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The mercurial nature of our midwestern weather patterns aside, it is still fall. It is the season of the oven: the almighty, gravitational center of the kitchen, if not the home. Gourds of every color and variety are piled up like small mountain ranges at the grocery store.

It’s the season of butter and brown sugar, when soul-enriching, belt-stretching foodstuffs are in abundance, and we take time to reflect on our family and traditions. Mind you, a good portion of this will take place over Zoom, en-masked and six feet apart for good measure, but the capital-P Point is I’ve been thinking about tradition.

“What a loaded term!” You might say, and that’s fair. Traditions are vast, differing from place to place, person to person, culture to culture. In our family food is central, and passed down the line. It used to be that my grandmother did all of the cooking. None of us were allowed in the kitchen—it was her domain. God help you should you transgress by snacking before dinner.

Nowadays, I do all of the cooking. Working with a sort of hybrid midwestern/southern style of cuisine. I don’t do turkey—I roast a chicken. I kept the mashed potatoes, but dropped the casserole and ham wraps. Tossed in creamed spinach and collard greens, as well as a healthy dose of corn bread. That means two baking tins, as a start.

I also bring the wine. My grandmother stockpiled white zinfandel Barefoot and Franzia magnums. My mother is taken with juicy, playful Argentinian wines. I try not to be too picky, but am myself a lover of snappy, energetic whites—new or old world—and the occasional oddball, esoteric red. Bonus points if they are sustainable, organic or *makes me sweat* biodynamic.

All that is to say, every year I’ve got my work cut out for me: matching up everyone’s tastes while trying to pair the food. This year, I have a few ideas:

2019 Minges Scheurebe Feinherb | 100% Scheurebe | Pfalz, Germany

What a dynamic bouquet! Dried peach and Thai basil! A hint of residual sugar sits behind a galvanizing acidity composed of underripe stone fruits, young rosemary, honeycomb, and more delicious peaches.

2016 Domaine Georges Descombes Régnié | 100% Gamay | Morgon, France

This bottle of Beaujolais has a mineral bent (earthy but not dirty). It’s subtle but acidic enough to pair, and presents a graceful structure with few tannins. Think underripe concord grapes beneath strawberry fruit leather.

2017 Wallner Eisenberg Blaufränkisch DAC | 100% Blaufränkisch | Sudburgenland, Austria

This little sipper exhibits traces of pepper, plum and blackberry, and maybe a hint of date. Enjoy the light body, smooth, mild tannins and pop of acidity.

2018 Langhe Style Nebbiolo | 100% Nebbiolo | Piedmont, Italy

This bottle has a brambly, herbaceous nose, with a playful hint of peppered red meat. Dried hard herbs, sour cherry, and raspberry are tightly compacted in a lean body full of flavor.

2018 Never Neverland Red Blend | Red Blend | Santa Barbara County, California

This wine features 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petite Syrah, 10% Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache. Subtle violets and fresh leather, hints of clove, and anise show on the nose. It has a supple, luxurious body. All against a backdrop of cranberry, underripe blueberry, cola, and maybe even a dash of orange rind.

The Scheurebe is pairing with everything. The Blaufränkisch and Gamay are for Turkey legs and stuffing. The Nebbiolo is simply there to drink, and the Neverland blend is for cranberry sauce and candied yams.


Yours, H.J. Riles

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