Christmas Turkey Meets Pinot Noir

Christmas turkey and Pinot Noir the perfect pair - feature image

The multicultural melting pot that is Australia has led us to proudly have one of the most diverse cultural cuisines in the world – but despite partaking in a varied international diet for 364 days of the year, on Christmas Day the average Australian’s desire for dumplings, Spaghetti Bolognaise, and Chicken Tikka can’t compete with the need to recreate the perennial European favourite – a Christmas turkey.

In fact, about 4 million gobblers lost their wattles last Christmas (one for every six Aussies), and there seems to be no decline in our appetite for the oversized poultry breed.

The irony is that while most of us can knock up a stir-fry blindfolded, turkey is a trial by jury for the average Australian home chef.

It’s the only meal we cook once a year, and we incidentally cook it when we are distracted by badly-chosen gifts, screaming children, expert mother in laws and highly expectant brother in laws who haven’t eaten for a week in readiness.

It costs about the same as a small car (so the nerve endings are often tingling when one starts to prepare the turkey) and the local takeaway is closed, removing any get-out-of-jail opportunities for novices.

So, the chances of delivering the perfect juicy bird are running at 50/1 when you leave the supermarket with that large bulge in your basket… and it only gets worse.

Frankly we like the no-fuss US Thanksgiving approach to turkey roasting, which involves turning up Bruce Springsteen and lowering the bird into a large deep fryer containing about 25 litres of smoking hot peanut oil and standing well back. With this method, cooking only takes about 5 minutes a kilo (the primitive micro-wave) and according to those who have tried it, the result is a surprisingly crisp on the outside-moist on the inside…and a few third degree burns to the arms and legs if all you’re wearing are your new Christmas shorts and T-shirt.

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Back home in Australia, Maggie Beer takes a more cerebral approach, by stuffing the hefty fowl with a pistachio-cumquat-preserved-lemon-herb-breadcrumb-mix and glazing with Seville marmalade. Delish!

Going with the latter, you will have at least two hours of standing around time – shelling prawns, drinking beer (we suggest Coopers Pale) or bubbles (we suggest Jansz Tasmania Vintage Cuvée) and avoiding political arguments with long lost bogan uncles.

This is an excellent time to excuse yourself and visit your cellar (or any other cache you have hidden) to select the right wine.

Unless you want Grandma Irish dancing on the table by 3pm it’s best to steer away from Sparkling red or a thumping big Barossa Shiraz.

We know we’re a little biased, but Pinot Noir is in fact the perfect pairing for turkey.

As Decanter reviewer Harry Fawkes (one assumes a descendant of Guy) points out turkey is a delicate meat with a low fat content so “tannin is your Christmas banquet enemy.”

Basically, there is no fat to soften the edges of a tannic wine so Shiraz or Cabernet are likely to taste bitter and lean, whereas Pinot has a modest tannin level but a robust enough structure to complement the richness of the turkey. Its dark berry laden flavour profile also provides a dab of sweet fruit on the mid palate.

Unless you are foolish enough to splurge a $20,000 Romanee Conti DRC on your VB drinking brother, we’d suggest availing yourself of the extraordinary range of Australian Pinots – especially those from Tasmania.

Here the winemakers still have log fires burning in mid-December… so they know a thing or two about what to imbibe with a traditional European style Christmas lunch.

Dalrymple winemaker Pete Caldwell enjoys a decanted Dalrymple Single Site Coal River Valley Pinot Noir with local duck but he’s sure the dark, black cherry fruit flavours will marry equally well with turkey and cranberry sauce. For something a bit sturdier Pete also suggests the Dalrymple Single Site Ouse Pinot Noir for its plum and glazed cherry flavours, silky tannin structure, texture and length.

We also like the very affordable Pooley Butcher’s Hill Pinot Noir. Again, a drop from the Coal River Valley it is mid-bodied, with good length and a complex palate of complex red and black berry fruit, green leaves and brambles.

Or you can seek out a Stefano Lubiana Sasso which has all of the characteristic Pinot floral-strawberry-musk bouquet with a supple, intense dark berry palate… and a sexy Italian name.