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Nov 1, 2016 1:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Wines For Thanksgiving: Not Just Beaujolais Nouveau

Nov 1, 2016 1:02 PM

With the foodiest of food holidays—Thanksgiving—rapidly approaching, the perennial question resurfaces: What should one serve with this year’s turkey and fixings?

There is, perhaps, no more persistent holiday question.

Traditionally, turkey and its fatty, rich accouterments pair well with spicy, bright wines. Timing alone points many imbibers to Beaujolais, a young red from France’s northern Burgundy whose new release very nearly coincides with the holiday. The “nouveau,” a grapey, distinct, purple version of the wine is released on the third Thursday of every November.

But one need not stick to such staid traditions when planning a Thanksgiving feast. And one need not stick to just wine, either. These days, with ciders and spirits available in spades, there’s no reason not to upend expectations.

A number of North Fork and South Fork orchards and vineyards produce hard cider. Is there a more American drink? If you’re wondering what pairs with hard cider, with its slight sweetness and playful effervescence, think: Everything.

Woodside Orchards in Jamesport produces an incomparable version, which is now served on tap at select venues on the North Fork. Lieb Cellars in Cutchogue uses apples from pie masters Briermere Farms to produce its outstanding dry cider, Rumor Mill, for those in search of the European style (yeasty, rich, and full).

Perhaps the best-known Long Island cider comes from the South Fork’s iconic Wölffer Estate Vineyard, a dry-style cider sold in 355-milliliter bottles that’s available in both white and rosé. These clean, fruit-driven drinks are perfect with an anticipatory cheese plate or any other culinary antecedent.

Looking to venture out of Long Island but still stay relatively local? New York’s Hudson Valley is also known for its exemplary produce, from its grapes to its apples, and this year’s cider release from Black Dirt Distillery, the “Doc’s Draft,” is no exception. The barrel-aged version still has some of the roundness and residual sugar that pairs so well with salty first courses while displaying tame fruit and the creaminess of aging.

An apéritif can carry through an entire meal, of course, and some of the best drinks for this feasting occasion are sparkling ones. A good sparkling wine, which balances acid, sugar, and the uplifting brightness of a good bead, cleanses the palate and makes the intrepid diner ready for, well, more. Sparkling Pointe, a winery making traditional method bubbly in the same way as that time-honored cousin, Champagne, produces quality wines in Southold. The entry-level brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and reserve wine from previous vintages, displays crisp fruit—think lemons and tart apple—as well as complex secondary notes of toast and brioche. Pair this beauty with turkey, of course; its delicacy and bright finish will prep your palate for a second helping or, inevitably, for dessert.

For an equally impressive sparkling wine, look no further than New York’s cool-climate Finger Lakes, where Riesling dominates. Hallowed producer Dr. Konstantin Frank produces several sparklers, my favorite of which is the 2011 Blanc de Blancs, awarded 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. In a departure from Finger Lake tradition, this wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, like the most sought after fine Champagnes. It’s a full-bodied example of the pure joy of sparkling wine and is substantial enough to carry through even the most buttery of mashed potatoes or rib-sticking of gravies.

But for the more traditional among us, red wine is the only destination when it comes to giving thanks. The delightful Mattebella Vineyards in Southold is planted to Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and releases a recognized, tried-and-true Old World Blend in select vintages. The 2011—widely believed to be one of Long Island’s worst vintages due to poor weather—was awarded 90 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, a true coup for wine drinkers dedicated to nurture over nature. This spicy blend promises to excite even the fussiest of red wine devotees.

Of course, it’s completely acceptable to depart from locavore-ism over the holidays, especially if it means honoring tradition. And so, yes, you can still drink Beaujolais—so long as it’s the good stuff (with apologies to Mr. DuBoeuf). For my money, the best of the Thanksgiving Beaujolais bunch is the Jean-Paul Brun Cru Beaujolais from the town of Fleurie. The 2014 “Terres Dorées” is a feminine, pretty wine with the requisite delicacy to allow your meal to shine through.

The moral of the Thanksgiving story is this: Whatever your personal pleasure, Thanksgiving is a feast to suit all palates. Toss wine-drinking obligation aside and drink what you love, be that cider, sparkling, red, white, or anything else that inspires.

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