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A PRESCRIPTION FOR WINE: Pro tips from an IU School of Medicine alumnus-turned winemaker


By Karen Spataro

It’s the holiday season, when we often find ourselves popping into a wine shop to grab some wine for a hostess gift or stocking up on bottles for a get-together with friends.

But how do you decide on the perfect varietal to give your boss, or what goes best with the menu you’re planning to serve? The IU School of Medicine Alumni Association consulted with Charles Thomas, MD, a 1958 graduate of IU School of Medicine and owner of Chateau Thomas Winery in Plainfield, Indiana. He gave us a prescription to help you feel like a wine pro.

Tips for Wine Pairing

“If you’re throwing a dinner party, either the menu should command the wine, or the wine should command the menu,” Dr. Thomas said. In general, pairings should follow the sauce, not the meat. With a light sauce or no sauce, select a white wine. Red wines tend to go with red food (think steak) or red and brown sauces.

Consider the complexity of the food and pick a varietal to match. For example, Carignans and Pinot Noirs are lighter-style red wines and go well with a light red sauce, au jus, and even some kinds of fish. Varietals like Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Barbera are medium-bodied and are ideal to serve with pasta and lighter red dishes. Cabernets, Syrahs and Malbecs are among the most complex red wines and should be paired with heavy sauces, grilled meats and Italian food.

Dr. Thomas’ favorite pairing: an “almost rare” filet mignon enjoyed with a reserve wine he makes called Black Gold that is two-thirds Cabernet Franc and one-third Merlot. “It’s very flavorful and very elegant.”

Tips for Gifting Wine

Choosing wine is all about personal preference. It’s usually best to stay away from overly complex varietals if you don’t know the recipient’s taste. Pick something that’s neither too dry nor too sweet. Consider a Merlot, which is produced from larger grapes and therefore has fewer tannins—the element that makes wine taste dry and adds bitterness and astringency.

But don’t worry too much. “The best thing about wine is that if you don’t like what someone gave you, you can give it to someone else, pour it for your boss, or use it to cook with,” Dr. Thomas said. “Wine should never go to waste.”

About Charles Thomas, MD

Dr. Thomas was already a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist when he first became interested in wine-making.

It was 1970, and he was a member of the Marion County Medical Association Bowling League in Indianapolis. He had been bowling one afternoon at an alley on Keystone Avenue and was waiting for his wife to pick him up. She was running late, so he wandered across the street to a Wine Art store and left with an at-home wine-making kit.

Within a few years, he was taking (and then teaching) wine-making classes, had started an amateur winemakers’ club, and even launched a competition at the Indiana State Fair. “It just kind of got away from me,” he recalled during a recent visit to his Chateau Thomas Winery. Soon, he found himself traveling to California while maintaining his busy OB/GYN practice to learn from the family of Robert Mondavi and other experts in the up-and-coming California wine industry.

He opened his own winery in 1984, shipping in grapes from California, Washington state and Oregon to produce the varietals and capture the tastes he had come to appreciate.

Dr. Thomas retired from medicine in 1995 but, at age 85, he continues to pursue his passion for wine-making. Today, Chateau Thomas Winery produces approximately 40,000 gallons of wine a year. Dr. Thomas describes his wine as a “French style, complex vinifera wine from California or Washington state grapes.” Put another way, he likes to call Chateau Thomas “Indiana’s California winery.”

For Dr. Thomas, wine-making is a true art that starts with selecting the right grapes and requires making decisions along every step of the way that affect the taste. “It is something that is a unique combination of history, science, creative art, culinary science and chemistry,” he said. “It’s a combination of all those things. There will never be anybody who knows everything about wine.”

Dr. Thomas has written 2 books; a cookbook, “The Chateau Thomas Table – Pairing to Perfection,” and “Practical Wine Talk- A Physician Winemaker Examines Wine.” Both are available at Barnes & Noble.

Medical Alumni Weekend

Join Dr. Thomas for a glass of wine in May during the 2018 Medical Alumni Weekend as he celebrates his 60 year class reunion. This year’s reunion weekend highlights the classes of 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988 and 1993.

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The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Ryan Bowman

Director of Alumni Relations