EVERYTHING BUT THE BIRD A modern vegan, gluten-free, locally sourced menu from Little Saint is very much like what the First Thanksgiving table may have looked like, save the absence of fowl. (Photo by Tarra Herrick)

It goes without saying that the first Thanksgiving was nothing like the holiday dinner we celebrate today. Right? Truthfully, it wasn’t all that different.

When the Pilgrims and their neighbors gathered at Plimoth Bay for a three-day feast, probably in early October 1621, it was to take advantage of the fall migration of waterfowl, the seasonal harvest of squash and the crop of corn. Turkeys were in abundance too, the cyclic rise and fall of their flocks at a peak—and when 100 Pokanokets showed up with five freshly killed deer, well, the table was set. So to speak.

Surprisingly, aside from the animal protein—the duck, wild turkey and venison—the menu looked a lot like the locally-sourced, dairy-free, vegan repast offered at Little Saint this past week. There were certainly no GMO products on the plate, and in the absence of wheat nothing was made with gluten. Unfortunately that kept pies off the menu, but one can’t have everything on the first Thanksgiving.

One other absence that really hurts, though, was the lack of wine. That alone makes the last 402 years of civilization worth the struggle. Unable to cast her palate back in time, Alexandria Sarovich, the executive wine director at Little Saint, applied her sommelier skills to the Little Saint Thanksgiving à la Carte menu and shared her choices of wines to pair for the coming holiday.

Modern Tastes

And who better for the task? Though only 30, Alex Sarovich has already made her mark on the world of wine, earning a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier Certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers during her three years at SingleThread. Then she took over the beverage program at Little Saint, growing its wine list from 250 to over a thousand bottles. She also developed the service and beverage offerings at the Second Story, the elevated restaurant upstairs at 25 North St.

WINE CLOSET Alexandria Sarovich is the 2023 winner of VinePair’s Sommelier of the Year award, and wine director at Little Saint. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Her latest recognition came last month when she was named VinePair’s Sommelier of the Year, high marks from an influential digital media company focused on drinks culture and trends. (vinepair.com)

Sarovich knows just where to turn to please the diner’s palate, but be forewarned, there’s more than one bottle of wine open at one time on this table. Most though not all are available at Little Saint’s wine shop, and priced accordingly.

Sommeliers give consumers advice on what wines to pair with what dishes, taking into account not only the reaction of the two with each other, but the consumer’s tastes and preferences as well. So it seems appropriate to ask Sarovich what wines would best match the gluten-free, locally-sourced, vegan holiday menu enjoyed by both Pilgrims and many modern diners.

Extra Brut Champagne, Lelarge-Pugeot, ‘Tradition’ ($55 750ml, or $110 for a Magnum)

A welcome recommendation is Sarovich’s first: a glass of the bubbly. “Lelarge-Pugeot Champagnes are some of my all-time favorites because they use a low dosage—making the wine nice and dry—while having great vibrancy because of where they are based in a colder part of Montage de Reims,” says Sarovich.

“Farming is always important, and I love the fact that Lelarge is certified organic through EcoCertPlus—the wine is delicious and pairs with a wide range of foods.”

The Main Course

However important the aperitif is to the Thanksgiving feast, the feast is the main event—a table laden with sides and a centerpiece, colorful and rich with plant-based nutrients.

Little Saint’s á la carte menu was built by Culinary Director Stu Stalker and Chef de Cuisine Bryan Oliver. They came up with the main dish of Celery Root Pithivier. That’s a round, enclosed pie of puff pastry with a celery-root stuffing flavored with roasted mushroom and preserved truffle. The pastry is a vegan version thereof, of course.

RECOMMENDATIONS Thanksgiving wines on display at Little Saint include the Parea pinot noir from Klopp Ranch, on Alex Sarovich’s list of Thanksgiving pairings. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Among others, featured side dishes include Brussels sprouts with apple cider glaze and chestnuts, baked sweet potatoes with harissa and pecans, roasted winter squash with sage and sunflower seed—all recognizable descendents of the Pilgrim’s banquet.

Barbera, Birdhorse, ‘Shake Ridge,’ Amador ($44)

Winemakers Corinne Rich and Katie Rouse focus on dry-farmed organic vineyards, a method that brings out intense flavors. Says Sarovich: “This Barbera is one of my favorite food wines because it is so balanced and appeals to a wide range of taste preferences. I like to dig into stuffing while sipping this wine—especially if there is melted leeks and dried cranberries in it.”

Chardonnay, Hafner, Alexander Valley 2019 ($32)

“Choosing a white wine may not be everyone’s choice to accompany the centerpiece; yet the pairing really works!” says Sarovich. “Plus, if your family is anything like mine, there are always a few die-hard chardonnay lovers in the group and this bottle will be sure to please.”

Third-generation winemaker Paula Hafner, of Healdsburg, describes it as “bright and crisp with aromas of grapefruit, pear and vanilla. On the palate, it is fresh and lively with a slight creaminess and a long, lingering finish.” Sounds yummy.

Pinot Noir, Parea, ‘Klopp Ranch,’ Sonoma Coast 2021 ($70)

People who believe the marketing recommendations that Beaujolai Nouveau is the wine of choice for Thanksgiving should think twice, says Sarovich. “If you are looking for something that still has great red fruit [think cranberry sauce] with a little more depth, look no further than this Sonoma Coast pinot noir … it’s built for the dinner table.”

After Dinner

Keller, ‘Morstein,’ Auslese Riesling, Westhofen, Rheinhessen 2006 375ml ($125)

Sarovich readily admits that for her, the gateway wine was riesling. Perhaps with the enthusiasm of a convert, her Thanksgiving recommendation is a German select-harvest riesling one is unlikely to find anywhere else in Healdsburg but at the Little Saint wine shop.

“Something sweet to end the evening and make the occasion feel extra special,” recommends Sarovich, since sweet wine at home is not a common occurrence. “Plus this wine, with its honeyed dried stone fruit characteristics, is sure to lend to all the baked pies and tarts.”

If there’s another suggestion from Sarovich that’s likely to please the house, it’s this: “It’s always a good idea to buy more bubbles than you think you need,” if for no better reason than “the festive feeling when you hear a bottle of sparkling being popped.”

Little Saint is located at 25 North St., Healdsburg. The wine shop is open from 8am until 6pm most days, till 10pm on weekends. First Thanksgiving information is from ‘Mayflower,’ by Nathaniel Philbrick.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2012, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.

1 COMMENT

  1. If the wineries wish to buy advertising in the Healdsburg Spittoon, that’s fine. But I see no reason or need for the Spittoon to do free advertising by writing articles in support of the wineries. Perhaps the paper should change its name to the “Healdsburg Wino”.

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