WHAT would happen if Thanksgiving
were canceled? The wine panel inadvertently tested this proposition when Hurricane Sandy
collided with our annual holiday wine tasting.
Every year, our home team — Florence Fabricant and I, along with Julia Moskin, Pete Wells and our tasting coordinator, Bernie Kirsch — gathers for a preliminary Thanksgiving meal. We drink a series of wines with a typical feast, assess their compatibility and make some recommendations.
That was the plan this year, too. But the storm made it impossible for us to gather on our appointed day, or the next day or the day after that. By the time the way had cleared, the panel had scattered and our preliminary feast proved impossible.
So what did we do? Exactly what any family does when forces beyond its control interfere with its plans. We improvised. That is, I took home all the wines, which had been awaiting our meal, and sampled them myself.
I didn’t taste them blind, and the opinions are solely my own. I missed not having the group, but on the bright side, the usual taunts, tart observations, philosophical disputes, downright insults and other familial byplay were kept to a minimum.
The goal was simple: select two wines, one red and one white, rosé or sparkling. The cost? No more than $25 a bottle.
Now, if your Thanksgiving consists of four people eating a jewel of a meal, you should drink whatever you want and can afford. If you were to decide on the finest Champagnes, Burgundies and the like, well, I would ask only that you save me a glass.
My Thanksgivings are not like that. Typically, they are big, ramshackle affairs with guests streaming in and out and an unpredictable riot of dishes on the buffet table.
Such joyous chaos makes precise pairings of wine and food difficult, if not impossible. So the wine panel’s strategy has always been to seek out versatile, moderately priced wines that, above all, will refresh and invigorate regardless of the individual components of the endurance contest ... I mean, the meal.
One red, one white and plenty of both is our mantra. This year we also permitted rosés and sparkling wines because, well, why not? Most rosés are made for summer drinking, but those with firmer character can be ideal for the Thanksgiving panoply. And sparkling wines? Good ones qualify on all counts: refreshing, flexible and invigorating.
As for plenty, err on the side of extra. One bottle per drinking guest is sensible. Would you ever dream of running out of food on Thanksgiving? Of course not! Don’t do it with the wine. In the worst case, you’ll have leftovers, which, as everybody knows, are the best part of Thanksgiving anyway.
The panel this year came up with brilliant selections. Some were obscure: Pete and Julia both chose unusual sparkling wines that nonetheless were superb. If you’ve never considered sparkling wines, it’s understandable. Most people think of them as solely for receptions and parties. Yet, they are among the easiest wines to pair with disparate dishes. The only possible drawback might be the effervescence, which can fill precious space in the stomach.
Pete was concerned about bubbles, “but this wine charmed me into not worrying about that,” he said of his selection, a Cerdon du Bugey from Renardat-Fâche in the Savoie region of eastern France. Charming is right. This lightly sparkling rosé is also a little sweet, but so perfectly balanced that it’s never cloying. And at just 7.5 percent alcohol, you can drink a lot. The biggest problem is its obscurity. But other mildly sweet wines operate on similar principles of balance. You could try kabinett rieslings from Germany, or demi-sec Vouvrays.
Pete’s other selection turned out to be a perennial favorite of mine, the 2010 Bone-Jolly from Edmunds St. John, a rare American gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, from El Dorado County in California gold country. It’s light-bodied but intensely flavored, agile and earthy, with each sip thirst-quenching yet intriguing enough to inspire another. It’s an American take on Beaujolais, not a facsimile, perfect for an American holiday. If it’s unavailable, any number of good Beaujolais will do, particularly moderately priced selections from producers like Jean-Paul Brun, Pierre-Marie Chermette and Michel Tête.
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