Feasting with wine
Blame global warming or merely random variation, but autumn took a mighty long time to reach this neck of the woods. Most of our leaves have finally fallen now, but a few are still hanging on at this late date, and there's little sign of frost on the pumpkin.
Perhaps we need to look for a more reliable way to detect the changing season ... and I think I've found one. Just watch your local wine writer for the annual discussion of Beaujolais Nouveau, followed promptly by the familiar dissertation on which wine to serve with Thanksgiving turkey.
Guilty as charged! Following up on Monday's Beaujolais report, I'd like to devote a few words today to thoughts about wine and the feasting that attends the winter holidays.
First, because so many of you request it in E-mail queries every year, the conventional wisdom:
Thanksgiving turkey isn't an easy wine match. The light and dark meat are distinctly different, and what matches well with a bit of breast might not sing with the darker thigh meat. The best choices, in my opinion, are red and white wines capable of bridging wide flavor variations. That's Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc if you want a white; Pinot Noir, Beaujolais (even the somewhat maligned seasonal Nouveau) or perhaps a Zinfandel if you prefer a red. Fruity, crisp and tart (but not tannic), these wines boast a flavor profile that's not entirely dissimilar to cranberry sauce, another fruit product that earns its place on the holiday table.
That's my standard rule, and you won't go wrong if you follow it to make your wine selection for next Thursday's feast.
But if you're bold enough to break with tradition, here's an out-of-the-box idea: Thanksgiving (and other winter holiday feasts) isn't really a time to worry about making the perfect food match.
As noted, turkey's bipolar nature requires a compromise anyway, and the situation gets even more complicated when we consider the panoply of goodies on the groaning table, from sweet potatoes to green beans to herb-laced dressing to mashed potatoes and gravy. There's no way you're going to come up with a single wine to go perfectly with all that, so why try?
Instead, here's my modest proposal: Celebrate the holiday feast and the blessings for which you and your family and friends are thankful by opening a very special bottle or two (a red and a white might be nice - and enjoy the wines for their own sake. Special wines will honor the occasion, and the chances are that whatever you choose won't "war" with the food. (I do recommend, however, that you save the sweet wines for dessert.)
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
TALK ABOUT YOUR HOLIDAY FAVORITES:
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Now, for today's tasting reports let's take a look at a couple of impressive red wines from a pair of (so far) little-known California producers. In addition to winery sales, these wines are available nationally through our friends at the California Wine Club,
KitFox Vineyards 2001 California Cabernet Sauvignon
Located well away from California's more traditional wine regions, the Vogel family's artisanal KitFox winery is in the Salado Creek region (which is under regulatory review as a new viticultural area) on the flank of the Diablo Coastal Range in Stanislaus County between San Jose and Merced. This excellent Cabernet is very dark reddish-purple in color, almost black. It shows classic blackcurrant Cabernet aromas with pleasant aromatic notes of leather; a distinct minty quality comes up with swirling in the glass. Full and ripe, plummy fruity flavors and nuances consistent with the nose are nicely balanced by fresh-fruit acidity and perceptible but smooth tannins. (Nov. 18, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with rare, pepper-crusted sirloin steaks.
VALUE: Sold at the winery for around $15, this impressive Cabernet can stand comparison with the big boys.
WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, the tannins are soft and smooth, and the wine is enjoyable now, especially with red meat or sharp cheeses. However, it has the structure and balance to improve over at least five years of careful cellaring.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is under construction.
Drytown Cellars 2001 California Merlot
Tiny, two-year-old Drytown Cellars is named after the Amador County town it's near, but the back label indicates that owner-winemaker Allen Kreutzer went to Mendocino County to get the grapes for this first-rate Merlot. It's a very dark reddish-purple color, almost black in the glass. Delicious black-cherry and dark-chocolate aromas, the characteristic profile of California Merlot. Its sturdy, structured flavor shows ripe black fruit and tart acidity in balance, with substantial but smooth tannins to suggest aging potential. (Oct. 23, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with just about any red meat in hearty or lightly spicy preparations; it was an excellent match with lamb sausages braised in red wine and served on potato pancakes.
VALUE: The winery retail price is around $15; it's competitive with quality California Merlots at twice that price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now, particularly with red meat to mellow its tannic astringency; would reward several years in the cellar.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is online at
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Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2003