A Family Affair
Nov 21, 2014 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Fields of grapevines at Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, France, makers of a highly recommended Pinot Gris that’s perfect for our stateside Thanksgiving feasts.
The ethos of the Thanksgiving holiday is well-known in this part of the world, and although the annual tradition is based on a poorly documented harvest celebration in the Plymouth settlement in 1621, the day has grown to mean so much more. At its best, it spans cultures; it provides an excuse for a day of unquestioned solidarity if not nationwide, at least in the homes of the families and friends that have gathered. For me, growing up, Thanksgiving meant piling into the car and driving for what seemed like endless hours to the tiny town of Newburg in upstate New York, hanging a right turn onto Pat Drive and keeping an eye out for the monstrous RV that symbolized we had arrived at Gram’s house. My mother’s brother had married into a Dominican family so I was conditioned at a young age to view this holiday as inherently multicultural. There were two tables: Gram’s old-fashioned southern cooking (you know, the traditional fare), and one that was all things Latin America, pulling from influences both Spanish and African. Curious questions would arise in my young mind, for example, “Why does this banana taste like a potato?”
Today my mind is entertained with questions of a more vinous variety, the main one being, “What the heck will pair with such a contrasting array of flavors?” Daunting, yes, but in my opinion there is one family that is always welcome at the table: the Pinots, specifically Gris and Noir. These two vines begin their annual life cycle so similarly that it is near impossible to tell the difference until “veraison,” meaning “change of color of the grapes.” Pinot Gris is thought to be a genetic color mutation from Pinot Noir, so as the Noir grapes blacken, the Gris grapes achieve a range of colors, from green to orange to purple. And let it be known, I am not talking about the light, sometimes insipid Pinot Grigio, because although it is the same grape genetically, this style cannot even feign the versatility of the Alsatian Gris, with its supple full body, spicy melon flavors, and backbone of minerals and acidity that give it the structure needed to be great food wine.
Look for anything by Domaine Weinbach, operating out of Alsace, France. For the past two decades this estate has been run by Collette Foller and her two daughters, and they are bent on perfection, making magic with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Muscat, and more. The bottle I am writing specifically about is Weinbach’s 2012 “Cuvee Saint Catherine” Pinot Gris, harvested from the dynamic old vines of the Clos des Capucins vineyard. Simultaneously firm and supple, this wine exudes green melon, juicy pear, blossoming white flowers, and smoky minerals, framed wonderfully by a delicate but present acidity. Upon smelling this wine I was instantly transported to the living room of Gram’s residence in Newburg with aromas of perfume and the ash of smoked cigarettes circulating. Plus it is a sure thing with the Thanksgiving bird, sausage stuffing, or even fried plantains smothered in refried beans and sour cream.
In order to talk about our red counterpart, geography must be part of the conversation. Pinot Noir, along with its Burgundian partner Chardonnay, very lucidly conveys the idea of terroir, a French word loosely translated as “soil” but really meaning the transparency of every factor of a place and year; letting a natural wine speak for itself rather than giving it a script to read from.
The terroir we are talking about in this case is that of the village of Fixin, in the northern part of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, known as the Cote de Nuits. Pinot Noir reigns supreme here, accounting for 96 percent of production. The reds from Fixin are notable for being masculine but also slightly effeminate. There is no lack of tannin which can make them a little hard in their youth, so look for a selection with a couple years of bottle age. My selection is a 2009 Fixin produced by Rene Bouvier, made from grapes sourced from the lieu-dit (notable vineyard but not Premier or Grand Cru) Les Crais. Very expressive aromas of dark cherries, mushrooms, pepper, meat juices, and brown limestone beckon from the glass, while the palate is sheer and dry, begging for something salty to help the fruit flavors really blossom. This wine will pair equally well with the turkey, and if you’re the type to include baked mac ’n cheese casserole, try making it with gruyere, or even epoisse if you’re feeling funky. Collard greens simmered with bacon? You bet!
Thanksgiving is very American in that there many elements involved, most only loosely connected or not connected at all. It takes these multi-faceted, Old World wines tie up the loose ends of such a feast, informing the flavors and giving it some sort of functional flow. More often than not, when faced with a confounding culinary pairing, I default to Alsatian whites, especially Pinot Gris. It is rare that a wine can pair with poultry, pork, potatoes, eggs, beans, cheese, and, even, steak equally well. So grab a couple bottles of tall, fluted deliciousness and dig in!
Matthew Anderson is a manager at BIN 604 Wine Sellers in Baltimore, Maryland.