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Behind the Scenes:  A Post-Thanksgiving look at making the Pairing

As we push aside the leftovers, the Thanksgiving table in our rearview mirror, our sights set on the holiday season and the New Year, have you ever stopped and wondered what occurred behind the scenes that led to the Thanksgiving wine pairings that dominant mainstream wine media coverage?

If you think the local newspaper wine columnist has a test kitchen, recipes at hand, a wine cellar to practice pairings and a lot of time, think again.

Continuing a re-occurring theme of examining “the business of the business,” I went behind the scenes on a recent Thanksgiving press release to better understand how Thanksgiving wine pairings and recipe recommendations(link starts a download) were constructed.

The short answer is: More carefully and thoughtfully then you might anticipate.

The shorter answer is:  Public relations pros have a lot to do with it.

The shortest answer:  A professional chef is a good thing.

A few of weeks ago I received a press release from the PR agency representing Rancho Zabaco wines (an E&J Gallo-owned winery), with suggestions for pairing their wine along with a few provided Thanksgiving recipes from Chef Bruce Riezenman, the noted Chef/Owner of Park Avenue Catering in Sonoma County and winner of “Best Caterer” in 2002 and 2004 as noted by NorthBay Biz magazine.


Taking the PR prompt, I received the Rancho Zabaco wine samples and got in contact with Chef Riezenman, who acted as Rancho Zabaco ambassador.  He has worked with Gallo off and on in various capacities for over a decade– catering and pairing wine for industry dinners, conducting food and wine pairing seminars for their sales team and doing ambassador-like media work, as well.  This Thanksgiving PR campaign is an example of the media work.

One of the more interesting things to note is that, yes, we’ve been having Thanksgiving for nearly four hundred years and the flavor profile doesn’t materially change.  Therefore, the recipes sent out this year are the same recipes that were sent out in 2006 when Rancho Zabaco coverage was received by the Oakland Tribune, amongst others.

While it’s easy to cast a weary, jaded eye and suggest that these sorts of PR programs are put together in a slap-dash self-serving effort (you can’t update the recipes, guys?), intended to cater to lazy writers, my conversation with Riezenman proved contrary.  I found a thoughtful, contemplative guy who has “bona fides” and is serious about wine and food pairings and the people he associates with.

In addressing my query about Zinfandel being down the list (way down the list) as a match for the Thanksgiving table, he noted, “There is a natural connection between Zinfandel and Thanksgiving.  (Zinfandel) is considered our ‘indigenous’ grape … same with Thanksgiving.  It is considered an American holiday.”

He continued, “What a good Zin has going for it is this magical combination of ripe fruit, good acidity, firm tannins and alcohol that is balanced by the fruit.”


What Reizenman artfully didn’t mention is that most California Zinfandels are flabby fruit bombs, but he did note:

”(Rancho Zabaco) Zinfandels have good fruit, and also bold flavors all around.  Turkey white meat is general is pretty bland, and on its own Zin might not be the 1st choice, but once you start adding side dishes and sauces it all changes.  You are adding bigger and bolder flavors to your plate.  It’s all about creating something that is bigger than the sum of its parts when you are putting together a Thanksgiving dinner.”

Riezenman knows that which he speaks, emphatic in his counterintuitive approach.  His style of food and wine pairing is exactly the opposite of what most people traditionally do – match the wine to the food.  Instead, Reizenman matches the food to the wine.  It’s a 180 degree difference in perspective that allows him to philosophically get to a pairing that works while, perhaps, uncovering some nontraditional insights into what goes well with what.  “I usually begin with the wine and its unique characteristics.  Then I decide what food, flavors, textures, weight and nuances will complement the wine.  I emphasize flavors that work with wine and introduce people to a broader spectrum of possibilities,” he said.

Reizenman continues, “There are many times when the food will ‘improve’ the wine but my goal is to ‘enhance’ it or at the very least do it no harm and allow the original character of the wine to shine through.  The real goal is do this with full flavored and satisfying food.  I am not shy with my pairings.  I prefer to be more bold and daring and to challenge many preconceived notions of what will work.”


In proving his food and wine pairing prowess, Reizenman has released an iPhone application called Pair It! In developing the application, Reizenman said, “We tend to be very specific when recommending pairings for a particular dish.  The truth is, there are many wines that will work beautifully with any dish you can think of.  That is the basic philosophy behind (the application).  Each dish has on average 20 different varietals that (it) can work with.”

The app itself is clean and elegantly designed with a deep amount of information.  There are over 1000 recipes from Reizenman’s repertoire and 20,000 pairings, all written and tested.

Overall, It would be easy to mark this conversation as the work of a paid professional staying on message; that is, of course, if his message didn’t work.  It does, however.  The 2007 Rancho Zabaco Reserve Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) and the 2006 Rancho Zabaco Toreador Zinfandel (Monte Rosso Vineyard) all scored with my Thanksgiving dinner putting a Pinot Noir to shame as a complement to the rich food on the table.  A Zin would not have been within my first six choices for a wine pairing, but the Rancho Zabaco wines were indeed a genuinely good complement.  They are high in alcohol at 15.5% with a touch of residual sugar (0.4) and while that will put them in the “do not drink” category for many, I choose to look at wines for their individual merit instead of choosing categorical brushes with dogmatism.  These wines are good, and especially good with the sweet/savory sides of many holiday meals.

My takeaway in talking with Chef Reizenman is three-fold – don’t overlook a well-structured Zin as food complement on an order more sophisticated than BBQ, food and wine pairing is a well-considered art, and being a Chef is as much about being entrepreneurial and getting the word out as much as it is about the food.

Chef Reizenman (and by proxy Rancho Zabaco) score with this press release offering.  The wines are good, and a good match to Thanksgiving – and that’s a pairing I can support, PR or no PR.


Monte Rosso vineyard photo credit: Elliot Essman /


Posted in, Good Grape Wine Reviews. Permalink | Comments (2) |


On 06/22, paris en ligne wrote:

thanks to let us come in behind the scenes :d

On 08/25, Vargas30Maricela wrote:

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