Thanks for Napa cabs
A simple wine is OK
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
Thanksgiving brings out the worst in me.
I haunt wine shops looking for that special bottle that will blow everyone away and make the turkey crawl back into the roaster with shame. Yes, I am a wine showoff.
But this year I’ll be different.
No more fancy wine grown in the in the foothills of Dolomite Alps where the rain washes gravel soil into the vineyards, infusing the wine with a flinty taste of aluminum storm doors and green apple lollipops. I’m going bring a plain old-fashioned favorite, like a Californian cabernet made from canned grapes or a Chilean merlot that’s fruity and saucy to counterbalance the dry and doughy sawdust stuffing with oysters and white truffles. Keep it simple. Or I could go in a whole different direction. Maybe a classic heritage wine like a Stone Hill Pink Catawba for $6.99. Catawba wines were popular about 150 years ago and graced many a rural American Thanksgiving table. It’s a sweet grape, but the Stone Hill version is drier than the homemade stuff. Stone Hill is one of the new breed of American wineries that have sprung up in almost every state. Stone Hill is in Missouri, which has a great wine tradition and used to supply New Orleans with rural plonk back in the steamboat days. Maybe even Mark Twain drank some and threw the bottle overboard into the muddy Mississip.
So this year we’re going to have the basics. A Napa cab or merlot, no cult wines. A Chilean merlot or pinot noir, under $17.99 if you please. A Barolo — yes, I know it’s pricey and snobbish, but it’s so damn good and even the bad ones are better than some of the French stuff out there. A Bishop’s Orchards Sparkling Cranberry Wine. It’s going to be either fantastic or weirdly awful.
And now’s the time to begin making your own homemade cranberry wine for next year. The recipe calls for 3 pounds of cranberries, 1 pound of raisins, pectic enzyme, 3 pounds of sugar and yeast and nutrients and a bunch of stuff you’d get at a winemaking shop. The last line was “The wine will be at its best if you let it sit in the bottle for a year and a half.” So circle Thanksgiving 2009 if you’re doing a homemade cranberry wine.
If you must bring French wine to Thanksgiving let it be Beaujolais, even the nouveau kind. It’s basic and fruity and not tannic. This will please the beer drinkers. My worst Thanksgiving showoff wine was a 1981 red Chassagne Montrachet that was marked down from $29.99 to $18.61. I asked why it was $18.61 and not $18.99 and the clerk told me it was because that’s the lowest price allowed by law and the owner liked it because he’s a Civil War re-enactor and that’s when the Civil War started. The wine was dense and sulfuric. It smelled like diesel bus exhaust. Flecks of sediment coated the glass. The color was brick red, the right color for a 12-year-old-wine, but that was the only thing right about it. Even the dog — Cuddles, I believe his name was — wouldn’t drink it and he was a real booze hound, having been fed a teaspoon of beer, licked some White Russian off a swizzle stick and polished off a bowl of rum raisin ice cream. He just sniffed at it. We dumped it out and smashed the bottle.
Maybe this year I’ll bring dessert instead of wine or a port or Madeira. Or that Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier for $29.49, a red wine made from the grape they blend with pinot noir and chardonnay to make Champagne. But that would be showing off.
Here’s the stuff I drank recently:
• 2004 Chateau Flaugergues Cuvee Colbert ($21.89) From Languedoc. Jammy and dense with an astringent backbone of unpolished tannins. Nice but I expected more. It’s a Rhone style but not really.
• 2004 Tupun Don Manuel Malbec ($12.99) From the Valley of Tupungalto! Ho, Ho, Ho! Green Giant. Nice wine. Really dry for a malbec, but structured and tasty. This wine came from a wine club and it blew the Cuvee Colbert away in a side-by-side tasting. Would buy any wine from the Valley of Tupungalto in Chile.
• 2005 Chateau Malmaison ($22.99) From the vintage of the millennium, yet another over-the-top wine that shouts in a voice so shrill it shatters glass in the dishwasher. Very dry and merlot-y with plum and dark chocolate fruit notes. Not a lot of structure, but a nascent hint of that unmistakable Bordeaux flavor.
• 2004 Albert Bichot Bourgogne ($17.99) Too closed up. This wine was downright mean. Not a lot of fruit or structure. Pleasant to drink but not a heavyweight contender. Made from old vines, possibly past their prime.
• 2003 Domaine des Amouriers Vacqueyras ($27.55) Black pepper, red pepper and wasabi heat. Not enough fruit, too much spice and an undisguised alcohol finish. Not looking forward to another round of this one.