December 4, 2008

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The Riesling holidays
And a few other bottles that go well with turkey
By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

A few weeks ago I cooked Thanksgiving dinner as kind of a dress rehearsal for the real one.

I hadn’t cooked a complete turkey dinner in at least six years and I wanted the time, space and wiggle room to do it. (Ruin a turkey dinner on Nov. 8 and you can still order a takeout pizza, unlike on the actual day.)

The meal was fine, especially the homemade creamed onions. (Isn’t it always that way? At Thanksgiving one of the supporting cast members always upstages the turkey!)

So, now that I’ve had the dry run I can concentrate on cooking the things I really like. And finding a good wine to go with them.

This year my wine pick for the holidays is Riesling. Why? Because the holidays are is when even the people who buy things like Naked Lady Silhouette Mud Flaps for their big rigs drink wine.

Wine is not very macho. Ask anyone this simple question:

“Name one American male who drinks or drank wine?”

“Thomas Jefferson”   Correct, but he’s been dead for 182 years.

“Frasier.” OK, but only after he moved back to Seattle. He drank draught beer in Boston. And don’t forget — he’s fictional.

“Robert Mondavi.” Yes, but that was his job.

Wine isn’t considered a macho thing. Even Orson Welles, the epitome of intellect and Eastern Liberal Thinking, who fronted for Paul Masson promising to “serve no wine before its time,” was more at home with a highball or a martini. And none of the Rat Pack drank wine.

President Kennedy liked wine but drank manly drinks like Bullshots, a Bloody Mary-inspired concoction made with vodka and beef bouillon.

And besides those two guys from Sideways, there really aren’t any American male wine icons, or even female ones, come to think of it. Yes, Robert Parker is very American, tough and a little menacing like Raymond Burr in Rear Window, but he’s not a household name. Neither is Gary Vaynerchuk or Bill Hopkins or Eric Asimov, although his famous sci-fi author uncle helps his name recognition. What we need is someone big — 50 Cent, Donald Trump, Angelina Jolie — who embraces wine and wants to incorporate it into their brand. Then wine will really hit the mainstream. Maybe we could persuade the Twilight folk to feature a vampire that’s into wine? And do we dare hope that it’ll be a white wine, totally throwing it in the face of conventional wisdom?

In the meantime, drink the Robert Mondavi Private Selection Riesling ($8.99) and the Woodbridge Riesling. Even those marginally wine drinkers, the ones who drink only on the holidays, the I’d-rather-have-a-beer-people, will like it.

The other confusing thing about holiday wine is whether to buy American wine or imported.

Most patriotic Americans probably had a home-grown libation on the Thanksgiving table. I don’t think it’s treasonous to serve a foreign wine, but a nice American one gives you a little extra satisfaction. One exception is Haut-Brion, because it’s owned by an American family.

Here’s a secret no wine person will ever tell you. It’s impossible to pair any wine with turkey. So just stop. Part of the bird is white and dry. Part is dark and fat rich. The skin is tough and crispy.

Therefore most wine and food pairing enthusiasts will suggest everything but the kitchen sink. Personally, I’m going to just buy a turkey breast and make sausage stuffing. This year I’ll serve it with a Barolo, which no one has ever, ever suggested with turkey before. So don’t even try to pair the turkey with a wine. Pair the stuffing. If the stuffing’s got fruit go light and crisp: Beaujolais, Riesling, white zinfandel, chenin blanc and gewürztraminer will do. If it’s heavy and sage-y and full of meat, try a zinfandel or a pinot noir. You could even squeeze in a cabernet franc. Oyster stuffing deserves champagne or a light, un-oaked chardonnay, even a Chablis. Wild rice stuffing is perfect for sauvignon blanc, the earthy, dull, carb-y rice paired with a tart sharp sauvignon blanc will add differential and contrast.

The weirdest stuffing I ever heard about was made from half a loaf of Wonder Bread, four tablespoons of Bell’s Poultry Seasoning, celery, onions, butter and five McDonalds hamburgers, three with the beef patty and two without. They were chopped extra fine, mixed with the other ingredients and stuffed in the bird. They say it was legendary. The turkey juices, the bread, the vegetables and the seasoned beef patty formed a delicious, slightly spicy mix with the perfect moistness and texture.

Along with the Barolo I’ll be drinking Pinot Noir at my holiday dinners, not because it’s the “perfect” match, but because I’m into them right now. The lower-end ones from Burgundy, the Jadot’s the Girardins, Louis Latour and Olivier Leflaive are real bargains now, and will probably drop in price even more.

Here’s some wines I’d have been happy to serve at any turkey-focused holiday affair:

• Columbia Vineyard Yakima Valley Gewürztraminer $11.99

• Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Merlot $12.99

• 337 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi $12.99

• R. Stuart  Big Fire Pinot Gris $14.99

• Qupe Central Coast Syrah $17.99

• Neyers Zinfandel $19.99

• Au Bon Climate Chardonnay $21.99

• J Drouhin Chablis $21.99

• Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc $21.99

• Taz Fiddlesticks Vineyard Pinot Noir $24.99

• Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais $25.99

• Sonoma-Cutrer $25.99

• Truchard Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir $27.49

• Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel $35.99

• Nicholas Potel Volnay $36.49

• Anselma Barolo $46.99


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