By now, it’s quite clear that the American Thanksgiving holiday of 2020 – which falls next Thursday – will be quite unlike Thanksgiving in most years. Because of the ongoing public health situation around the world, travel and large family gatherings are out of the question over much of the country, which means dialing down the gluttonous feasting for which the day is famous. For many of us, even the traditional centerpiece bird of the day – the domesticated Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) – will be downsized or even swapped out of the menu altogether. Without large crowds to feed this year, many households are shopping for the littlest turkeys they can find – a rare commodity, as it turns out, given the unprecedented demand for small gobblers this year – and failing that, opting for another fowl entirely. For those who want to avoid an unmanageable quantity of leftovers after a quaint Thanksgiving meal for two, less traditional fowl like goose, duck, pheasant, capon, chicken, and squab offer worthy alternatives to that colossal butterball resting on the platter.

At the very end of this poultry and gamebird scale is the quail, a bird so small it generally takes two or maybe three to feed just one person. Given the usual expectations for this holiday menu, serving quail at Thanksgiving might be taking downsizing to a silly extreme. And while many birders might tuck into a supermarket turkey on Thanksgiving Day without a second thought, more exotic gamebirds – even those raised domestically – might remind some of us a bit too much of beloved birds we see in the wild. Fortunately, this week’s featured wine lets us bring a quail to the Thanksgiving table, no matter what you’re serving – even if you’re planning on hosting a “superspreader” dinner with a 24-pound tom as the main course (and we certainly hope you are not).

Californian Partridge by John James Audubon (1785-1851), from The Birds of America.

Flora & Fauna Red Wine, a blend from Idlewild Wines of Healdsburg, California, features a the always winsome California Quail (Callipepla californica) on the label – a bird we’ve encountered not once, but twice before at Birds and Booze. While this quail belongs to California in both name and range, the wine it adorns is the product of a Sonoma County winery committed to the varietals and techniques of Italy’s Piedmont, in the Alpine foothills of that country. For the 2018 edition of Flora & Fauna, winemaker and founder Sam Bilbro relied on a blend of some of the best-known Piedmontese varietals: Barbera, Dolcetto, and Nebbiolo, at 48 percent, 39 percent, and 13 percent, respectively.

Flora & Fauna presents a pleasantly balanced nose, both fruity and savory, with notes of black cherry, strawberry jam, licorice, and an earthy, almost tarry streak marrying cedar with graphite. The palate is lean and lively, with a generous dose of fruit and dried herbs, accompanied by a bright acidity and rousing tannins. Think of this well-made table wine as a more rustic version of that perennial Thanksgiving favorite – pinot noir – equally as food-friendly but more of a left-field selection. And as long as there’s a chance the turkey could be absent from your Thanksgiving table this year, why not buck tradition with your choice of wine, too?

Good birding and happy drinking!

Idlewild Wines: Flora & Fauna Red Wine (2018)

Four out of five feathers (Excellent)

Written by Tristan Lowery
Tristan Lowery’s busy homebrewing schedule took a hit in 2010 when he discovered birding and found that scanning the waterfowl at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on a frigid midwinter morning could be just as much fun as standing over a steaming mash tun in a sweltering Queens apartment in August. While his growing commitment to birding has undeniably diminished his brewing output of ales - fine and otherwise - Tristan finds that birding still affords him plenty of excuses to at least keep drinking beer, especially when celebrating life birds, lamenting unsuccessful chases, and capping off an exhausting Big Day or Christmas Bird Count. After leaving behind a hectic cooking career in New York City’s fine-dining scene, Tristan moved inland to the New York's Capital District, where the relative abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers almost makes up for the fact that he’s only seen a single Sanderling in Albany County ever. When he isn’t birding his local patches in urban Albany, Tristan works in energy regulation for the State of New York.