November 13, 2013

On wine: What pairs well with those all-over-the-map Thanksgiving flavors?

Suggestions for the Thanksgiving table

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.

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