Thanksgiving Wine Advice From Sakaya Kitchen's Richard Hales

Categories: Holidays

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Richard Hales, before and after.
Before the tattoos, before the Bánh mì and before the food trucks Sakaya Kitchen Chef and Owner Richard Hales was sommelier at Azul at Mandarin Oriental and the hotel's wine director for more than six years. After a two-year stint in New York as corporate wine director for the entire company, he returned to Miami to open Sakaya Kitchen.

We plucked Hales away from his slow-roasting pork butts and relapsed him into his alter fine-dining ego to help the wayward host or hostess select wines for Thanksgiving.

Some general guidelines, he said, are to assume two to three people per bottle of wine, ask everyone what they like to drink. Welcome your guests with some kind of sparkling white wine, and if all else fails, offer them the same.

"If I had 20 people coming to my house the first thing I would have is a bunch of Prosecco on ice," he said. "That'll work well if you have little things to nibble on."

Moving into the meal, think about what elements of each plate you want to highlight, and whether you want to embellish or balance their flavor. One fail safe ingredient off which you can pivot is the gravy.

"If [the food] is dry you go sweet, and you balance," Hales said. "The wine is there to accentuate. If you want to just drink a fabulous wine you drink amazing wine.

"If it's a lighter sauce with giblets and it's more delicate in a sense than go for white wine," he added. "Alsatian whites are things that good go with gravy as are German whites and Austrian whites."

Darker sauces, reductions and the like pair better with red wines.

When it comes to the sides, arguably the highlight of the meal, pick the one you're most proud of, or spent the most time on. Don't worry about pairing the turkey, as Hales noted, the neutral flavor goes well with almost anything.

"For sweet potatoes I go with an off dry white from the Loire or Rhone in France," he advised. "If I'm accentuating roasted vegetables I try to keep the wine dry, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, or if I wanted to go red I'd used a Rioja."

Grandma's cranberry sauce would go best with a Barolo.

A general progression is to drink bourbon move from a sparkling white wine to a lighter, more fruitful white, something like an Albariño from Spain. Then on to a more full-bodied red, Hales suggested a pinot noir from the U.S. west coast.

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