Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Pairing Guide

By Eric Guido

Does anyone else feel like this Thanksgiving really snuck up on us? Especially living in New York City, where Super-Storm Sandy has been the first thing on all of our minds for the past few weeks. However, this morning, it all became a reality as my wife wanted to discuss what I’m doing for Thanksgiving.

Of course I’m making a turkey with all the trimmings. She really didn’t need to ask. But what I really started to think about is what wines I’d be serving with Thanksgiving. The reality is that a Thanksgiving dinner can be a little difficult to pair with, because there are so many diverse flavors on the table. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes (some sweeter than dessert), mashed potatoes, corn—the list goes on and on.

Luckily, I’ve had a lot of experience pairing wine at Thanksgiving, and trust me; I’ve been let down plenty of times. However, we learn from our failures, and the list below is my list of wines that are sure to succeed. Each one should be versatile enough to handle an array of traditional and unique side dishes, and of course, will pair perfectly with turkey.

Pinot Noir is probably the most regularly recommend wine for Thanksgiving, and there’s good reason why. No matter what style of Pinot you choose, they are usually softer and more feminine than most reds. With French style Pinot (Burgundy), you can expect a lighter frame, more acidity and a mineral core. While the new world examples give more fruit and spice, each style manages to accentuate the flavors of turkey, gravy and stuffing (especially with mushrooms).

2009 Calera Pinot Noir - The nose was highly expressive with a bouquet that showed sweet cherries, pine nettles and dark soil notes. On the palate, it was silky smooth yet juicy, with pure dark cherry fruit, hints of herbs, and a crack of pepper. The finish followed suit, as its red fruit and earthy profile slowly melted away from the palate. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Gewurztraminer has become one of my favorite white wines. Its floral, spicy tones on the nose are truly seductive, while the palate offers a lush mouthfeel contrasted by zippy acidity. It’s a perfect white for a holiday meal, because it complements everything else around it with its gorgeous aromatics.

2009 Kellerei-Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer - The nose shows intense floral notes with spicy, sweet tropical fruits. On the palate, a hint of residual sweetness remains but is well balanced by a mix of balanced acidity and a plush, velvety mouthfeel. The flavors are of dried apricot, white stone fruits, and saline minerals. The sweetness turns pleasantly bitter on the long finish with white stone fruits. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Merlot—yes, I said Merlot. Merlot is usually fruity, round and soft on the palate, yet there’s still enough acidity and structure to allow it to pair beautifully with roasted turkey. What’s more, most Merlot has a savage side with earthy, almost animal tones, and I find that it’s a great pairing against the aromas of potatoes with gravy.

2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot Cold Creek Vineyard - On the nose, I found plum and blueberry with sweet spices and an underlying dark soil and chalk note that kept it rooted in the earth. On the palate, it was full-bodied with velvety textures, showing excellent balance with a mix of cherry and cranberry, herbs and bitter dark chocolate. The finish showed plums, green pepper and saline minerals with a slight tug of tannin reminding me of its fine structure. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Chardonnay (No oak), I once heard someone say that Chardonnay is a blank canvas on which a winemaker can paint a beautiful picture. Unfortunately, that picture is often of an oak barrel. There’s a lot of buttery (oaky) Chardonnay out there, and it has its place, especially against buttery dishes. However, I invite you to try an unoaked Chardonnay, and what better time to do it than at Thanksgiving? When you take away that layer of oak, Chardonnay shows the qualities of the winemaker more than the barrel. In this case, it’s also an early wine, which really kicks up the freshness of the wine, lowers the alcohol, and makes it a great pairing for your holiday meal.

2012 Macari Chardonnay Early Wine - The nose was lively with a bouquet of green apple, melon, stony minerals and a spritz of citrus. On the palate, a wave of semi-sweet citrus fruits turned to green apple acidity with a slight fizz that spread across the senses. The finish was pure, clean yet showed citrusy green melon and left the mouth watering. (89 points) Find it at Macari Wines!

Syrah performs great with almost any roasted poultry, but it shines best for those who enjoy dark meat, legs and wings with stuffing (Yum!). These are serious reds rooted in the earth with ripe berry fruits, spice, and enough acidity and structure to handle a large array of side dishes.

2010 Éric Texier Côtes du Rhône-Brézème - The nose showed blackberry with savory spices, reminding me of mustard seed and pepper followed by mineral laden black stone. On the palate, it was light-to-medium bodied with zesty acidity, black fruits, grill char, herbs and orange peel. The finish was dry with cheek-puckering tannin, showing tart black fruits and pepper notes. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Zinfandel can be your ace in the whole. Red Zinfandel is a perfect match for the holiday table. Its ripe berries and spice complement the majority of side dishes; and Zins go great with turkey. What’s more, most of your guests will likely be surprised by how good Zinfandel can be (so you get to play the smart sommelier). The better Zinfandels will have juicy acidity and enough structure to really shine in the glass and at the table.

2009 Ridge Zinfandel Lytton Springs - The nose showed red wild berries, a dusting of cinnamon sugar, hints of minerals and herbs, and a whiff of dark baker’s chocolate. On the palate, it was beautifully balanced and elegant with a firm start and juicy finish. Ripe red and blue fruits went from sweet to tart as it flowed across the palate. The finish was long and spicy. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Shiraz may not be the first thing you’d think of to pair with Turkey, but it sure does an amazing job around the table; and let’s not forget that it’s actually the same grape as Syrah. I think the trick is not trying to pair an overly extracted bruiser of a Shiraz (of which there are many coming out of Australia) with turkey. What sold me on this pairing, the first time, was with a sausage and mushroom stuffing—talk about a perfect pairing. (For a really interesting twist, try a dry, sparkling Shiraz.)

2010 Pure Love Wines Shiraz Layer Cake - The nose showed blackberry jam on toast, vanilla, sweet spices and a hint of pine. On the palate, it was soft with vibrant acidity, ripe wild berries, cola and pepper assaulting the senses, which turned to sour blackberry on the finish. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Donelan: The Rhone Ranger

For me, it all started with Italy and France. However, as I continue to immerse myself in wine and force myself to explore, I’ve realized that it’s impossible for one person to understand it all. I often feel like I have a gauge on things, only to find myself reeling from a taste of something different. My current work with Snooth has opened my eyes to many new things (a great reason for all of us to explore the unknown). Rhone varieties, outside of the Rhone, have been my focus of late.

If you love Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, Cotie Rotie, or Cotes du Rhone, then you understand my newfound passion. First it was an article about pairing Syrah, where I discovered the 2008 Clos de Gat Syrah Har’El from Israel, a wine that I still think about on a regular basis. Soon I was hunting for Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne and Petite Sirah. This hunt has taken me around Europe, Australia, South Africa, and of course, the United States, where I came upon The Rhone Rangers.

The Rhone Rangers is an organization devoted to the promoting of Rhone Varieties in the United States with almost 200 winery members from California, Oregon, Washington and New York. The list of wineries is impressive and extensive, with names such as Ridge Vineyards, Qupe, Bonny Doon, L’Adventure, and Larkmead filling their ranks.

However, at a recent tasting, the winery that really turned my head is also a new name to me, but a staple in the Rhone Ranger movement; that winery is Donelan. The wines were stunning; they were focused and pure, rooted firmly in the earth, yet with intense fruit and serious depth. Most could use a few years in bottle to truly shine, but all were highly enjoyable and blossomed in the glass. For those of you unfamiliar with Donelan Vineyards, you may recognize them for their previous work under the name Pax Wine Cellars. Joe Donelan and winemaker Tyler Thomas are continuing that legacy, making a selection of Rhone varieties, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool climate sights in Sonoma.

These are not over the top, highly extracted and heavily oaked wines either. The Donelan lineup highlighted the terroir of each sight, in many cases including a percentage of stems during fermentation and giving a nod to more traditional winemaking techniques. One fellow taster commented to me that they (Donelan) had dialed it back a bit. If that’s so, I think they may have just hit their sweet spot. If you enjoy the wines of the Northern Rhone, you owe it to yourself to check out Donelan.

On to the wines:

2010 Donelan Venus – The nose showed peach with citrus, spicy floral note and wet mineral stone. On the palate, it was soft and caressing with white fruits and a core of tart apple acidity and minerals. The finish was long and staying with spice notes and citrus fruits. (91 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2010 Donelan Cuvée Moriah – This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre impressed me with its rich yet playful personality. On the nose, I found spicy, red and blackberry fruit with a hint of orange peel, mint and floral tones. On the palate, it was intense yet showed pure cherry fruits, herb and spice notes with a savory quality through to the long, staying finish. (92 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2010 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine – The nose showed dark wild berries, exotic spice and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it had medium weight with a balanced spark of acidity, showing ripe red and black fruits, lavender, hints of pepper and inner floral notes. The long and staying finish revealed hints of this wine’s structure and likely its ability to age. (93 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2009 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill – The nose of the Walker Vine Hill Syrah truly draws you in with ripe red and blue fruits, spiced cookie and rosemary. On the palate, it was vibrant, truly exciting the senses, yet rich and dark with flavors of black cherry. The finish was long and showed great balance, as the dark red fruits slowly faded to reveal this wine’s refined structure. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Donelan Syrah Kobler Family Vineyard – In a blind tasting, it would be hard to imagine this wine coming from anywhere other than the Northern Rhone. The nose was intense and savory, showing blackberries with exotic spice, nori, fennel olive and hints of white pepper. On the palate, it started smooth as silk, yet quickly revealed a firm structure with red and black fruits turning tart into the long finish. With a few years’ time, I believe this wine will be glorious. (93 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.