Perfect Holiday French Wines

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The holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is a festive time to enjoy a range of your favorite wines, and also to try some new ones. Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, of course, is a challenge of its own, for the traditional turkey is not an easy fit with wine. The up side of that dilemma is that there is no “right” wine to serve. You can drink what you enjoy best, without fear of the Wine Police descending upon you with lectures about what must be served and what should not. Here are some suggestions for the holidays, all wines currently for sale at the prices indicated in the Washington area. Thanksgiving. I always enjoy reading Art Buchwald’s annual Thanksgiving column, in which he explains our national holiday to the French. It is, he rightly says, “the one day when Americans eat better than the French do.” But I notice that in describing how it all began, he avoids mentioning any wines to go with the meal. He is right to do so. Turkey, after all, is not one of those meats automatically associated with any particular wine. While we would associate roast beef with a fine Bordeaux, and game dishes perhaps with a mature Burgundy, neither wine would go as well with turkey. The Burgundy would be too rich and powerful, and the Bordeaux too nuanced, to complement turkey’s mild flavors well. So serve a less complex wine from either region with a good conscience. In a way, our Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of plenty, available to nearly everyone. It’s appropriate that wines that go with it best are neither overly expensive nor hard to find. The Pilgrims would probably approve. (They would probably also serve ale or beer). Turkey is a mild meat, and generally a softer red wine would match it. Here, you have a fairly broad choice. Take a merlot varietal wine, such as a young wine from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux (Chateau Moulin St. Georges 1998, $29), or possibly a young St. Emilion (1999 Carillon de l’Angelus, $30, the second wine of the grand cru Chateau l’Angelus, at a fraction of its price). More reasonable choices would be the quality generics that Barton & Guestier offer, in the $10-15 range. You might also discover a wine from the Fronsac or Cotes de Bourg region that would go well and be reasonably priced. If you can find them at reasonable cost, offer a magnum of wine. This two-bottle size always seems more festive, and helps create a sense of occasion. A magnum of the well regarded Graves, Chateau Carbonnieux, goes for $59. My local wine retailer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland offers magnums of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages for $15, a wonderful buy for a soft red wine. It’s usually served as a hot weather wine, but why not enjoy it now? Just chill the bottle for an hour or two before the dinner. Burgundy wines pose similar challenges. You don’t need a great one, but a young wine that is beginning to develop might complement the feast. Look to a younger Côtes de Nuit Villages, or a Hautes Côtes de Beaune. There should be a good selection at your wine retail store, and those wines are in the $15-$20 range. We sometimes look to a red Chateauneuf du Pape, and recent years have been excellent. Look, for example, for a Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils ($20), or a 2001 E. Guigal ($28). For a special occasion, serve a magnum of 2000 Chateau La Nerthe ($77). These red wine choices would be particularly appropriate if your turkey is accompanied by sausage or chestnut stuffing, including the assertive herb sage, with traditional side dishes. The tastes would complement each other well. This is not to rule white wines out. You could serve a non-vintage brut champagne, domestic or imported. Champagne would work very well, and a light one would be welcome, given the general heaviness of the meal and dessert. Another possibility would be an Alsatian white wine, perhaps a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer. Hugel, Adam, Trimbach, or Albrecht are fine producers, and unless you get into the limited production wines, you should stay in the $12-$15 per bottle range. These wines would go particularly well if you use an oyster stuffing with the turkey. Last year, we tried three Willm 2000 Reserve wines over the holidays: their Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. Each bottle cost $14. Hands down, out favorite for our own Thanksgiving dinner was the Riesling. My assumption has been that you would be serving turkey. If not, make your wine choices accordingly. A crown roast of pork would go well with a Loire Valley white wine. Try marinating it with Vouvray wine, then roast it with apples or prunes and some thyme, adding a bit more wine from time to time to pan brown it. Ask your wine retailer about Vouvray wines. Unless you get into limited production wines, $10-$12 should buy a nice bottle. But be careful. They tend to be rather sweet. With baked ham, a medium-dry white wine of character would be a good choice. Here, I would suggest an Alsatian Pinot Gris. You should be safely within the $15 range with these wines. For desserts, a heavier, fortified wine such as port would be a good choice, or perhaps a glass of Sauternes, especially if your dessert is not overly sweet. If you are serving a cheese course with apple slices and nuts, then a glass of port or a medium-dry sherry would be a good choice. And don’t forget to save a glass of wine to toast the cook when the meal is over. It won’t get you out of helping with the dishes, but it might get you invited back next year. Christmas. Let’s skip to Christmas dinner. If you have game, or a traditional goose, a robust Rhone…
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