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The Thanksgiving Meal by Timothy Buzinski and Mei Ying So

Most Thanksgiving and other holiday meals share a common thread: they are generous-to-a-fault bountiful feasts with distinctive dishes that may or may not go together. It is the variety of the dishes that make our wine choices a bit tricky. You’ve got to consider some pretty diverse flavors: some rich and meaty, others sweet, and still others earthy. As we’ve written in the past, this is a challenging mix for any one wine. The best option is always to choose wines that offer great balance, keeping the fruit, crisp acidity and tannins all in check.

Here are a few menus you may encounter or may want to create this Thanksgiving, reflecting the influences of some of the regional and international cultures that shape the American landscape.

MENU: Butternut squash-apple soup with blue cheese cream; heritage breed turkey brined and roasted with rosemary-lavender giblet gravy; mushroom-chestnut stuffing; potato-brussels sprouts-bacon gratin; roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized leeks.
WINES: Clinton Vineyards Seyval Blanc “Victory White” 2008 ($17-$19); Whitecliff Vineyards Gamay Noir Hudson River Region 2008 ($17-18); Millbrook Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Franc Proprietor’s Special Reserve 2005 ($27-$30)

In keeping with the local theme, look for whites produced from seyval blanc. This grape variety is well suited to the cooler climate and ripens earlier than other varieties, particularly important in a blight- and rain-filled 2009. Clinton’s offering brings all the fresh, crisp flavors typical of the grape, with notes of citrus and pear.

On the red spectrum, one of our favorite grapes is gamay and we are fortunate that it has been successfully grown here in the Hudson Valley. You may associate gamay with the red wines of the Beaujolais region. Not to be exclusively aligned with Beaujolais Nouveau, which arrives around this time each year, this grape can produce some profound wines. Look for the cherry fruit flavors and vibrant aromatics that this grape can offer. Aging the wine in oak barrels gives Whitecliff’s gamay noir a heady whiff of vanilla and the backbone to handle this feast. Cabernet franc, on the other hand, appears to be on the short list of red grapes best suited to the New York climate. At home in France, this grape is widely planted in the cool Loire Valley, where the climate is similar to that of the Hudson Valley. Millbrook makes a few different versions, but the Proprietor’s Special Reserve has been a favorite over the years. Notes of tobacco mingle with green pepper spice while red fruits dance on the palate.

MENU: Country pâté with baguette, Dijon mustard and cornichons; roasted guinea hen with black truffle-herb-butter rub; céleri rémoulade; rosemary lavender butter potatoes; chestnut-parsnip purée; haricots verts with shallots and orange zest vinaigrette.
WINES: Château de Chamboureau Savennières AOC Cuvée d’Avant 2004 ($22-$24); Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon AOC Vieilles Vignes 2007 ($28-$30); Jean-Marc Millot Côtes de Nuits-Villages AOC “Aux Faulques” 2007 ($32-$34)

This heady menu offers its own set of challenges to the oenophile. Rich pâté and fragrant buttery potatoes tango with vinegary celery root salad and green beans. Here we’re recommending a Chenin Blanc, a rich yet mineral-driven wine. The richness will match the weight of a pâté while the minerals play well with the zesty elements of the carte du jour. On the red side, gamay is again the call, however, from an important area called Morgon. The Morgon AOC is so highly regarded it is often compared with the nearby wines of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. Thévenet’s version is a prime example of this quality: heady aromatics and savory red fruit with just the right amount of acidity make this an excellent choice for Thanksgiving or any autumnal meal. Equally compelling is the red Burgundy from Jean-Marc Millot. The spicy and lush bouquet of this wine makes it difficult to put down the glass. Fresh crushed cherries highlight the flavors while the earthy core drives the lengthy finish of this wine.

MENU: Antipasti platter; garlic and rosemary crusted pork loin with pancetta-cipollini onion gravy; stuffed cremini mushrooms; potato-gnocchi gratin; baked squash & cranberries with olive oil; sautéed spinach with pine nuts and raisins.
WINES: Marco Porello Roero Arneis DOCG Camestrì 2008 ($15-$17); Tenuta la Meridiana Barbera d’Asti DOC “Vitis” 2007 ($15-$17); Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG Classico 2006 ($22-$24)

This Italian-style feast features roast pork as opposed to turkey, but is no less comforting. These homey flavors offer richness in a variety of ways: pancetta, squash, pine nuts and raisins. Thus we turn to wines that have a bit more intensity to complement this menu. A crisp white might fall short when faced with caramelized squash, cranberries and sweet raisins, so try a wine with a bit more fruit. Porello’s arneis from the Piedmont region fits the bill, with clean, peachy, stonefruit flavors braced by a mineral core that keeps the wine from becoming flabby. Also from Piedmont, the Barbera d’Asti from La Meridiana has a gutsy old-world feel from older oak barrels rather than new French oak. This is honest, easy to drink wine that has enough character to carry the meal. Heading further south, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a wine with beautiful aromatics, subtle spices and black raspberry fruit.

MENU: Shrimp escabèche with mini corn tortillas; ensalada verde with queso fresco; Yucatán braised pork; turkey mole; chorizo & jalapeño corn bread stuffing; fried plantains; cilantro rice; ancho chile and roasted garlic black beans.
WINES: Adegas Benaza Godello Monterrei DO 2008 (Spain; $12-$14); Jelu Torrontés San Juan DO 2009 (Argentina; $12-$14); Kingston Family Vineyards Syrah Casablanca Valley DO “Lucero” 2007 (Chile; $18-$20)

Here is a Latin-themed menu that brings not only robust earthy flavors, but spice as well. The Benaza, made predominantly from the godello grape, offers soft, peachy fruit without the excessive boozy feel. It can easily handle an escabèche, while bringing life to braised pork. For a slightly richer take, the Jelu torrontés provides more stonefruit flavors with a more textured palate. This has the weight to handle black beans and an earthy mole. For a red option, a full-bodied syrah from Kingston Family may be just the ticket. This darkly colored red brings ample fruit and concentration for the pork, and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by spice.

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