The Block Island Times

Raise a glass of good wine this holiday season

By George Taber | Nov 21, 2012

Every year at about this time, my phone starts ringing with friends asking for recommendations for holiday wines, especially a wine for Thanksgiving. I’m always happy to help out fellow oenophiles, and it’s not as hard as they think.

First comes finding a wine to go with Thanksgiving dinner. Over many years, I tried everything from expensive Bordeaux to less costly California Cabernet, but I couldn’t find something that was really right. A good Thanksgiving meal presents a variety of flavors on the plate: turkey, stuffing, maybe some cranberries. So what wine is flexible enough to handle all of them?

Some people say to serve Zinfandel, the quintessential American wine, although its origins are actually in Croatia. I tried that a couple of times, but finally decided it was too big and bold. It overwhelmed, rather than complemented, the food.

I currently think that Beaujolais is the ideal Thanksgiving wine. It not too bold and has just the right amount of character. I’ve never been disappointed since I started serving that. But there’s one Beaujolais NOT to have. That’s a Beaujolais Nouveau, a fun wine that comes out with lots of fanfare every November. “The Beaujolais Nouveau Has Arrived!” scream the signs. That Beaujolais has a sharp taste that fights food.

An added advantage of Beaujolais is that is generally inexpensive. You can find it in many stores selling for less than $15. Georges Duboeuf is the largest producer, and his wines can be found almost everywhere. Upmarket Beaujolais such as Village, Brouilly and Morgon are a little more expensive. No Beaujolais, though, should cost you more than $25.

We’re going to be having Thanksgiving in Vero Beach again this year with our Block Island friends Sue and Dave Coffin. I’ll be bringing a still-to-be determined white wine for gathering time and those who insist on white wine with turkey, and a Beaujolais. I’ll be drinking Beaujolais.

With Thanksgiving out of the way, now it’s on to Christmas. Although once many years ago we had a multi-course Edwardian Christmas lunch including a goose, we normally have red meat, usually beef. So that’s easy. Good red wine goes with good red meat.

Christmas is the time to bring out some of the best you have stored for that special occasion. If you were smart enough to buy the wine in about 2000, a Bordeaux or California Cabernet Sauvignon would be perfect. They will have developed those wonderful chacteristics of an aged red. Once you’ve had a 10-year-old wine, you’ll never forget it. Europeans used to think that a great wine had to be perhaps 20 years ago before it was fully mature.

The danger with an old bottle is that you keep holding onto it for that event that is worthy of it. So drink it now.

Christmas lunch or dinner is a wonderful time to bring out a sweet wine to go with dessert. Too many wine drinkers are still not comfortable around sweet wines because they have been told for so many years that they are terrible. As a result, they’re missing something great. A small glass of a good sweet wine at the end of a meal is heavenly.

You don’t need to serve a lot, so buy a half bottle. You can get very good Sauternes from France or a California one from many different grapes. Bonny Doon Muscat at about $17 for a half bottle is one of many good offerings.

This might also be the time to try a Madeira Malmsey. Madeira was the wine of the American Revolution.

The holidays are not over until you have New Year’s Eve. Of course, you must have a sparkling wine to toast in the new year. Splurge for Champagne, if you can afford it. If not, there are now many excellent sparklers from all over the world. I was recently in Napa and had dinner with one of its most famous winemakers. He insisted that we start the meal with a glass of sparkling wine and ordered his favorite, a Roederer Estate Brut Rosé from California’s Anderson Valley. It was excellent, and maybe I’ll have that for New Year’s Eve.

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