This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20091120.php.
The universal turkey wine
Remember the old science joke about the "universal solvent"? An eager student rushes into the professor's office, jumping up and down with excitement. "I've invented a universal solvent," the student exulted. "It will dissolve anything!"
"Really," mused the prof. "So what do you intend to keep it in?"
Happily, today's Thanksgiving quest - the search for a universal wine to accompany all the meats, poultry and other goodies that load the holiday table - may be a difficult challenge, but it lacks the fatal flaw of the universal solvent. It can be done.
As I've observed before, roast turkey is the most traditional meat for Thanksgiving dinner (and often Christmas and secular winter celebrations too). But it's certainly not the only possibility. In our family, we've chosen duck, goose, guinea hen and even moved away from poultry in favor of standing rib of roast beef. Or perhaps a pizza.
Wine enthusiasts have little difficulty picking a wine to go with any of those main courses specifically, even turkey, although that big bird poses a special challenge because it's built with both light meat and rich, dark meat, contrasting flavors and textures that may not go equally well with the same wine.
When you consider the appetizing side dishes that load the holiday table - mashed potatoes and dressing, cranberry sauce, green-bean casserole and even candied sweet potatoes - the idea of finding a "universal wine" looms almost as pardon-the-expression insoluble a challenge as that universal solvent.
One easy out involves forgetting the whole idea of a perfect food-wine match and simply pulling a special wine off your wine rack or out of your cellar and enjoying it in the spirit of Thanksgiving, sipping between courses and frankly deciding not to worry about a precise pairing.
If you're having a festive meal for a crowd, it's also fun to open both red and white wines, giving your guests the option to choose one or the other or a little of both, as their taste buds dictate.
But what specific wine? I've often invoked what I call the "cranberry sauce rule," looking for a wine with a flavor profile similar to that of the traditional condiment for turkey: Cranberry sauce is fruity, tart, with only a touch of sweetness at the most; you'll find no scent of oak, nor tannic astringency in your cranberries, whether you choose them whole or jellied.
Quite a few wines have this flavor profile, not least the Nouveau Beaujolais, the first French wine of the new vintage, which was released into the marketplace last week and is widely available at wine shops for $10 or so. It's a good wine, not a great wine, but it will work well on your holiday table.
Other wine-grape varieties that fit the cranberry-sauce rule are Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc if you're in the mood for a white wine; if you want a red, the aforementioned Beaujolais or the American Zinfandel - the real red Zin, please! A sparkling wine affords a completely different approach, washing down the holiday fare and inspiring a festive table with the happy pop and fizz that attends its opening.
Saving the best for last, however, the king of holiday wine in my hierarchy is Pinot Noir, the grape that the comic movie Sideways made famous. Smooth, complex and balanced, with flavors of red fruit and earth and a texture that makes you think of velvet, an excellent Pinot Noir - choose among France's Burgundy region, California's cooler valleys or Oregon at your leisure - is a star in its own right and should go with just about anything on your table.
For my tasting report on a California Pinot Noir favorite with a distinctly French name and a mid-Atlantic mix of Old World and New World flavors, see below.
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Today's Tasting Report
Au Bon Climat 2008 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($19.99)
Very dark ruby with a clear edge. Black cherry and subtle spice aromas with a distinct hint of "barnyard," earthy and not unpleasant. Fresh tart-cherry fruit and snappy acidity come together in a mouth-filling, food-friendly flavor, with a fresh acidic tang and soft tannins in the finish. (Oct. 3, 2009)
FOOD MATCH: As a well-balanced example of a "universal" food wine, this appealing Pinot will go with just about any choice of meat or poultry, not to mention a variety of cheeses and dark, flavorful fish from salmon - perhaps its No. 1 partner - to tuna, mackerel or bluefish. It would even make a fair pick at the sushi bar!
WEB LINK: The Au Bon Climat Website includes information about the wine, the winery and wine maker Jim Clendenen, plus a winery wine club and online store allowing shipping at winery prices where the law permits.
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