Wines for Thanksgiving? Go young, young man, and go Riesling

November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

From Portland Press Herald, November 17, 2010

Most conversations about Thanksgiving wines are unrealistic. They presuppose a coven of wine geeks sitting quietly around a table parsing the nuances of how this or that Gewurztraminer pairs with someone’s aunt’s candied sweet potatoes.

Probably quite well, but in reality there are a lot of people in the house and most of them are just pounding (wine, if you’re lucky). And their plates are filled with so many competing flavors that trying to match the wine to the meal is folly.

Just provide many different wines and let guests choose for themselves. The wines should be inexpensive, since, let’s face it, you’re going to die a thousand deaths if you have to watch someone guzzle something pricey with heedless abandon.

When there’s variety and no sequence instructions (“Drink the Cava with the pigs-in-blankets, Mom!”), folks experiment more, and better spontaneous conversations arise.

With a lots-of-different-bottles approach, adhere to some general principles:

Have a mix of white, rosé, sparkling and red. More of the first three, less of the latter.

Emphasize freshness, brightness, minerality and vitality rather than seriousness, age, earth and heft. You’re going to be in a warm house for many hours, eating and drinking a lot. You don’t (I’m guessing) want to pass out or even spend the day oblivious. You don’t want to slaughter the food with wines better suited for red meats and aged cheeses.

Therefore, choose low-alcohol wines. Twelve percent or less.

No oak. Wines aged in oak, generally, are heftier and more egotistical, and so require more care in pairing. They also happen to match poorly with traditional Thanksgiving foods.

The traditional foods have a good deal of sweetness, which will be set off nicely by wines that have bright fruit, and a little sweetness themselves married to substantial acidity. (Acidity is what will cut the copious fat, viscosity and “oomph” of gravy, stuffing and potatoes. Along with young-wine fruit, quenching acidity will also compensate for overly dry turkey.) The sweetness is key: bone-dry wines will inject a sour, unthankful quality you don’t want anywhere near these foods or this day.

The above principles favor certain grapes. For whites: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Sylvaner, Scheurebe and sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Cava. For reds, Gamay (Beaujolais or not), Pinot noir, Zweigelt, young Barbera and St. Laurent.

Pardon the brevity of the descriptions. I hope they’re enough to pique curiosity; the wines are all spectacular.

Off-dry whites: Wallace Brook Pinot Gris ($9, National), fragrant, sharp, multifaceted; HighDef Riesling ($11, SoPo), friendly, succulent, racy; Darting Riesling Kabinett ($17 liter, SoPo), spicy, gingery; Turckheim Pinot Blanc d’Alsace ($13, Nappi), luscious, floral, focused. St. Urbans-Hof Rieslings are terrific, slate-y and dialed-in values as well (Central). Wanna splurge? Leitz Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese ($22, SoPo). (Other Leitz wines are also amazing, some lower-priced).

Exotic whites: Thomas Halby Gewürztraminer ($9, Wicked) or Robertson Gewürztraminer ($9, Davine); both are tropical and all-directions, slightly spicy and plain ol’ fun. Going big: Abbazia di Novacella Gewürztraminer ($26, Pine State), an otherworldly, joyously complicated but balanced-on-rails Gewurz.

Chenin Blanc, perfect. Dry Creek ($9, Pine State) is Californian but actually tastes like Chenin (bright, touch of earth, honey). La Craie Vouvray ($15, Central) is revelatory: chalky, grippy and singsong, with more of that honey that’s right on for herbed turkey and stuffing.

Reds: Several of my favorites are wines I’ve written about previously: Sa Ra Da ($10, Wicked) is zesty, medium-bodied and full of young fruit. Chaponne Morgon ($15, Pine State) is Cru Beaujolais leaping with berries. Zweigelt is a no-brainer grape for Thanksgiving. Some of the best around are the Huber ($15 listed, though cheaper at most places right now, SoPo) and Berger ($14 liter, SoPo).

Pinot noir is great, although often thin at lower prices. Domaine des Remparts ($16, Nappi) is 3-D, with cherries on top. Try German and Austrian Pinots wherever you find them; the combination of cherries, cranberries and fat screams for turkey and game, nowhere better than in Messmer Spätburgunder ($19, SoPo). Shakespeare drank Spätburgunder (really).

Sparkling wines are happy, clear-eyed accompaniments to the Thanksgiving table. Juve y Camps Reserva Cava ($14, National) is clean, frank and rounded, with perfect effervescence. You already have a favorite Prosecco; go with it. Louis de Grenelle Corail Rosé ($20, Central) is the dry, extrapolated essence of Thanksgiving-food-friendly Cabernet Franc. Von Schleinitz Sekt ($30, SoPo) is sparkling Riesling, two of the greatest words in any language, from a spectacular winemaker (who also makes cheaper, wonderful still wines).

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