While spending Christmas with my family in Tacoma, we managed to successfully deep-fry a turkey without injuring ourselves or setting the place on fire. As far as wine choices with this turkey, and especially with a holiday meal where everything under the sun is on the table, I say just drink what you like. A handful of ideas, however, did come to mind during and after I pounded down a few beers in front of the boiling cauldron of oil and turkey:
- Bubbles. Anything crunchy and salty (like chips) seems to have an affinity with sparkling wine. The deep-fried turkey had a remarkably crisp skin that I could have eaten by the handful if only I didn’t have to share it with a dozen other people. (Not that I was complaining….OK, maybe a little.)
- A light, refreshing red and/or white. A lively Northern Italian white or something in the Gamay/Pinot Noir family is a classic with turkey. But then again…
- Why not a hearty, burly red like a Zinfandel? Or a bruiser of a Spanish Garnacha? You’ve got that spicy skin, and you can’t discount the dark meat. Put some brawn into your glass! Which reminds me…
- A big, rich white would work as well; why not a plush White Burgundy or California Chardonnay? Nothing that’s an oak monster, but a little bit of heft wouldn’t hurt.
So you can have bubbles, a lighter white and/or red, or a heavier white and/or red. They all have their pluses (and minuses). It’s best just to have a lot of variety and experiment with whatever happens to be within arm’s reach. I ended up drinking the same red I had for Thanksgiving: The 2009 Brundlmayer Zweigelt. An easy-drinking red in a shareable one-liter bottle, it was great with a slight chill on it.
So what did you end up eating and drinking over the holidays?
2009 Brundlmayer Zweigelt (1L) $15
I can admit to being a bit finicky and quite opinionated about Champagne. My strident feelings bubbled (hee hee) over at the uncritical stance many of my colleagues have towards Grower Champagne. (As opposed to negociants who often purchase grapes or juice to blend into their Champagne, growers own the land, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. You can tell a Grower Champagne from a negociant by looking for the tiny “RM” at the bottom of the label versus “NM”, respectively.) While most of my favorites are from growers, I felt that the discussion surrounding these Champagnes, sometimes affectionately referred to as (seriously) “Farmer Fizz”, and the larger houses seemed to cleave in an all-too tidy “us versus them” dichotomy. Just because a Champagne house is big (or owned by a large company) doesn’t mean it’s bad or that Grower Champagne is good solely based on heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Part of my stance on this issue I will admit comes from my penchant to be a contrarian, but I like to judge and recommend Champagne based on the most important criteria: taste.
But lest you think I sit around all day guzzling Fortune 500 Champagne, I must tell you about my new favorite producer. And it happens to be a grower. (“You liberal hippie!”) Tasting the Champagnes of Vilmart was a game-changer for me; they are simply the finest producer of the loveliest sparkling wines.
I’ll address the rosé first, the Cuvée Rubis. Wowzers! It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy on the part of people to try rosé Champagne; but for bubbles fanatics like myself, they are often the most memorable and pleasurable. The Rubis teases out flavors of every red berry fruit you can imagine, from the sweet to the tart, with a rich finish that’s like a dollop of some yet-to-be-discovered, otherworldly creamy goodness.
The 2004 Grand Cellier d’Or is a stunner. Like Krug (which is in my mind the gold standard of Champagne; the 1996 may be the best wine period I’ve ever had), Vilmart ferments and ages the still wine in barrels before transforming it into Champagne. This process gives the wines a richness and complexity that does a gorgeous dance with Champagne’s natural acidity and liveliness. Somehow the Grand Cellier is both substantial and ethereal at the same time.
So what Champagnes are you looking forward to enjoying this holiday season?
Though I recently gave a compendium of Thanksgiving picks, I overlooked a couple of my favorites. The theme for my Thanksgiving drinking enjoyment will be this: Austrian wines in one-liter bottles. For under $15 you can get 33% more wine than the standard, puny, insignificant 750ml bottle.* Both of the wines, the Hofer Gruner Veltliner and the Brundlmayer Zweigelt, are notable for their lightness and moderate alcohol. I would venture to say that anyone who likes crisp, dry, unoaked wines would enjoy the Hofer. And with Beaujolais and Pinot Noir being such popular Thanksgiving reds, I think the Zwiegelt would play nicely with those wines; it’s a lighter-style red that will help you wash down the overflowing bounty of the holiday table.
I don’t know what the origin is of the 1L bottle versus the 750ml or why Austria seems to have cornered the market on them (though I have seen German wines in this size). All I know is that I love drinking them and they will please a large, thirsty crowd. And the icing on the cake (the stuffing in the turkey?) is the Hofer is sealed with a bottle cap. How fun is that?
I guarantee this will facilitate conversation around the table. (Like the time a customer at a previous job said to me about the Hofer: “This beer is flat.”)
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
(*If these bottles were 750mls I’d still feel they were a good deal at the same price. Therefore, I am getting an extra third for free. At least that’s how my math works.)
Out of the hundreds of wines I taste a week, sometimes it seems it’s like a never-ending parade of the same thing, over and over again. Wow, another Napa Cab, one more Washington Syrah, hey, an Italian Pinot Grigio. Yawn. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these wines, but there is so much of them out there that for one to get my attention it really has to stand out. Thankfully every now and then, something comes across the tasting table that is unusual and exciting enough to make me forget about the unremarkable monotony that preceded it. One recent example is the 2009 Nigl Gelber Muskateller from Austria.
Gelber Muskateller? Huh? Even I had to look this up. It’s a type of muscat (wow, Sherlock Holmes) that is not only one of the most ancient, but one of the most ancient grapes, period. The first thing that struck me about the Nigl was the gorgeous aromatics: very floral, loads of peaches and pears reminicent of an Italian Moscato d’Asti. But that’s where the similarities end as this is a dry, steely white. I love the contrast of the aromas that make you think you might be getting a sweet wine but it finishes dry; just another delightful aspect of the Nigl. It would make a killer pre-dinner or lazy afternoon bottle. And as we get into November, I can’t help but think it would be nice on the Thanksgiving table. (Since I’m already seeing commercials for Christmas on TV, I feel comfortable talking about Turkey Day.)
Possibly the only thing nicer than having this wine on your holiday table would to be at the winery, drinking a well-chilled bottle. You’ve got to check this place out! Not only is the winery building itself full of charm, but it also houses a restaurant and hotel. (Yes, I will have another glass. I’m a guest at the hotel.) What’s not to love about being in a rural setting, surrounded by vineyards, and looking up at a striking castle ruin? Peruse the Nigl website and dream. The second best way to capture the magic of the wine and the region is to read the Austrian catalog put together by the man who discovers and champions these wines: Terry Theise. To call it a catalog is like calling the Sistine Chapel a room with a painted ceiling. It’s required reading for any wine geek; full of passion, humor, wit, contention, and a bit of stridency. And when you’ve finished the Austrian catalog, move on to Theise’s Champagne and Germany tomes. Theise will convert you to love the wines that are close to his heart; if he doesn’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of effort nor prose!
So what are some of the more unusual wines you have tasted recently?