FD: Wine Column November 26, 2008

Sparkling wines, pinot noir, riesling good pairings for holiday

This is the holiday that wine lovers love to hate.

You can’t cook a turkey or make the dressing and your gravy always turns out lumpy, so the family instead designates you the holiday wine steward.

Suddenly, the squeeze is on. This holiday menu is the hardest match of the year and you’re expected to satisfy people you hardly know, notwithstanding they are your own relatives.

So why even try?

Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to bring wines that you like, because there’s no way any single wine (or two, since I recommend taking a red and a white) will either A) pair with all the diverse flavors you find on a
Thanksgiving table, or B) please everyone around that table.

I know that in the past few weeks you’ve probably read miles of columns about how this wine or that pairs best with what New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov calls the “riot of contrasts” that passes for Thanksgiving dinner.

For Asimov’s take on Thanksgiving wines (which I heartily share), check out his blog “The Pour” at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/12/dining/12wine.html.

Some people seem to enjoy the stress of trying to please everyone, but I’d rather enjoy the day without worrying excessively about whether someone will be happy with my wines.

I try to find something that does two simple tasks. One, it won’t wear you out either with high alcohol (which could put a quick end to the holiday) or two, has overbearing, palate-tiring flavors.

This means I stay away from over-blown cabernet sauvignons, which tend to be heavy on the alcohol and are tiring to drink. Ditto for zinfandels and the big, peppery syrahs, varietals I truly enjoy but not when it’s a marathon as Thanksgiving often is.

The white wine also has to be able to stand up to several hours of eating, conversation and inspection. Nothing too oaky, too fruity or with flavors requiring a certain regional dish.

In the spirit of this true American holiday, I lean toward American wines and particularly Colorado wines if I find something I like and can afford. But when you’re sitting at the table and staring at your glass, the origin isn’t as important as whether you like what you’re seeing and tasting.

Anticipating some pre-football mimosas, I’ll probably show up with a case of sparkling wine, either Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain) or a budget-priced Australian sparkling wine. Everyone has fun with fizzies and most sparkling wines have the acidity to stand up to a variety of dishes.

While you can splurge on really good sparkling wine, there are many good wines that are very affordable (under $10 a bottle in some cases), which is important when you’re supplying drinks for 10 or more finicky drinkers.

For the meal itself, I’ll take a pinot noir and riesling, both of which have the acidity and flavors needed for a Thanksgiving menu.

“You want something with good acidity to break through all the butter and stuff you find at Thanksgiving,” suggested Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, winemaker for Plum Creek Cellars.

A medium-body pinot noir has enough fruit to balance the side dishes and won’t have the intense, smoked-bacon flavor of richer pinot noirs that would be at odds with the turkey and stuffing.

However, if you’re deep-frying or grilling that turkey, a smoky pinot noir might be something to try.

I’m taking a couple pinot noirs, including one from Robert Mondavi’s moderately priced Private Selection line ($11).

It has loads of berries and fruit and its moderate 13.5 percent alcohol won’t send you to the sidelines early.

Baldwin-Eaton said her semi-sweet riesling ($13.99) serves double duty: It satisfies those who want a dry wine as well as those who like something a little sweet.

Up the road at Whitewater Hill Vineyards, winemaker Nancy Janes also will serve her semi-sweet riesling ($12) with its flavors of apricots and jasmine, along with her unoaked chardonnay ($14), which she describes as being “a little brighter, with more apple and pineapple.”

Whatever you decide, make sure it’s something you enjoy. That way, at least one person will be happy with your selections.


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