Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sauternes for Thanksgiving? A Pheasant Idea!

For my late mother-in-law, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without roasted turkey and baked ham, both of which tended to be on the bland side. She also demanded I bring to the table each year my sage-flavored sausage stuffing that had the requisite number of calories and fat grams. For wine, I would try to overpower the lifeless white meat by pairing it with a big California Chardonnay or a white, earthy Rhone and then match the ham and dark turkey meat with a Pinot Noir.

This year, I’m going to try some rather different.

My bird of preference is not turkey but pheasant (I get the game-farm variety at Country Butcher in Kennett Square), sometimes with sliced apples in a light Calvados or cider sauce, sometimes with savory spices cooked in its own juices on top the stove in a Dutch oven. And to drink with it, I’m having a chilled young Sauternes. Yes, an elegant sweet wine instead of the traditional dry table wine.

I made this decision a few months ago while I attended a Sauternes and Barsac tasting in New York at the Latin/Indian fusion restaurant, At Vermilion. The point of the tasting, led by a bunch of young owners of these classic Bordeaux estates, was that Sauternes is not just a dessert wine or something to have with rich foie gras. Rather it could work quite nicely as a table wine to go along with spicy foods.

So the restaurant prepared hot but elegant dishes with oysters, shrimp and lobster, and the young Bordelaise were right – Sauternes worked. Usually, we try to match flavors of food and wine, but it’s also enjoyable to balance, in this case, hotter foods with sweet sauternes having good acidity and soothing fullness. I became an instant convert.

Then Aline Baly, the American-educated proprietor at Château Coutet, explained how her mother wanted to eat like the Americans when the family relocated temporarily from France to Boston, so on Thanksgiving she fixed a turkey but paired it with the family’s Sauternes. It became their standard.

So I’m now contemplating the bird and the bottle. I’ll probably go deep savory with the pheasant, perhaps with a touch of truffles or nuts (roasted chestnuts, toasted pecans?) along with some rosemary and black pepper. I’m still open to suggestions, but nothing fruity or sweet. The Sauternes will be a young one that emphasizes the citrus elements of the wine and its refreshing acidity.

Of course, there is always a Plan B. I’ll have some late-disgorged, yeasty champagne at-the-ready in the fridge just in case.

(This column also appears in The NewsJournal.)

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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