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A French Thanksgiving

I spent most of my adult Thanksgivings returning to West Virginia to be with family. And no matter how much you love relatives and like to shoot tin cans with a 410, there are limits to how excited you can get about ham and turkey, turkey and ham and the ever-present local TV personalities trying to get everyone revved up for Black Friday and the scintillating weekend weather coming up on the eights. Wherever you grew up, I’m sure you had your own private West Virginia.

Later this morning, I will pick up the pheasant I ordered from the butcher, my wife has been looking at various new vegetable side dishes, and there is a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée that I’ve been holding onto the past few years.  We seldom have pheasant or Krug, so it will be a special Thanksgiving.

Krug and other French wines as a group are no better – or perhaps not that much better – than wines from Spain or Italy or the U.S.  But they were my first love, so it’s comforting to choose them during the cold-weather holidays and finding interesting dishes to pair with them.  If you, too, have lost your excitement for ham and turkey, turkey and ham and newly unearthed ways to fix leftovers, here are five main courses paired with French wines.

Pheasant in cream sauce and aged Champagne.  I won’t rant again about how much I like Champagne as a table wine, but I love Champagne as a table wine.  Think of all those fine bubbles dancing through the cream sauce.  Or that toasty Champagne aftertaste goosing the roasted bird!  I usually cook the pheasant in a heavy casserole dish on top of the stove with minimal intervention and fix the cream sauce with pan scrapings and a little white wine as the bird is being carved.  I will not be using the Krug, however, for this culinary function.

Salmon filet with red Burgundy, perhaps a Musigny.  Whether grilled or roasted, juicy salmon with a thick lemon dill sauce just begs out, “Burgundy, please, Burgundy!” I can close my eyes and imagine flaking off a succulent forkful of salmon with my left hand while my right hand lifts a glass of Drouhin Musigny to my nose.

Coq au vin with an Alsace Pinot Gris.  I was in Alsace during harvest earlier this fall and had a delicious coq au vin with the Boeckel family using Pinot Gris as the cooking vin and then matching it with a recent vintage Zotzenberg Riesling and a Pinot Gris.  I preferred the Pinot Gris.  Madame Boeckel gave me her recipe and insisted that, to be done right, a bouillon first had to be made using the carcass of the coq.  And that Cognac must be splashed around from time to time.  I’m thinking about this for my new favorite Christmas Eve dish.

Rabbit in mustard sauce with a red blend from Languedoc, perhaps a Minervois.  Rabbit is my favorite small game (city people look at you funny if you serve squirrel), and a light mustard cream sauce with some dried Provence herbs, rescued from duty free at Charles de Gaulle, bring out the best in it. And Mediterranean red blends tend to have the piquancy and spiciness to make the rabbit taste even better without having excessive tannins or fruit concentration.

Roast turkey and Sauternes. If you must have turkey, at least kick it up a notch and serve it with something other than Chardonnay.  Aline Baly of Château Coutet says her family always has a French/American Thanksgiving, matching the American bird with the family Sauternes.  She recommends having a side dish of blue cheese soufflé or chestnut stuffing, but a jalapeno-laced dressing or an herbed white truffle sauce would also complement the wine’s richness.

And finish everything with a glass of Mrs. Boeckel’s Cognac,

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