Let's give thanks for the Loire
Every year around this time, the seasonal topic bounces back to the top of the list of most frequently asked wine questions surrounding Thanksgiving Day and the whole round of winter holiday feasts: "What shall we serve with turkey?"
For those in a hurry, here's my standard cut-and-paste reply: Thanksgiving turkey isn't an easy wine match. The light and dark meat are distinctly different, and what matches well with the white breast meat may not sing as pretty a tune with the dark leg and thigh meat.
To find a wine that bridges the gap, think of that familiar holiday condiment, cranberry sauce. It goes well with both light and dark turkey meat as well as most of the traditional trimmings. Look for a wine you like with a similar flavor profile: Fruity, not necessarily bone-dry, but more tart than sweet. Both red and white wines in this style seem capable of bridging wide flavor variations. Try Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc if you want a white; Pinot Noir, Beaujolais (even the seasonal 2004 Beaujolais Nouveau that will hit the world market tomorrow night) or perhaps a Zinfandel if you prefer a red.
Another approach comes from a completely different perspective: Throw up your hands and recognize that a festive holiday meal is no time to seek wine-geek perfection. No wine is truly capable of achieving food-matching Nirvana with light and dark turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, white rolls and your Aunt Emma's green-bean casserole, so why even try? Instead, take advantage of the holiday to open something special that you've been waiting to enjoy, and share it with family and friends without fretting about whether you're properly marrying red wine with red meat, white wine with white.
If you still feel like going for a wine that will work and play well with most of the dishes on the holiday table, though, allow me to offer a regional suggestion based on recent tastings. Look to the Loire Valley of France for its crisp, minerally and complex white Chenin Blancs and red Cabernet Francs, and you'll find wines of good value, quality and flavor interest that satisfy the Cranberry Sauce Principle and should fare very well on the holiday table. Any of the wines featured below - two whites from Vouvray and a red from Anjou - would all suit me just fine with light meat or dark ... and would you pass a little more dressing and gravy, please?
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Langlois-Chateau 2001 "Chateau de Valmer" Vouvray ($16.99)
Clear and very pale, this wine shows a light golden hue in the glass. Apples and pears, honey and a distinct "woolly" mineral scent present a classic Vouvray aroma profile. Ripe, rather sweet pear and honey flavors are held in bounds with firm, steely acidity; white fruit and pleasant "wool" notes linger with tart, lemony acidity in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC. (Nov. 11, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Anticipating the holiday, I paired it with turkey - not the traditional roast bird, though, but a white-meat scallopine with a delicate tarragon-Dijon cream.
VALUE: The Loire's relative lack of popularity makes Vouvray a consistent value: At this mid-teens level, it's competitive with more sought-after upscale whites at much higher prices.
WHEN TO DRINK: Loire Chenin Blanc in general and Vouvray in particular is among the most long-lived whites; it should mature under good cellar conditions for at least a decade.
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Champalou 2002 "La Cuvée des Foudraux" Vouvray ($15.99)
This wine's transparent pale-gold color is reflected on the nose and palate in a wine of exceptional clarity and depth: Delicate, appealing aromas add a distinct floral scent (I say lilac, my wife says gardenia) over honey and almonds and a distant hint of clean, damp wool. All the above carries over to the palate: Luscious, gentle fresh white fruit, soft sweetness held up by a steely core of lemon-squirt acidity. Beautiful balance, clean and very long. Although it's an excellent candidate for cellaring, it's hard to keep hands off now. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Nov. 8, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: I paired it with a simplified version of the pasta, ham and vegetable gratin (sort of an upscale macaroni-and-cheese) in Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way. And yes, it would be excellent with Thanksgiving turkey and the trimmings.
VALUE: As above, this fine Vouvray's mid-teens price comes into perspective when you compare it with, say, Chardonnays of similar quality and higher price.
WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, this wine's fresh, luscious fruit and balance make it a delight for immediate consumption. But those with the patience, and good cellar conditions, will be rewarded with a wine of remarkable complexity in a decade or so.
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Baumard 2000 "Cuvée des Deux Millénaires" Logis de la Giraudière Anjou Rouge de Cépage Cabernet ($14.99)
From a producer best known for his white wines comes this excellent red, a Cabernet Franc from Anjou that's already starting to show the complex blend of herbs and minerals that can make Loire reds so intriguing. Very dark reddish-purple, it breathes appetizing herbal and red-cherry scents with a spicy white-pepper overtone. Delicate red-fruit flavors are fresh and tart, with subtle mineral notes adding intriguing complexity. Not overly long, but balanced and appealing. U.S. importer: Ex-Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Again, a good candidate for the Thanksgiving table, although we enjoyed it with more everyday fare, chunks of quality bratwurst tossed with pan-roasted new red potatoes and garlic.
VALUE: Like the whites, the lack of mass-market enthusiasm for Loire reds tends to hold their prices within reason compared to more sought-after wines of similar quality.
WHEN TO DRINK: It will hold and may even gain complexity with a few more years of careful cellaring, but it's certainly ready to enjoy.
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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004