Thanksgiving, Part II: Talking Turkey with the Professor of Wine
When you hear Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants expound on wine, his alter egos—writer, musician, former English professor—are all in evidence. His descriptions of his various offerings, their strengths and potential pitfalls, are impassioned and detailed, and his greatest delight seems to be in finding the perfect wine for an individual customer’s occasion and palate. In fact, when you ask him to pick wines for hypothetical situations rather than real ones, he seems not flustered exactly, but not satisfied either. To make a great wine selection, he elaborates, “You have to consider two factors: the individual person’s taste, and the event. Not knowing the person’s taste, I just have to tell you what’s most exciting for me.” Luckily, he’s excited by many wines at many price points.
The traditional wine pairings—the safe choices—for a typical Thanksgiving meal, according to Albin, are a Zinfandel, for a red, or a Riesling for a white. The common denominator is a fruity, aromatic quality. Tannins, the astringent compounds found in many wines, are a no-no. Avoiding tannins isn’t just a matter of taste; according to Albin, they can also react chemically with compounds in certain foods to produce an unpleasant metallic taste. The key, says Albin, is finding wines that are not so heavy they add to an already-overwhelming meal. But, he was quick to point out, “You can take the spirit of those two classic recommendations, and move beyond them to have a lot of fun. ” The key is sticking to a fruity nose that will match the side dishes and work with the turkey.
For a modestly-priced Zinfandel, Albin recommends Old Vines Lot 47 by Marietta Cellars ($14), which he describe as “purely made, smooth, medium bodied and not too heavy.” It also features a lower-than-typical alcohol level for Zin—13.5% rather than the usual 15%—which he says will help avoid the over-full feeling that a heavier, more alcoholic wine can contribute to an already over-filling meal. Stepping up, he suggests the Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2006 ($24). Blended from four different grapes, with Zinfandel predominating, this is the lower price point bottle from a high-end California producer. Albin suggests it will please people who know their wines and will recognize the vineyard.
For Rieslings, the key is finding a nicely-balanced, refreshing choice. Albin suggests Dr. Loosen Dr. L Riesling 2007 ($13). Its hint of apple will complement the sweet and savory flavors that tend to combine at Thanksgiving. Higher-end Rieslings should offer an unctuous, almost oily mouth-feel; the Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2007 ($25) embodies this quality with a deep flavor and a just-right level of sweetness.
If none of those suggestions appeal, Albin offers some less expected choices. A California Pinot Noir, such as the Calera 2006 Central Coast ($28) would be most delicious. You won’t get through a conversation about red wines, though, without some discussion of the Italian options. Albin’s a big proponent of Italian wines, and he can give you a quick, and convincing, education while you browse. He describes them as having an “appealing earthiness” that appeals to fans of both French and California wines—two camps that can sometimes be bitterly divided. Kellerei, an Italian Pinot from the northern Alto Adige region ($27), has Albin captivated. If you’re looking for a budget wine for a large group, he has a Sicilian red, Calea Nero d’Avola 2007 ($11) that has a “nice open fruit.” And if you want to bring a splashy, expensive bottle, he swears you cannot go wrong with a quality Barbera.
If you prefer white, a Chablis, made in Burgundy from Chardonnay grapes, is brighter, and less buttery-tasting, than the oaky Chardonnays typically produced in California—and therefore a better match for turkey, which would be overpowered by a traditional California chardonnay. A good bottle can be had for around $20. Even a good rosé, says Albin, can work as a Thanksgiving wine, thanks to its bright, fruity quality. “Last year, ” he says, “at our house we served Bandol,” a Provencal rosé made primarily from the mourvedre grape.
But what if you want to go outside the box? Albin is a proponent of Prosecco, sparkling rosé or traditional Champagne, which are often overlooked for Thanksgiving. They will not only compliment the traditional Thanksgiving menu, but also lighten things up a bit, thanks to their effervescence. “Sparkling wine, even a rosé champagne, would be a beautiful thing to serve as people sit down,” he says. “The fruit nose matches the food, and it tantalizes people without filling them up too much.”
Champagne is also appropriate for dessert at Thanksgiving, but again, Albin suggests some unusual alternatives. Eric Bordelet, the sommelier at Restaurant Arpège in Paris has begun bottling sparkling cider (alcoholic) under an eponymous label (it’s on the menu at Jean-Georges in Manhattan), but thanks to Hudson Wine Merchants, it can be on your menu, too, and it’s under $16 per bottle. Or you might spring for either a port or an aged sherry—he carries a Pedro Don Ximenes, 1979 that he says has “unique flavors of kumquat skin and raisin”. The owners of the Hudson restaurant Swoon flipped over this one, and have been serving it poured over homemade vanilla ice cream, but it would be divine in tiny glasses with dessert next Thursday.
And what will Michael be bringing to his in-laws for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner? He smiles. “One of my favorite things is Burgundy, so I’ll probably bring a special Burgundy—because I love it. Hopefully they will, too.”
Hudson Wine Merchants
341½ Warren Street
Hudson, New York 12534
Sunday & Monday: Noon - 7 PM | Tuesday - Saturday: 11 AM - 8 PM