Saturday, November 15, 2008

Going cold-turkey into holiday wines

If you don’t mind a mishmash of sentiments on wine for Thanksgiving and the other holiday, step on in.

This is all starts with a
piece that John Farlow wrote for Baltimore magazine on Maryland wines that would be perfect for the holiday table. Farlow is a longtime author and aficionado of wines worldwide, and was kind enough to call me back and talk about what he’s finding at wineries closer to his home. There are 34 wineries now in Maryland, and that number is far exceeded in the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York. Farlow agrees that slowly the bar is being raised, and that the opening of Black Ankle Winery and others of its ilk will force others in the state and region to change, in varying degrees, what they are doing.

Two of the wines that Farlow recommends come from
Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Md., which made note of his article in the November e-letter.

Deb Morris, who produces the e-letter, noted:
“The current Baltimore Magazine (November 2008) recommends the use of Maryland wine for the holidays. John Farlow, in his Grapevine column (p. 220) enthusiastically recommends two Maryland whites, one Maryland Rose and three Maryland reds for his readers table. Two of the three reds are Woodhall wines. Here is what he writes:

“I couldn’t pick between Woodhall Cabernet Franc 2007 and Woodhall Sangiovese 2007, so consider them both. They are impeccably made: the Cabernet Franc is a bit darker and leaner, and the Sangivese is brighter and broader. They possess the finesse to cope with Turkey Day without actually overwhelming the turkey.”

We commend Mr. Farlow. Not for recommending Woodhall wines (although we agree with him, as you will see later in this newsletter), but for recognizing the quality of Maryland wine and its appropriateness at celebratory dinners. It certainly doesn’t make sense to import wines from halfway around the world when wines just as good are available locally.

And, under the Wine of the Month, came this entry:
“We agree with Baltimore Magazine’s recommendations of Woodhall Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc as wines for Thanksgiving, but would expand the list. Thanksgiving dinner is a cacophony of flavors, generally on the heavy, rich side. Roast turkey and white wines usually create a metallic taste in the mouth. Big tannic reds with high alcohols (think California) add to the heaviness without cleansing the palette. So, the Woodhall Gang recommends lighter bodied red wines with moderate tannins. Should you need a white wine, consider the slightly sweet Woodhall Vignoles. But in our experience, reds are best. The lightest of our reds are the Sangiovese Rose and the Pinot Noir. The Chambourcin, with its dark purple color and spich flavor works well, as does the Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc recommended by Baltimore Magazine. For a step up in quality, try the Vintner’s Prestige series, Jubilee Reserve Barbera 2007. Deep blueberry/red color…herbal/black cherry aromas, and earth, terrior-like flavors brings an added dimension to Thanksgiving.

You can hit a number of regional winery Web sites and find references to what they’d suggest for the holiday.

On a state level, Pennsylvania’s Wine and Spirit stores will begin selling the Beaujolais Nouveau next Thursday, Nov. 21, and will hold tastings at a number of stores around the Commonwealth. Here’s the
tasting schedule for next Thursday, and at this link you can find the daily tastings schedule for this item and many others.

Finally, I’ve always admired the site of a California writer named Deb Harkness, whose knowledge of wines and the way she’s able to integrate her Web entries with a mix of history and modern culture has turned her
Good Wines Under $20 into an award-winning blog that’s chock-full of information and entertaining reading.

While my blog focuses on regional wines and wineries, I don’t mind sharing her take, which incorporates a more global scale. Enjoy, and an early happy holidays to everyone.

Her entry, produced on Nov. 6, follows:
Every year, new visitors come to this site in search of a delicious, affordable, and available bottle of wine to pair with their holiday meal. Old friends visit, too, sometimes to suggest their own picks for the year and sometimes to take issue with something I've picked. It doesn't matter why you're here--I'm glad to see you, and hope that what follows will be helpful to you as you plan for the big dinner.If you are looking for general advice on Thanksgiving wine and hospitality, I'd encourage you to
check out this article I wrote a few years ago on issues facing the host/hostess and the guests. If you are wondering what to drink with your meal, and with leftovers, you're in the right place.

Here are my picks for 2008--all of which offer great taste and great value in an easy-to-find package. Clicking on the wine's name will take you to the winery's site where you can find more information about the wine and its makers. Many of the wines I picked this year are made with organic grapes, are farmed with sustainability in mind, and/or are made by families with great stories of how they got in the business of grape-growing and wine-making. Clicking on the range of prices will take you to a list of retailers who stock the wine. Maybe one will be near you.

Sparkling Wines

What's a holiday dinner without some bubbles? These two picks are great for toasts, appetizers, brunch the morning after, or drinking with the main meal. Sparkling wine has great acidity, which means it pairs with most foods and there's no doubt that sparklers are festive.

NV Roederer Estate Brut ($15-$20). For my money, this is the best value around in domestic sparkling wine. Expect tiny bubbles, aromas of brioche and Meyer lemon, and flavors of apples, toast, and nuts. Just as good with food as without.

NV Domaine Allimant-Laugner Cremant d'Alsace Rose ($16-$19). If you're looking for a pink sparkler, try this one. It' made with 100% Pinot Noir and has knockout fresh strawberry aromas with light berry, mineral, and citrus flavors. Like the Roederer Brut, this wine is as good with food as it is without.

Rosé Wines

Rosé wines are perfect for turkey and all the side-dishes that make us groan afterwards. If you feel that rosé wines are too "casual" for a fancy dinner, don't forget the leftovers. Wouldn't a cool rosé be perfect on Saturday with your turkey sandwich? These rosé wines are dry, not sweet, and very refreshing.

2007 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Rosé ($12-$16). Fort Ross makes some of the best Pinot Noir out there, and this is the rosé version of their wine. It's a beautiful color, with raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors and a delicious stony note that keeps it complex and interesting.

2006 Jeriko Estate Rosé ($9-$13). This is a round and full rosé, with aromas and flavors of strawberries and minerals. If you don't like watermelon notes in your wine, you'll like this. Made with organic grapes.

White Wines

I'm a fan of white wines for Thanksgiving. I like their freshness, and the way that they pair so beautifully with stuffing, gravy, turkey, cranberries, Waldorf salad--you name it, these whites will go with it. They're versatile and flavorful, but won't overwhelm the food.

2006 Brooks Riesling ($14-$19). This is not a sweet wine. It's dry in style, with aromas of lime, apple, Meyer lemon, petrol, and stone. You will taste lime, slate, currants, and a touch of honey which makes it ideal if you are serving smoked turkey or a turkey made with lots of spices. Exceptionally complex for the price.

2006 Adelsheim Pinot Gris ($14-$20). Delicious aromas of peach, honey, and a kiss of caramelized sugar, but there's lots of bright acidity to keep the peach and apple flavors in balance. This aromatic wine would be perfect if you are serving sausage stuffing, and while it may give a sweet impression it finishes dry.

2006 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc ($13-$17). One of the best domestic Sauvignon Blancs I've had in a long time, made with no oak and no assertive aromas or flavors. Warm melon, Meyer lemon, and clementine aromas and flavors accompany fresh, grassy notes.

2007 Clif Bar Family Winery The Climber White ($13-$15). This white blend has a core of Sauvignon Blanc with the addition of Pinot Blanc (12%), Chenin Blanc (4%) and Muscat (3%). The result is a wine with good acidity but an impression of softness. Aromas of pink grapefruit and nectarine, and flavors of Meyer lemon, nectarine, and peach.

2007 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay ($11-$13; also available in CostPlus World Markets). A new label to me, this wine had clean and fresh apple and citrus aromas and flavors. There is a lovely creaminess to this wine, and a touch of mild oakiness. Very much like a white wine from Burgundy at a fraction of the price.

Red Wines

There are a lot of people out there recommending Zinfandel for Thanksgiving. Unless you are very, very careful you may overwhelm your food with a jammy, high-alcohol wine. That's true for many other red wines, too. If you are serving turkey and lots of different sweet and savory dishes, red wines may not be your best bet. However, the ones below will not overwhelm your food--and the flavors may be just right for you if you like dark meat, or are serving something smoked or (gasp!) not serving turkey at all.

2006 Domaine du Vissoux/Pierre-Marie Chermette Vieilles Vignes Cuvee Traditionelle ($12-$16). Gamay is a low-alcohol, high-acid grape that produces fresh, zesty reds. You will smell cherries, berries and some chalk in this wine, and the flavors are pure, juicy Bing cherry with an earthy undertow and some mineral notes.

2006 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($12-$27) A great bargain in Pinot Noirs, this wine has high-toned cherry and raspberry fruit aromas, with a touch of allspice. There are flavors of cherry, raspberry, allspice, and fresh-baked cobbler with a terrific, silky texture.

2004 Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($18-$20). If you must, this is the Zinfandel to get. With aromas of black cherry, allspice, and cedar, and flavors of cherry, baker's chocolate, and pepper it has beautiful acidity and is very food friendly. This Zin feels and tastes more old fashioned and restrained--just the way I like them. The 2005 is also in the market, and while I haven't tasted it, ordinary drinkers on CellarTracker! seem to give it thumbs up, too.

2004 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Crianza ($7-$12). If you think I'm nuts to suggest Tempranillo with turkey--trust me. I'm not. This is one of the great bargain reds, from Osborne's Bodegas Montecillo. There are aromas of roasted herbs and spicy berries, and nice, high-toned red fruit. Beautiful acidity and some dusty tannins make for a long, juicy aftertaste.

Whatever you serve on Thanksgiving, remember to relax and enjoy your friends and family. That's what the holiday is really all about!