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Wine & Food Advisory
from the Melting Pot of the Pacific

Randal Caparoso Celebrate the Great American Turkey with a Great Wine!
© Randal Caparoso
The turkey is a fascinating bird. Everyone knows its history because we're taught about it in our first days of school, barely past potty training. It was a wild bird that starving Pilgrims shot with rifles with funny plunger-like ends. The Pilgrims were holy people who wore black, white, and upside down ice cream cone hats. It's easy to draw - just trace your fingers, and use the entire Crayola box. And the brown meat - if you can beat your puffy aunt and uncle to it - is indubitably the best part!

Okay, so here's what I've learned as an adult who enjoys reading books even without pictures: A large percentage of 16th century Europeans, when first presented with the North American turkey, thought it was of eastern origin. The French, for instance, called it "coq d'Inde," the "cock of India. Maddeningly, they still call it "d'inde" to this day. But even before that historical first Thanksgiving in Jamestown circa 1620, French and Belgian nobles featured turkey as their main course. In 1549, for instance, Catherine de' Medici - one of the instigators of modern cuisine - served 66 of them in one feast. It's a wonder that a later monarch didn't say, "let them eat turkey" (or "d'inde," as it were).

But from the beginning, I suppose, gastronomes were faced with the question: what wine with turkey? It is an annual question - no doubt entwined with the issue of how to cook the darned thing this year. A few years ago some of my hipper friends were tooling around with deep fried Cajun recipes - "D'inde Frite," as Paul Prudhomme maddenly calls it. Something to do with 12 gallon pots or trash cans filled with sizzling lard (per the original Cajun instructions) or something more polyunsaturated. For safety reasons, I think you should consult The Prudhomme Family Cookbook, or else Marcelle Bienvenu's classic Who's Your Mama, Are you Catholic, and Can You make a Roux?, before proceeding further.

But what wine with the crispy, deep fried 10 pounder? Well, if you're Paul you would say that it doesn't matter, as long as it's served in a wide mouthed mason jar (I went to his restaurant in New Orleans once, and they actually served my wine in that). But if you happen to be living in the swampy south, or a place perpetually sunny like Texas, southern California and Hawaii, you just might prefer something white, cool, and refreshingly fruity - like a good, medium sweet $9-$12 Riesling (such as the Washington St. "Johannisberg Rieslings" by either Chateau Ste. Michelle or Hogue Cellars, or the 1999 Jekel Riesling from Monterey, California ). Cooking with all that hot oil sure works up a sweat, so that mason jar white has to be light and easy!

Riesling with deep fried turkey, I can gau-ron-tee, but what about the usual roasted turkey with sage (and other herbs) bread stuffing? This is a classic. Predictable, but classic. And the predictable winner for this is, hands down, a classic, super-oaked (that is, with smoky, charred and/or vanilla-like flavors) California Chardonnay. There's something about sage (or Stove Top) and Chardonnay; and the bigger, and I suppose the most expensive (especially if you're not buying), the better. I have my favorites. Fess Parker (yes, the "Fess Parker"), for one, makes a Chardonnay that is predictably big, smoky, dry yet deliciously fruity, and priced to my liking (not cheap, but a moderate $16-$19).

If you managed to dump your .com portfolio before the bust, you might want to treat yourself to one of the big daddies of them all: the 1999 Chalone Chardonnay ($25-$30), which is this winery's best in years -- a whoppingly lush, juicy, sensuously textured mass of apples, pineapple, sweet cream, char and minerals. Other than that, the best $15-$25 Chardonnays of California are not all that rare, nor a big secret; coming from wineries such as Murphy-Goode (especially their "Island Block"), Landmark (their "Overlook" bottling), De Loach ("Russian River Valley"), Ferrari-Carano, Simi, Beringer (try their "Founder's Estate"), and two sleepers from giants, the Gallo of Sonoma ("Laguna Ranch") and Louis M. Martini ("Family Vineyard Selection").

Here's another classic: turkey with oyster bread stuffing, and perhaps some chili flecked seasonings on a crispy skin. Start at 425 F. at midnight, take it down to 300 F., and do it all night long; rest it in the morning and dish it out at noon. The perfect vinous foil? The dry varietal white known as Pinot Gris, baby. I love the smooth, dry and fragrant Mendocino grown Pinot Gris by Handley ($12-$14); and from Sonoma, "J" has a couple of silken, sumptuously aromatic ones from Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley (both around $14-$18). The style of Pinot Gris from Oregon is finer, more delicate, more perfumey than fruity; and the best ones are the WillaKenzie ($15-$18), Cooper Mountain ($14-$17), Rex Hill "Reserve" ($19-$24), and King Estate "Reserve" ($18-$22). And if you really want to take it to the edge, look out for the Au Bon Climat "Hildegard" ($18-$22), which is actually a wonderfully crisp, lively, yet rich and fleshy blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Aligote from Santa Barbara.

Then there are the rich stuffing turkeys - like cornbread with chile peppers (or ham hocks or collards), wild rice with mushrooms, or with assertive breads such as sourdough or old, toasted brioche (with lardons, celery, and combinations of chervil, sorrel, tarragon, etc.). Here the consensus choice would be red wines, but with the eternal caveat: turkey can be a dry bird, and so you don't want your red wines to be too heavy with mouth drying tannins. This means that you're better off with a French Beaujolais or anything made from Pinot Noir (the fruity, soft tannin varieties), as opposed to the more robust, palate-jarring Cabernet Sauvignons or even Merlots. Zinfandel and Syrah (called Shiraz in Australia) are also robust, but they have the advantage over Cabernets and Merlots in that they usually have a sweet toned, almost jammy fruitiness.

My favorite soft, fruity style of red wines at this time? I've recently become enthralled by the 1999 Oregon Pinot Noirs made by Griffin Creek ($14-$18) and Willamette Valley Vineyards (especially their $22-$26 "Freedom Hill" bottling). For California hot tub crowd, the 1999 Acacia "De Soto" Pinot Noir ($35-$40) is incredibly spicy - like a just opened package of oily, French Roast coffee beans - and plush and opulent on the palate; while the Pinot Noirs by Fetzer (their $17-$21 "Santa Maria Valley"), Iron Horse ("Green Valley," $19-$24), and Gallo of Sonoma ($18-$22) offer the usual varietal plethora of red berry, woodsmoke, clove and cherry pie aromas over soft, inviting textures.

Happy "D'inde" Day to you and yours!

Nov. 8, 2001

To contact Randy Caparoso, write him at randycaparoso@earthlink.net.

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