Thanksgiving is a time to turn off the craziness of life and reconnect with family, to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments from the past year over a delicious meal, so I was surprised when my mom was reluctant to agree to my giblet and wine pairing experiment taking place in her kitchen.
I’ve never eaten giblets before, other than in gravy form, which completely masks the reality of what is being eaten, in addition to allowing us to not stress over whether “giblets” is pronounced with a hard or soft “g”. The turkey’s heart, liver, kidneys, and the incomparable gizzard make up the giblets, a bevy of organ meats typically scarce from the Thanksgiving buffet.
Americans like myself are no longer being raised on organ meats—perhaps for the same reason that we can eagerly circle up around the carcass of a big dead bird, but not if that same bird’s face is still attached. I absolutely fall under the category of being wary of organ meats, partly because they remind me of my own mortality, and that’s some heavy stuff for one meal.
However, next year I’ll be marrying into an Italian family who enthusiastically include giblets on the menu, so if I’m to impress my future in-laws I figured I could at least know what kind of wine to bring to the table.
My mom wasn’t the only family member hesitant to allow my food experiments to go on while everyone else enjoyed their more traditional recipes. My vegetarian sister and her vegan husband quietly side-eyed me while I prepped the gibbies, which is what I called the giblets to make them seem less terrible. I pretended not to notice, because what is family for if not secretly antagonizing your closest relative’s pain points?
While everyone subtly unbuttoned their pants and began the process of socializing with one another, my fiancé Michael, his perfect palate, and I invaded the kitchen with our gibbies and bottles of wine, ready to find out just what it takes to make turkey organs not so scary.
Our recipe was a simple Italian one: we sautéed the giblets in olive oil with lots and lots of garlic, and communicated with one another using fervent gesticulations. I gagged a little bit when one of the gibbies, presumably the heart gibbie, bled all over the pan, but my commitment to informing the good readers of Paste Magazine kept me strong.
Before delving into the wine, we did a taste test of each member of the giblet family. Each of them tasted like concentrated turkey, entirely pleasant albeit strong, with a metallic aftertaste. The only one that really freaked me out was the gizzard, since it’s essentially a bird’s version of teeth, and does nothing to alleviate the discomfort of the word “giblet.” I hoped that by eating the turkey’s heart I would gain its power, but so far no changes.
The wine was selected based on what my family brought to dinner, because the average person doing a Thanksgiving pairing will be doing the same, and I’m cheap. A little research showed that most wine pairings are done with giblet gravy rather than straight up gibbies, but I did find one reference to sparkling wine being a good match. Typically I’d pair a white wine with poultry, but given the richness of the giblets, it was really any wine’s game.
“Let’s gib!” my fiancé declared, and so we did.
Ken Hawkins CC BY (left) / Salim Virji CC BY SA (right)
This blend is a solid medium-bodied red, with only a little bit of tartness. It’s definitely more fruit-forward, but overall a pretty great glass of wine. Michael said, “The blend is very good, I like that wine. It’s nice and balanced.”
But it was a different story when paired. “Oh no. Oh God no. That’s awful, that’s so bad. I don’t think it’s the wine, it’s the giblets. When they go together everything tastes rancid.” The story changed again once we tried another gibbie, the liver. “I like the finish. It’s a really nice umami flavor, like risotto.”
Because of this, it ended up being Michael’s favorite pairing, believe it or not.
Peju’s Cabernet Franc is a much heavier wine than the blend, with a strong tannic flavor. We had a similar reaction as the initial pairing of the first wine. Michael described it as, “awful. It tastes like bad leather. Nope. Nope, absolutely not.”
My mom stopped by to say, “You guys are gross,” and then promptly carried on being a normal human being. However, we weren’t all that gross. Once we tried the wine with the liver, it had a mild, earthy flavor, like mushrooms. It was actually pretty delicious, unlike the heart.
This one is a tart, fruity wine that got me to admit I prefer the flavor of white wines over red. By this point we knew to skip the heart and stick with the liver.
“Ooh that’s good!” Michael exclaimed. “That’s surprisingly good. The tartness and the fruit come together to create a complete flavor. It brings out the savory turkey flavor.” I contributed that they are, “so smooth together,” after which my mom checked in to ask, “anybody going to vomit yet?” Her lack of faith in giblets was becoming disturbing.
The strong pear flavor made it taste more like juice than wine, which was fine by me. This pairing had a surprising reaction all around. “Actually yes,” Michael declared. “It makes it taste heartier (hahahaha).” On its own the giblet tastes like turkey, but oddly enough like chicken soup when paired with the champagne.
Giblets on their own aren’t that bad, certainly not offensive – they’re just meat. But when pairing with wine, you need to be fairly particular about which flavor palettes you’re combining with which particular giblet pieces. For a safe bet, stick with buttery whites and you’ll be as golden as a Christmas ham.
Main photo by Alpha CC BY-SA