Holiday Wines

Drinkin’ Turkey

Centerpiece: Give thanks for fine wine.

Photo by Michael Amsler

Popping corks for turkey, ham, and other holiday fare

By Bob Johnson

THE ANNUAL transformation of otherwise vacant expanses of land from pumpkin patches to Christmas tree lots is under way throughout Sonoma County, and that can mean only one thing: The time has arrived to begin planning the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Ever since President Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 26, 1789, turkey has been the main course of choice among most families. The waist watchers among us know that a three-and-a-half-ounce serving of white turkey meat sans the skin contains only 115 calories. So how come we’re always reluctant to step on the scale the morning after Thanksgiving? The responsibility lies with all those other mouth-watering dishes that blanket the table: stuffing, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, candied yams, cranberry sauce, corn bread …

This eclectic combination of flavors and spices not only causes the calorie count to soar, it also makes selecting the “perfect Thanksgiving wine” next to impossible.

That’s not a cop-out; it’s a fact.

A soft, buttery chardonnay might match well with the turkey, but its delicate flavors would dissipate when consumed with the yams. Likewise, the subtle nuances of a well-aged cabernet sauvignon would go nearly unnoticed because of all the food flavors with which they’d be competing. Substitute ham for the turkey … or add ham to the mix … and the “matching game” becomes even more challenging.

Generally speaking, wines with bright and lively fruit flavors make the best Turkey Day dinner companions. Younger wines, though they may lack the complexity that develops with time in the bottle, typically are very fruit-forward.

No wine better defines “fruity” than Beaujolais Nouveau, the first-of-the-vintage wines from France that hit American soil about this time each year. A growing number of California wineries are releasing similar bottlings, and meeting with solid commercial, if not artistic, success. For me, nouveau wines–whether imported or domestic–are pleasant quaffers, but they’re nothing to write home about. A special day like Thanksgiving demands special wines.

So what’s a Thanksgiving dinner host to do? Pick up not one, but three or four bottles of different wine varietals to match the various dishes you plan to serve.

The shopping list that follows utilizes a scoring system of one to four corks for the wines: one cork, commercially sound; two corks, very good; three corks, outstanding; and four corks, exceptional.

Tasty with Turkey

Stonestreet 1995 “Upper Barn Block” Alexander Valley Chardonnay
A big wine (its 14.2 percent alcohol is among the highest I’ve seen in a chardonnay) with an apple butter flavor and a long, lingering, buttery finish. 4 corks.

Chateau St. Jean 1995 Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay
Spiced pear fruit and gobs of butter in the mouth, and spicy oak on the finish. 4 corks.

Rodney Strong 1996 Sonoma County Chardonnay
Apple, pear, and tropical fruit flavors with hints of vanilla and cream. A good value. 3 corks.

Heavenly with Ham

La Crema 1995 Sonoma Coast Reserve Pinot Noir
A big fruit bowl of a wine with bright cherry and raspberry flavors. 3.5 corks.

Stonestreet 1995 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Black cherry and tart cranberry flavors with a long, sweet, vanilla-oak finish. 3.5 corks.

Trentadue 1994 Old Patch Red
A blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and various Rhône varietals from several vineyards around the county, this is a pleasing wine with lots of bright red fruit flavors. Another good value. 3 corks.

Sumptuous With Spicy Sides

Davis Bynum 1995 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel
Black pepper and black cherry aromas dominate the nose, while supple fruit flavors entice the taste buds. Winemaker Gary Farrell makes outstanding zins under his own label (recently winning top marks at the Harvest Fair), and this David Bynum bottling comes very close to matching that quality standard. 3.5 corks.

La Crema 1995 Sonoma County Reserve Zinfandel
Spicy red raspberry aroma and flavor, with a touch of black pepper in the back end. Rich and racy. 3.5 corks.

Pedroncelli 1995 “Mother Clone” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Spicy vanilla and concentrated red fruit flavors, accompanied by a sweet berry aroma that makes the wine almost as much fun to smell as it is to drink. 3 corks.

Highly Recommended
Out-of-County Bottlings

WITH TURKEY, try the Saintsbury 1996 Carneros Unfiltered Chardonnay (4 corks); the Rosemount Estate 1997 Southern Australia Chardonnay (3 corks); or the Zaca Mesa 1996 Roussanne (3 corks).

With ham, try the David Bruce 1996 Central Coast Pinot Noir or the 1996 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir from the always-dependable Meridian Vineyards (3 corks).

And with those spicy side dishes, try the Edmeades 1995 Eaglepoint Vineyard Zinfandel (3.5 corks) or the Beringer 1996 California Gewürztraminer (3 corks).

From the Nov. 13-19, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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