Help from the Vine

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i love thanksgiving! and hate it. the holiday itself is a wonderful excuse to gather 'round family and friends for a conveniently short amount of time. just enough hours to get in, reminisce for a day, get a ridiculously large meal into your gullet and leave before the fam starts to work your nerves.

it's also an excuse to cook, which i love. but that's when the frustration sets in. the menu has already been decided for you. oh sure, there are those who experiment with the old turkey/cran/mashed/stuffing formula with deep fryers, cajun sausage and fusion cuisine. the fact remains, though, that if you mess with the basics too much, the people will revolt. you are boxed in to a turkey dinner, no matter which way you look at it.

luckily, any dinner can be made better with a little help from the vine. i always think of thanksgiving as a perfect opportunity to bring wine into the picture, because there are so many different types of foods presented. more food variety equals more varieties of wine to use for pairing.

let's start with the 500-pound gorilla in the room, or more accurately, the 12-pound turkey. hopefully, aunt gladys will give the bird a little less time in the oven than she did last year, so it isn't as dry as the sahara. when cooked well, turkey can be delicious (especially the always underappreciated dark meat). when matching wine with roast turkey, i like to go to a place i rarely travel to by choice: oaky chardonnay-land. a wine that might seem over the top or too buttery on its own is the perfect foil for the texture and flavor of roast turkey. hope chardonnay 2008 ($14.99 @ k and d wines and spirits, 1366 madison ave. betw. 95th and 96th streets, 212-289-1818) is not the most full-throttle, oaky chardonnay out there, but the notes of vanilla up front and smoke on the finish coupled with the rich, tropical fruit flavors of papaya and pineapple make it the ultimate turkey wine.

how about those sides? mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy can sit heavy on the plate and even heavier in your stomach. rich and satisfying when made well, but dense and bland when done poorly, these ubiquitous side dishes cry out for a big, spicy red wine to break up the monotony. the seghesio zinfandel 2008 ($21.99 @ pj wines and spirits, 4898 broadway betw. 204th and 207th streets, 212-567-5500) is great all by its lonesome, but even better when you let it flex its muscle. tons of baked cherry and currant fruit up front give way to baking spice in the middle and a peppery finish. it'll cleanse your palate between each bite of stuffing and potato readying you for more gloppy goodness.

then there's the pie. thanksgiving isn't complete without an inappropriately voluminous proliferation of pies. the king of all thanksgiving sweets is, of course, the pumpkin pie. you need something sweet, but also something that can match up to the array of baking spices used in the pie filling. look no further than cockburn fine ruby port (pronounced koe-burn-get your minds out of the gutter, $12.99 @ 67 wine, 179 columbus ave. at 68th street, 212-724-6767). sweet, dark berry fruit is balanced by a touch of acidity, reminiscent of candied orange peel, to keep this port from being too cloying. the finish is full of nutmeg and cinnamon spices, sure to lull you into your post-thanksgiving meal nap in front of the boob tube.

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