Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Thanksgiving: Hell For Turkeys, Hell For Wine
by Jonathon Alsop
November 1997

Unlike deconstructivists in the art and literary criticism fields, I cling resolutely to the primacy of polar opposites when it comes to talking about wine. Unless you can come back to the touchstones of historical wine discourse -- sweet versus dry, sharp versus round, Mondavi versus Rothschild -- you have less than nothing to talk about, a situation I run into pretty frequently.

One of the reference points I find useful is Thanksgiving versus wine. Not because I don't like turkey (I do) or have a really bad attitude about Puritanism (OK, that might be part of it), but because it just doesn't go on so many levels. Like putting together wine and Mexican food, or tromping down to the cellar on St. Patrick's day to find something to go with corned beef and cabbage, it's nothing but a big losing proposition.

First of all, there's all that different cranberry stuff. Not only do cranberries kill my desire for anything but chestnut stuffing, they linger and permeate the essence of everything that hits your palate for the next week or two. A good rule of thumb is to try and put all the cranberry dishes out on the back porch and all the wine in the front hallway.

Most incompatible with wine is the emotional quality of Thanksgiving that sends us back to our American Puritanical roots. Regardless of your racial or ethnic origins, if you eat in America, you're paying the price for the Pilgrim forefathers' Epicurean austerity. Don't kid yourself: before the European invasion of America, the Indians ate great. The Pilgrims' offspring invented the Yankee boiled dinner as a way of subtly lowering everyone's expectations of what food could be. The traditional giant overcooked turkey for twenty carries on this tradition most successfully, especially with a little dollop of cranberry sauce on the side for good measure.

In a nutshell, my advice is to eat and drink separately. Pick out your favorite whites and your favorite reds and hope for the best. An alternative is to line up a few bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau in front of the turkey and pretend it's a food and wine concept.

'96 Flynn Pinot Gris (about $12)
What goes up must come down. In this case, America's blind love affair with chardonnay is slowly but surely ending, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of this is pinot gris, a popular white grape that Oregon, Washington State, and California are mastering. Flynn's version is lean and crisp, the perfect antidote to chardonnays that have put on a few pounds.

'95 Grgich Hills Cellar Fume Blanc (about $15)
One of my favorite treatments of sauvignon blanc, very fruity but reined in and tightly focused. Excellent when a little too cold.

'95 Callaway Viognier (about $15)
So far, I have loved just about everything Callaway has made, with the possible exception of all their red wines. This viognier is a great domestic example that's subtle and flowery with a nice citrusy zing to it.

'95 Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel (about $9)
Ah, the beauty of oak! Or in this case, the beauty of almost too much oak. Any more, and there could be lawsuits resulting from splinters. I doubt that it will age attractively, but right now, it's a house favorite.

NV Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot Number 20 (about $10)
From Love Potion Number Nine Vineyards... just kidding, of course. This is a rich and tasty blend of zinfandel, carignane, petite sirah, and gamay at a decent price.

'95 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (about $30)
Last year when I bought this for around $17 a bottle, someone said it was expensive, but a bargain, because it was worth way more. Looks like someone at Ridge was listening in, because now it is more. The good news is, it's worth every penny of its price. If you love zinfandel, this is a monster of a wine that will satisfy.

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