Almost every useful piece of writing about wine is about Thanksgiving. This is the time of year when we wonder what we’ll be drinking the fourth Thursday in November, but the considerations that line up for such inquiry are really the Foundational Questions of Wine, always relevant.
What to drink with so many different food flavors at once? What to drink with people I know (for better and/or worse)? How will the wine develop after being open a while? Will this wine be good regardless of whether I’m paying attention to it or not? How will it respond to imperfect circumstances: temperature fluctuation, cobbled-together glassware, unheeding swigs, sweet potatoes with marshmallows? How much can I get away with drinking before collapsing on the sofa?
The answers have to do with simplicity, transparency, and a lack of ego. The wine ought to be interesting but not too interesting, distinct but not grandiose, low in alcohol and moderate in body, leaning toward the savory more than the fruity, high in a primary freshness rather than a shooting-for-the-stars sort of profundity. Plenty of people, equating the significance of a meal with highly ambitious wine, pull out red and white Burgundy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Condrieu, when what Thanksgiving is usually calling for are wines less caught up in their own magic.
I took this perspective after spending the past week in the company of wines from Luis Pato. Pato is an innovator in the Bairrada region of Portugal, a resuscitator of sorts for the indigenous varietals Baga (red) and Maria Gomes (white), and a valuable example of how to bridge “New World” and “Old World” styles without sacrificing character.
Banished to a desert island and forced to choose, my favorites for Thanksgiving are Chenin Blanc, especially from Vouvray, and especially sparkling; Pinot Noir and Gamay, especially from Burgundy and its cousin Beaujolais; rosato from southern Italy; Lambrusco. Pato’s wines play for me as spins on those benchmark grapes and regions.
I also like that Pato produces wine in a range of styles: white, red, and pink; still and sparkling. It’s fun to set out an array of wine styles from one producer for Thanksgiving, as a way of bringing some coherence to a meal that’s so diversified. If this macro-holiday, celebrated by almost everyone in a mixed-bag country, is in a sense everything — fun and stressful, eliciting the greatest tendernesses and longest-held resentments, secular but spiritual — then you might as well drink to match.
I haven’t had a lot of Baga, but people who have say it’s often tannic and joyless. Even Pato’s lower-priced Baga wines (the only ones currently available in Maine), though, ease up on the tannins (in part because of thorough destemming, which Pato was the first in the area to practice) and remind me of Pinot and Dolcetto: at ease with food, at ease with eaters, supple, practical.
The Luis Pato Colheita Seleccionada Tinto 2010 ($13, National) is 70 percent Baga and the rest Touriga Nacional, fermented in stainless and cement tanks. The latter grape is usually considered Portugal’s greatest grape, tannic and structured. The former is native to DOC Bairrada, or the broader VR (akin to Vin de Pays) Beiras, which is how Pato prefers to refer to his region. (He explained to Wine Anorak’s Jamie Goode that “The Portuguese government nominated a guy for the Bairrada head office who was not the right man. So to show a yellow card I moved from Bairrada to Beiras.” He elaborated that he appreciates how Beiras winemakers are less prone to blend French varietals.)
Floral and high-toned, with a raspy, woodsy grip that puts me in Julienas or Brouilly mode, it’s a terrifically nimble red wine. The red fruits emerge after a first hour of more earthy, inky, animal qualities. The 12.5 percent alcohol rating is a huge surprise. Slip it in the fridge for 30 minutes, then open it an hour before the meal, and watch it relax over time; the tannins soften before your very eyes. It would be splendid with cured meats, but the day-after turkey sandwich could be an even better match.
Pato’s white counterpart to the Tinto is the Maria Gomes Branco 2011 ($11). It’s in that “dry, and yetâ€¦” category: seedy and straw-y, dry-roasted like wood or fallen leaves in the sun, it makes me crave root vegetables and cornbread. (Or cornbread stuffing, hint-hint.) If you like dry, mineral-rich whites with fat middles and little interest in fruit, drink up, but it will only show its best after at least a half-hour open and outside the fridge.
The true stars of the show, though, might be the sparkling wines. The Luis Pato Bruto Maria Gomes ($15) contains 5 percent Sercialinho. Though listed as nonvintage, all the grapes are from the 2012 vintage, and I cannot think of a better, fresher sparkling wine near this price. Secondary fermentation is in bottle, transmitting the pure fruit via steadier frequencies.
In all honesty, it’s probably ideally a late-summer wine rather than a late-fall one, with much of the apricot and pear absent from the still Maria Gomes wine. But super clean, grapey, refreshing and young sparkling wines are essential when a heavy meal looms. A foamy, charming mousse, large-formatted, and a noticeable but perfectly integrated touch of brown sugar rounds out the package.
Then, there’s the Vinho Espumante Baga ($15), which traditionally accompanies suckling pig. (Who cares if it’s Thanksgiving? Go for it.) This is prosciutto in vinous form: salt, umami, oil, meat. Little jabs of cranberry and candied orange peek out at times. You get heft and you get delicacy; fun and danger; a spritz of acid here, a jolt of cayenne there. It moves around. Follow its lead on Nov. 28 and you’ll be grateful indeed.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at [email protected] Not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold at Rosemont, but distributor information listed in parentheses permits special orders through any Maine retailer.