bodied, it's unoaked and silky, with a fruity core suggesting apple, green melon and peach and a savoury herbal-floral side. Lovely. Available in Ontario.
André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2014, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $22.95
Light-medium bodied. True-blue entry-level red Burgundy at a decent price. Crushed berries and plenty of beetroot earthiness as well as the slightest note, in my opinion, of volatile acidity (detected in two separate bottles), but just enough to give the fruit a pop without searing your nose. A fun and funky Burg. Available in Ontario.
Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2015, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.95
A solid, affordable red from a big name in the Rhône Valley. Classic regional characters in a balanced, mid-weight frame. Soft cherry-strawberry centre along with hints of leather, Provencal herbs and spice. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $15.45 in Quebec, $17.29 in Prince Edward Island, $19.20 in Newfoundland.
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