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Wineaux: So many wines, so few Thanksgivings

By From page A4 | November 15, 2012

The family Thanksgiving table this year will boast wild turkey with oyster dressing, mashed parsnips, sweet potato rolls, quince/pumpkin/walnut pies and all manner of other home-made treats — served on mismatched plates with linen napkins of every color and print on whatever cloth will mostly cover the multi-leaved table.

The wines will be the best we can afford (yet to be firmly decided), poured into myriad-sized glasses, some with winery logos from tastings long past. Martha Stewart weeps.

But if you’ve been invited to feast at a more carefully coordinated table, you could cause a mild sensation by bringing a bottle of “orange” wine to match the fall décor. Orange wine (no oranges harmed in the process) is trendy but certainly not new — folks have been leaving white wine grapes on their skins for centuries. But we’ve been so concerned with visual clarity that most of our whites are off the skins immediately with a corresponding diminishing of our color palate.

Enter the orange (or amber or gold or honey).

Salinia, owned by UC Davis enology graduate Kevin Kelley, makes an excellent orange wine with organic sauvignon blanc and pinot gris from the Russian River Valley. This 2010 Saffron Haze smells of green olives and blood oranges and tastes of both minerals and lively fruit. Dry and hearty, it would be perfect for a Thanksgiving table.

Kevin likes it with Bouillabaisse or fish tacos, but people are even drinking it with steak. It’s a versatile creature, so smoked turkey, no problem. And it will look quite elegant sitting next to a matching pumpkin pie. You can find it at Vini for $30.

Jonathan Klonecke, Vini’s wine consultant, introduced me to another wine I’d love to bring to the festivities — and, added attraction, it’s from Solano County. This 2011 Broc Cellars Valdiguié is made by Berkeley-based Chris Brockway, who found Valdiguié grapes growing on a hillside in Solano County. They had been planted 70 years ago when growers, thinking the grape was a gamay, were calling it “Napa Gamay.” But grape identification has come a long way since then — it’s actually Valdiguié, a grape from Languedoc-Roussillon.

Anyway, this wine seems to me just a perfect Thanksgiving dinner accompaniment with its vivid, lively berries, a touch of mint and a lot of earthiness. Definitely a food wine but immediately likable on its own. And at only 12.5 percent alcohol, you can have more than one glass ($20 at Vini).

After this little tasting at Vini, I headed to my more traditional wine sources to ask advice of their experts. Asked for a top Thanksgiving table wine, John at Valley Wine Company immediately went to the 2010 Walter Hansel pinot noir from the Russian River. Pinot noir is probably the most popular turkey-and-trimmings wine, in part because its restrained elegance (when it’s good) enhances without overwhelming the food — and the food doesn’t overwhelm it.

Stephen Hansel makes the Hansel Family Vineyard’s pinots in the Burgundian style, and they’re hand-crafted in extremely limited lots. His pinots get very high ratings and win multiple awards — and are correspondingly expensive. At $38 this is a splurge (though quite reasonable in the world of artisan pinot noir), but John’s enthusiasm makes me think you wouldn’t regret it.

Misha at Nugget also went straight for the pinot noir shelf. He chose the ’09 Bethel Heights from the Willamette Valley. The 2009 was a great vintage for Oregon pinots, and this apparently is an excellent example. Nugget folks cite the “beautiful aromas of raspberries and strawberries … coupled with delicate hints of rose petals and lavender” — sounds good, doesn’t it? And, now on sale for $23 (usually $27), it seems a great bargain.

I think it would be perfect to have a whole array of colors at the Thanksgiving feast — from clearest white to deepest red. In between, I’m agitating for a good rosé — fruity, dry and not too light. Misha said that in a Nugget staff tasting, the very local Matchbook Rosé of Tempranillo (with a bit of syrah and malbec) outdid many much more expensive rosés. Easily available locally and around $10, this is an excellent bargain.

John’s rosé pick is from France — the 2011 Chateau Trinquevedel, a Kermit Lynch selection that’s full-bodied, age-able and fruity ($18). I’d love to try it, but now I’m torn: If I bring a rosé, I’ll have a hard time resisting the siren call of the Domaine de Fontsainte rosé I raved about in a previous column ($15 at Valley Wine).

Claire at the Co-op provided a white — the Nisia Old Vines Verdejo from Rueda. She said she has “fallen in love” with this wine, which is “rich in apricot and dense in orchard fruit and herbs, with a tinge of candied ginger. With subtle spiciness and gorgeous viscosity, this hefty white calls for stuffing, rich gravy and cheese.” I was expecting a big price tag here, but the Co-op has it on sale right now for $14. Wow!

And I want to add another white, and a very local one at that — the Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc VS (Vouvray Style). This fruity, velvety wine tastes of pineapple, honey and apricot but is quite dry and eminently food-friendly. I had it with a huge range of dinner fare, and it went so beautifully with everything that I’m confident it would shine with the turkey feast. Every time I took a sip, I tasted a different fruit. I wanted just to keep drinking — and at only 12.1 percent alcohol I think I might have been able to absorb one more glass, but my fellow drinker liked it just as much as I did, so there was none left in the bottle.

Only 159 cases of this delicious wine were made, so try it while you can. Alas, it’s not currently available in Davis, but you can get a bottle for $24 at Corti Brothers or at the tasting room (Sugar Mill).

Of course, you can’t have a celebration without a sparkler, right? For locovores, I can happily suggest the Capay Valley Sparkling Viognier ($14 at the Co-op), but I’ve recommended it so many times that I won’t belabor it. Claire highly recommends the Jean-Charles Boissett Brut No. 21 Cremant de Bourgogne, which she says tastes of “bright pear with tinges of lemon.” She notes its “bright acidity,” elegance and “feisty fervent bubbles.” On sale for $17, it seems a good bargain, too.

While she was contemplating her choices, I roamed the shelves and discovered something I’d never seen before: sparkling Grüner Veltliner. When I asked Claire if she’d tasted it, her face lit up. “It’s just wonderful,” she said, “I didn’t choose it because it’s a little pricey.” Considering that it’s now on sale for $18, I’m tempted to make this my own first choice for the great Thanksgiving Experiment.

I read a couple of rave reviews of this Szigeti Brut GV (from Austria), one of which mentioned its “joyous fruit.” Sounds perfect. GV is one of my favorite food-friendly whites, so I’m imaging that this bubbly (and apparently the bubbles themselves are an assertive, long-lasting wonder) could easily become the star of the our motley table.

I don’t drink dessert wines, but Claire assures me that the NxNw Dessert Riesling (from Columbia Valley) , with its “sweet notes of mandarin orange and lychee” and its “rich lingering notes of honey,” will do justice to those pumpkin pies — or perhaps console you if the filling of Aunt Georgia’s pie went straight from a can into a store-bought crust.

If you try any of these for your own table, let me know how you liked them and how they “matched” the food (and/or the centerpiece). A wine that serves well at the Thanksgiving feast will do just as well at the December celebrations.

Happy Turkey Day to all!

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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