Best Wines for Your Feast

By - Nov 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Nathan Norfolk

Not only will there be turkey, there will be leftover turkey. This is often the sad reality of Thanksgiving: morphing from a holiday feast into weeks of monotonous poultry. Even the most dedicated carnivore can be reduced to thoughts of vegetarianism after his tenth cold turkey sandwich in half as many days. But there is hope. There are more wines that compliment plain old turkey than just about any other meat.

Some reds are right.

Cranberry sauce and stuffing aside, the logical accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner is Pinot Noir. These are lighter-bodied red wines that won’t contribute excessive texture that can give poultry a cloyingly dry taste. If you have deep pockets, spring for a 1999 Burgundy, (which is French Pinot Noir). The layman can forego this route and avoid spending forty-plus dollars by picking up a simple Pinot Noir from California or Oregon. Erath 2001 Pinot Noir ($14) from Oregon is light to medium bodied with a juicy berry-ish fruit and a soft, dry finish. For a Pinot Noir with real character, Apoyo 2000 ($14) from Sonoma County has earthy flavors of tea and stewed fruits, and aromas of rainy fall days. It sounds crazy, but Pinot Noir can exhibit many peculiar yet enticing aromas. Some would even argue that it’s at its best with a slight chill. You don’t have to freeze the stuff, but ten minutes in the refrigerator gives it a nice crispness. And a little chill might help convince those squeamish about red wine in the first place to give it a try.

Trying to please everyone is the catalyst for most holiday anxiety. Fortunately, when the time comes to find a wine for your Thanksgiving feast, there are many options. Pinot Noir isn’t the only red that pairs with turkey. If you crave something on the spicier side, try an inexpensive Italian Chianti such as Badiola ($9). It’s light and fruity, but has a pleasant tangy acidity that will perfectly compliment a peppery stuffing. Red Zinfandel works just as well. Rosenblum 2001 Vintner’s Cuvee XXV Californian Zinfandel ($10) is spicy with bright raspberry and cherry fruit and a subtle vanilla finish.

If a full-bodied red is a must, skip Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They will generally be too dry and tannic for most birds. Australian Shiraz, on the other hand is hearty, yet has a soft plum-like fruit. It would marry with turkey or less conventional Thanksgiving fare like Cornish game hens or a pork roast. Wynn’s 2001 Coonawara Estate Shiraz ($12) is firm and chewy, with a plummy fruit and a touch of white pepper.

But if white is the thing…

Of course there is also white wine. The most overlooked whites on the market today are Rieslings. Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer calls Riesling, “the next really big white.” Rightfully so, Riesling is grown all over the world and has very high yields, which makes it easy and cheap to produce. It’s hard to think of a better white wine to serve with turkey than a dry or lightly sweet Riesling. The common misconception is that all Riesling is sweet. Germany, France and the United States all produce excellent, inexpensive dry Rieslings. If consumers don’t realize this, it can partly be blamed on the wine’s packaging. German wines feature an abundance of information on their labels. But the easiest way to quickly determine if a German Riesling is sweet or dry is to look for one of these words; kabinett, spatlese, auslese, beerenauslese. These all refer to how ripe the grapes are at harvest. A Riesling labeled kabinett will be dry. A spatlese will have a slight sweetness. Auslese will be sweet with a thick texture. Beerenauslese is full blown syrup-thick desert wine. This is a good rule of thumb for demystifying German Riesling.

American wine makers have a simpler approach to labeling Riesling. A sweet American Riesling will usually be labeled “late harvest.” Semi-dry styles should just bear Riesling on the label, and most dry Rieslings will simply state somewhere on the label that the wine is dry. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2002 Johannisberg Riesling ($10) from the Columbia Valley in Washington state has just a touch of sweet fruit that should satisfy people only interested in sweeter wines, and simultaneously be inoffensive to those who like drier styles. One of the most unique domestic Rieslings is Boony Doon’s Pacific Rim Dry Riesling ($10), made of grapes from both Washington and California. Boony Doon winery made this wine specifically to compliment Asian foods, especially sushi. It has a Granny Smith apple and lemon zest fruit that make an interesting pairing with poultry, especially if you serve a stuffing with apples.

Don’t think these wines are only fit for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Vegetarians and holiday abstainers should feel free to enjoy them at or away from a well-laid table. Having a nice glass of wine can soothe even the most anxious of us. So don’t worry, relax and enjoy. After December, we can all go back to our normal lives.

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