Creative Thanksgiving Pairings for #winePW 6: Can we skip to dessert?

We have been having a lot of fun with these monthly Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW) events. Every month I look forward to the topic and working on the combination of food and wine.

Thanksgiving decorationsThis month’s topic, Creative Thanksgiving Pairings, was a bit of a challenge. I resisted doing anything with turkey, because Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m saving my turkey overload for then. We usually spend Thanksgiving Day with family and friends and eat loads of turkey.

But I also like to have a small turkey for just us. So, I order the smallest turkey I can and we cook it outside on the grill. It’s our favorite way to cook turkey. I make our favorite dressing, or sometimes two of our favorite dressings, and the side dishes. We eat turkey for a few days, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love nothing more than having a turkey sandwich for breakfast.

After about 4 days, we freeze the leftovers and the turkey carcass (carcass is such an indelicate word, I apologize). Then, in a week or two we make soup. The soup is always rich and smoky tasting because we cooked the turkey on the grill. This has become our ritual and I really don’t want to mess with it. OK?

So, wanting not to be left out of the fun, we are taking a bit of a different tack. We are focusing on just a portion of the Thanksgiving celebration, rather on the entire meal. We have chosen a dessert and wine pairing.

As is often the case, we started with the wine and then decided on the food pairing. We recently prepared dinner for a group of friends and this dessert and wine pairing comes from that dinner.

The Wine

We have been holding a bottle of Madeira we brought home with us from our trip to the island in 2002. We enjoyed the other bottle several years ago, and finally decided it’s time to open this bottle. After attending a Madeira Master Class recently we learned Madeira doesn’t change much once it’s bottled; so there is no reason to hold it waiting for it to evolve. Sentiment, then, was the only thing holding us back from opening the bottle. We decided to get over it!

Blandys 1964 Bual Madeira1964 Blandy’s Bual Madeirabrownish amber in the glass with obvious nutty aromas. Flavors are rich with an initial pop of cedar spice followed by nutty and dried fig flavors, a bit of sweetness and ample acidity. The finish is long and clean thanks to the great acidity. ABV 20.5%.

Bual (which is also spelled Boal) is the white grape variety used to produce this Madeira also describes the style of the wine. Bual is always made in a medium-sweet style.


Madeira certificate


This Bual from the 1964 vintage was bottled in 1986. It spent 22 years aging in American oak casks. So, although Madeira does not change substantially after it is bottled, it does gain complexity during the time it spends aging in wood. For this reason it is important to know how many years a vintage Madeira spends in cask prior to bottling. In our case, we were presented with a certificate indicating the aging time. The second date on the certificate, 2001, indicates the bottle was re-corked in that year.


The Dessert

A small glass of Madeira is usually dessert in itself for us. But, because we were serving the Madeira after dinner for a group of friends we wanted to serve a dessert along with it. We wanted something simple that would be delicious, but that would allow the flavors of the Madeira to shine through.

We did some research online and I consulted one of my favorite references, The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, for guidance. Suggested dessert flavors included:

  • butter, cream & custard
  • caramel, honey & butterscotch
  • spice
  • toasted nuts
  • chocolate.

Two additional guidelines:

  • the wine should be sweeter than the dessert
  • match the weight of the wine to the richness of the dessert

Panna cotta with dried apricot compoteWe narrowed the choices to panna cotta and pumpkin pots de crème. In the end the panna cotta won out. It is a simple dessert to prepare and the flavors, only cream and vanilla with a touch of sweetness, are too delicious for words. We added a compote of dried apricots for garnish. Simple but amazing.


The Pairing

Blandy's Bual and panna cottaThe panna cotta was rich, creamy and mouth filling, but only slightly sweet. The Madeira by contrast was much sweeter, with nutty flavors and nice acidity which cut the fatty richness of the panna cotta. Just as we hoped, the panna cotta provided rich but subtle flavors to contrast with the complex, sweet flavors of the Madeira. A pretty amazing combination.

Just a note regarding the labels on this wine bottle. It has a paper label on one side and a painted label on the other — in case you were wondering. Pretty cool.

Madeira may be an acquired taste for some, as the oxidative flavors are quite distinctive and because they are a fortified wine with high alcohol levels. But once you become familiar with Madeira you will love them, maybe not for every day but, certainly for special occasions. Perfect for the Holidays.

Slowly sipping a glass of Madeira after a meal is so conducive to conversation. We lingered over the panna cotta and Madeira, talking flavors, winemaking and travel. I couldn’t help but reflect that we have much to be thankful for and that wine really does make our life more fun!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Thanks to Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere for the challenging topic this month and for hosting the event.

Here is what our fellow bloggers have come up with for Creative Thanksgiving-Inspired Dishes and Wine Pairings. Check it out!

Creative Thanksgiving-Inspired Dishes and Wine Pairings

Turkey, Tempranillo and Sweet Potatoes by Cooking Chat
Thanksgiving from the Veneto: Turkey, Pomegranate Sauce & Valpolicella by foodwineclick
Norwegian Meatballs by Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Shepherds Pie Casserole with Barnard Griffin Syrah Port by Wild 4 Washington Wine
Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding and Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Purple Sweet Potato Soup with Roasted Lobster + Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Arugula Pear Salad paired with Torrontes from Argentina by A Day in the Life on the Farm
Layered Sweet Potato and Apple Bake with Cranberry Blush by Curious Cuisiniere

Walnut Tart with Sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui by Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog
Can we skip to dessert? by Pull That Cork

Don’t Forget Leftovers!
Day After Turkey and Seafood Gumbo by It’s Ok To Eat The Cupcake
Turkey Pot Pie and Boedecker Cellars Chardonnay by Tasting Pour

You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later!

Don’t forget to our Twitter chat today, November 8th at 11 a.m. Eastern Time! We’ll be talking about our tips and tricks for the best Thanksgiving wine pairings. We’d love to have you join us!

And, be sure to mark your calendars for December’s Wine Pairing Weekend, hosted by Jeff of foodwineclick. Just in time for Holiday parties, we’ll be sharing sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvre pairings. Join in the #WinePW 7 conversation on Saturday Dec. 13!




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  4. I adore Madeira. Your post reminds me it’s been far too long since I’ve had any. It’s such a great wine. One of the things I love most about it is that once it’s opened it stay fresh for so long. Love the idea of have it as the dessert too!

    • Yes, Madeira is delicious. There is much to learn about Madeira, but the research is so much fun!

      Really good point about lasting once opened. Cheers!

  5. Great choice having the Madeira with a less sweet panna cotta.

  6. Interesting pairing. I’m not educated enough in madeira, but with the pannacotta you have prepared sounds lovely.

    • Thanks Jennifer. The first time I made panna cotta was for a friend who had returned from a trip to Italy and described it to me. So happy he told me about this delicious dessert!


  7. I love the reversal of having a dessert that is less sweet than the wine ~ a great change of pace! It looks wonderful, and the apricot compote is beautiful and very “holiday” looking.

  8. I am drooling over this pairing. I like Madeira in small doses, but I can just imagine how the smoothness of a panna cotta would take it to a whole new level. Thanks for the inspiration!

    (And, you just made me really sad for tossing the carcass of the smoked turkey we did over the summer. I’m cursing my laziness, because now I want that smoky stock!)

    • Thanks Sarah for the inspiration! It was a fun #winePW.

      I too have gotten an attack of laziness and not made stock from a carcass. Oh well, there’s always next time!


  9. I’m expecting that desert next time I see you!

  10. Wine and food really do make our lives a little more interesting –

    How fantastic to have this wine and experience to share with each other. The Panna Cotta sounds amazing also.

    I’m curious what your thoughts on Coravin are? We bought one for the purpose of trying some of the bottles we are “afraid” to open.

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