Pairing Off: Turkey TV Dinners

Photo: Patrick Michels
Everything's better by the pound.
Everything's better by the pound.

There are, essentially, two rules to Thanksgiving—well, three if you include football: turkey and lots of it.

Of course, not everyone makes it to the big family gathering. Police and firefighters must remain on duty, truck drivers and…um…others, may find themselves stuck with a TV dinner and a bottle of, well, whatever goes with microwave turkey.

“I’ve had plenty, so that’s something I’m familiar with,” admits Matthew Scott, wine director at Abacus, speaking not only of fermented grape, but also packages of Swanson’s, Banquet and other frozen food brands. He suggests a white Rhone varietal or Pinot Noir—“it’s a transitional wine,” he explains, “a red that can go with white meat and occasionally fish.”

Geez, forgot about Mrs. Paul’s.

Everything's better by the pound.

Ah, but I picked up a box of Hungry Man turkey, machine carved with mashed potato substitute, brown goo, stuffing look alike and cranberry-apple dessert paste—a full one pound of food-style goodness, at least according to the box. How do you handle that?

“An inexpensive Pinot Noir,” counters Scott Loudder of Majestic Liquors on Oak Lawn. “My thinking is that pinot has enough acidity to cut through chemicals—although honestly I haven’t thought through frozen dinner pairings.”

Guess they don’t get much truck driver/Observer staff writer business at Majestic.

He suggested HobNob ($10.01, including tax), a French Pinot with black cherry accents and a clean, quick finish—and it’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate pairing. Although the wine recoils a bit when first wielded against Hungry Man’s white meat, a peppery kick soon emerges from deep within the wine, adding dimension to otherwise watery turkey and sodden “potatoes.” The cranberry-apple mass proves to be a more persistent foe, but the ripe fruit flavor inherent in this particular Pinot tugs on the apple and quells a little of the sugar. In other words, it works very well.

“Pinot is light,” says Sandy Milone of The Wine Therapist, also recommending French labels. “California pinots have more fruit—you definitely don’t want a full bodied wine.”

But it’s hard, Scott warns, to find decent Pinot Noirs for under $20 retail (blame Hollywood). So he suggests as possible substitutes either Tempranillo, Sangiovese, an unoaked Chardonnay (“one that doesn’t have a lot of butter or oak—you don’t want that margarine on a stick taste”) or, once again, something from the Rhone region.

“The salt has a lot to do with it,” he says of the choice. “Rhones do well with that gravy.”

Yes, but the HobNob took down Hungry Man, the once-unvanquished one pound monster capable of slaying everything from Bud Light to white zin. Now we’ll see how it does with football. –Dave Faries


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