Prep a Friendsgiving potluck starring Pennsylvania wines

For Wine Specialist Loren Burchfield, the job came first and the love of wine second. He started working for Fine Wine & Good Spirits in 2001, but it wasn’t until his store was upgraded to a Premium Collection location — a designation that involves more dynamic inventory and an in-house wine specialist — that he started paying attention.

“Our wine specialist needed help,” he recalls. “He threw me a set of wine books. I started reading.”

Burchfield pitched in with the wine specialist whenever he could, observed interactions with customers, and kept studying up. Finally, he was offered the opportunity to travel to Harrisburg for a wine tasting. That experience sealed the deal — this was the path he wanted to take.

These days, he works as the wine specialist at Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Meadville, PA, between Erie and Pittsburgh, a job that keeps him close to family.

While Burchfield gets to live and work near home, the opposite is true for many. Enter Friendsgiving. Often hosted the week before Thanksgiving, these informal gatherings of friends, coworkers, or chosen families are a marvelous way to extend the holiday cheer. They’re also a moment of connection for college students, city dwellers, expatriates, and others who find themselves far from home. Plus, there’s the bountiful meal and free-flowing wine without that pesky familial baggage.

Friendsgivings are typically a potluck, so no one has to spend too much money or too much time in the kitchen. Here are some dishes perfect for a crowd, paired with Pennsylvania wines by Burchfield.

Cheese and Charcuterie Board
Pairing: Vidal Blanc

This gathering is all about the schmooze, so make sure someone brings a huge spread of cheese, charcuterie, fruit, and nuts. It’s a perfect task for the cooking-averse and shopping savvy.

“I’m a very big fan of Vidal Blanc,” says Burchfield. “It’s nice and light. It’s not going to overpower anything on that platter. It’s a great choice for lovers of Pinot Grigio. We used to kid around and call it ‘Pennsylvania Pinot’ because it has that bright acidity. Plus it’s versatile: You can make it sparkling, you can make it bone dry, or you can make it decadently sweet.”

Kale Caesar Salad
Pairing: Grüner Veltliner

When it comes to a party salad, kale makes the perfect base. The dark, leafy green can hold up — already dressed — for a few hours and keep its crunch. Dress your kale caesar and crunchy croutons with a creamy dressing of anchovies, lemon, olive oil, dijon, and Parmesan cheese. Hot tip: You can skip the traditional raw egg yolk and substitute a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise.

To accompany this dish, Burchfield suggests Grüner Veltliner from South Shore Wine Company. The crisp, complex white won “Best in State” at the 2018 PA Sommelier Judgment Day.

“It has enough body to it and great flavor,” he explains. “The acidity will help cut through the richness of the dressing.”

Porchetta-style Turkey Roulades
Pairing: Chambourcin

Sometimes there isn’t time — or oven space — for the big bird. Instead, roll turkey breasts up with a paste of fresh herbs. They’ll cook in a jiffy and look quite pretty. For your turkey roulades, you can choose any flavor profile you like. We recommend seeking inspiration in porchetta, the Italian roast pork dish infused with fennel, sage, rosemary, and garlic.

“I’d do a Chambourcin,” says Burchfield. “It’s very easy to drink. I’m a fan of the Chambourcin from Arundel Cellars. It has floral notes, nice red fruit, and a spicy note that carries through the finish.”

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chili
Pairing: Off-dry Riesling

This dish is punchy a twist on a seasonal classic: Roast Brussels sprouts on high heat and then toss with bacon, lemon zest, honey, and hot pepper.

“I think for this dish, a little bit of sweetness would be okay,” argues Burchfield. “Riesling has the ability to put out the fire of the chili. I’ve was always been a fan of anything with bacon, and the wine’s acidity will cut the bacon fat. I think it’s it’s just perfect.”

Twice-Baked Potatoes
Pairing: Chardonnay

With Thanksgiving looming, you don’t want guests experiencing mashed potato overload. Prep twice-baked potatoes — the filling is scooped out, seasoned, and then put back in the skin (the most underrated part of a potato) — and top with sharp cheddar cheese. The best part: These can be made in advance, transported easily, and reheated on a sheet tray.

“You could do a nice Chardonnay,” suggests Burchfield. “A lot of people are going for unoaked nowadays — they’re doing more of a French style and allowing the fruit to talk. Potatoes and cheese always go well with Chardonnay.”

Pumpkin Blondies
Pairing: Pennsylvania Dessert Wine

Who needs to get more plates and forks dirty? Request finger foods for dessert, such as cookies or pumpkin blondies made with pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

“There’s a wine from Presque Isle Wine Cellars called Cinnful Kisses,” says Burchfield. “It’s a late-harvest wine made out of Vidal Blanc and it has a cinnamon stick in the bottle. That infuses a sweet, spicy note.”

“Or how about Alpine Spice from Sand Castle Winery?” he continues. The mulled wine is made from Chardonnay and Riesling. “Some bottles were sent to our store. I put on a tasting and served it warm, and that stuff rolled out the door. The smell would lure people over to the tasting table. It blew people away.”

Of course if you don’t have time to cook, there’s something else you can contribute: A bottle of Pennsylvania wine is always a welcome plus-one.