Monday, November 1, 2010

WINE FOR THANKSGIVING


Holiday Wines

A couple of Sundays back was a genuine fall-weather day in Los Angeles.  There was chilly rain and a foggy grayness outside.  Inside, thanks to Denise, there was the aroma of a beautiful lentil soup, then a gingerbread experiment.  She didn't think the gingerbread a success, so I won’t detail it.  I was, however, plenty happy to be the guinea pig.

While we were enjoying our "inside day," there was an old "Twilight Zone" episode showing on TV.  It was the one in which the actor starts to think he's actually the character he's playing.  Ultimately, he chooses to live in the pages of the script rather than on the streets of Los Angeles.  Wouldn't it be nice If we could all have a choice like that?  I think I might choose to spend that chilly, rainy Sunday as the guy who writes about good wine choices for the upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

Turkey is the popular favorite for serving as the Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece.  Pinot Noirgets high recommendations for pairing with turkey, turkey dinner and gravy.  Pinot Noir is also a good choice with ham, particularly smoked ham.  The earthiness of mushrooms also dovetails with the darker expressions of Pinot Noir.

Grenache and Merlot, with their fruit-forward tendencies, also get good marks as a turkey mate.
For smoked turkey you might find the big jammy fruit and peppery spice of Syrah attractive.  For an American holiday celebration, why not an American grape?  You can't go wrong with a livelyZinfandel on the holiday spread.

If you’re in the mood for a white wine to serve with holiday turkey, try a wine with some interesting aromatics to offer.  Riesling and Viognier come to mind and Chardonnay is a perennial favorite.  Feel free to get crazy, though, and go with an Albariño or Torrontes if you are hosting adventurous types.

I think an imperative purchase for the Thanksgiving - and Christmas - holiday is a dry rosé.  For my money, nothing pairs better with leftover turkey sandwiches than a bone dry rosé.

Don't forget that Beaujolais Nouveau arrives a week ahead of Thanksgiving, on the third Thursday of November (the 18th in 2010).  For the uninitiated, Beaujolais Nouveau is a freshly made wine of the Gamay variety - from Beaujolais - which some eagerly await each year and some decry as not worthy of all the marketing attention it gets.  Finding it fruity and almost completely devoid of tannic structure, I’m in the latter camp.  Each year I marvel at how wrong 60-million Frenchmen can be.  Each year I also find myself picking up a bottle, then swearing I’ll not do it again.  Fortunately, Beaujolais Nouveau is cheap.  You can, however, pick up aBeaujolais Cru and join the party with a fully mature wine of substance.

The wine website Snooth listed the top five most-searched-for wines for Thanksgiving 2009, and there were three Pinot Noirs, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here are some specific suggestions to make your Thanksgiving dinner even more special:

Hitching Post
 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley offers the flavors of cherry and spice that are always at home over the holidays. 

Cambria Winery struck gold with their 2007 Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard.  They say their ‘08 offers “red fruit, vanilla and cinnamon balanced with subtle earthy flavors.”  

Bonny Doon Vineyard says their '09 Contra red blend pairs especially well with turkey.   Food and Wine Magazine likes the "abundance of savory and peppery notes" of Bonny Doon's '07 Le Pousseur Syrah for the Thanksgiving table.

The Palmina '06 Nebbiolo Santa Barbara County sounds like it was made for the entire holiday season.  From Palmina's website: “A deep molasses thread, interlaced with an entire cadre of spice that spans the spectrum of cinnamon to allspice to clove.”

Niner Wine Estates has a Paso Robles entry cited by Guyot as one of the top wines for Thanksgiving.  Guyot says of the ‘07 Bootjack Ranch Merlot, “it begins with aromas of raspberry tart, violets and white pepper with a hint of lavender.  Flavors of cherry cocoa are backed by chewy tannins.”

Wine critic Edward Deitch has suggested the Viognier from Zaca Mesa Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  Viognier’s aromatic floral notes appeal to him.  He describes Zaca Mesa's Viognier as “gorgeous, with notes of melon, honey, vanilla and touches of cinnamon, butterscotch and minerals," and thinks it would pair beautifully with Thanksgiving meal featuring many different flavors.

One of my favorite rosés is Panky, from Fontes & Phillips Wines.  Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah from Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez, CA brings the flavor of all those grapes in bone-dry fashion.  It’s great with turkey sandwiches.  

La Quinta Crema Marsala has a nose of raisins, spice and honey.  It could serve as dessert on its own, but you wouldn’t want to miss tasting it.  A sherry-like flavor of candied fruit pairs well with the assortment of pies you're likely to find over the holidays.  This brown-colored, fortified wine is 18% abv and would be right at home after a big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner.  From San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles.

Is there anything I've missed?  Feel free to leave a comment if there's a favorite Thanksgiving wine tradition you'd like to share.