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The Contrarian Thanksgiving by Robert Whitley

Time:2016-11-15 08:10wine - Red wine life health Click:

Thanksgiving Contrarian Robert Whitley

The Thanksgiving feast for most of us is a celebration of tradition, turkey with all the trimmings and a tried-and-true wine that works with the Thanksgiving table's typical mix of savory and sweet.

The go-to wine for many is Beaujolais, the fruity French red that is pleasing to the palate and offends no one. The Beaujolais custom at Thanksgiving was born at a time when the world of wine was much smaller than it is today. California, Oregon and Washington wines hadn't been born, and few outside of Sydney and Buenos Aires even knew Australia and Argentina produced wine.

So today we have options. Good options.

One of the best is dry riesling, a white wine that can handle the heavy lifting required of any wine at the Thanksgiving table. Even slightly sweet rieslings can work so long as they have enough acidity to balance the sweetness. Domestic rieslings abound, but a few of my personal favorites are Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington, Trefethen and Smith-Madrone from the Napa Valley, and that Finger Lakes powerhouse Dr. Konstantin Frank. All but the Smith-Madrone retail for $20 or less.

Dry rose wines are another excellent Thanksgiving option. My recent favorites are both from France, the Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses and Domaine Ott's value-oriented By.Ott. Both retail for less than $20. What they have over most domestic rose wines is firm structure, which will enable them to stand up to the strong savory aromas found at the Thanksgiving table.

Serving a red for Thanksgiving can be tricky. Big, bold tannic reds tend to overpower the delicate flavors of turkey, hence the default to lighter wines such as Beaujolais or pinot noir. But something in between the two can be a very good alternative. That's where I like cabernet franc. Its distinctive herbal note plays well with the spice and savory notes of Thanksgiving, and most are not as heavy or laden with tannin as cabernet sauvignon or even Bordeaux.

If you have deep pockets, both Duckhorn and Keenan make spectacular cab franc in the $70 range. But you needn't spend that much if you have budget constraints but still want a scintillating red. The 2014 Alexander Valley Vineyards Estate Cabernet Franc is a gorgeous wine that won a platinum medal at the recent Sommelier Challenge in San Diego. This exceptional wine retails for the modest price of $28.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Vina Robles 2013 "Red4," Paso Robles ($17) — This vintage of Red4 from Vina Robles offers the signature voluptuous character of a Paso Robles red: big, bold flavors layered across a fleshy palate, with supple tannins and a generous dose of wood spice. Though the winery likens it to other GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) blends, this one gets a serious jolt of petite sirah (41 percent) that adds color, body and spicy aromatics. Combined with the red-fruited aromas of the grenache and the darker elements of the syrah and mourvedre, this is a meaty wine that won't fail you with a thick, juicy steak or rich winter game stews. Rating: 90.

Lander-Jenkins 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($15) — This vintage of Lander-Jenkins cabernet delivers big flavors for a small price. On the nose it offers hints of wood spice and black fruits, which carry through on the fleshy, juicy palate. The tannins are supple and soft, making for enjoyable near-term consumption. Rating: 88.

Alamos 2015 Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina ($13) — The problem with most cheap chardonnay is that it tastes cheap, often artificial. Not so this excellent chardonnay from Argentina's Alamos winery. It is fresh and clean, with crisp aromas of apple and pear and just a hint of spice. Perfect for sipping or served with pasta dishes in cream sauces. Rating: 87.

Tasting Notes

Bodegas Caro 2013 "Caro," Mendoza, Argentinna ($63) — A collaboration between two iconic vintners, one from France and the other from Argentina, Caro is a triumph for all concerned. A 50-50 blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon, Caro is a suave example of the heights malbec can reach in Mendoza. The 2013 vintage exhibits aromas of blackberry and cassis, a hint of cedar and graphite, and a generous whiff of wood spice. The tannins are beautifully integrated in this well-balanced beauty that should only improve over the next 10 years. The key players, Domaines de Rothschild of Chateau Lafite and the pioneering Argentine vintner Nicolas Catena, have forged a beautiful partnership in wine. Rating: 97.

Cadaretta 2015 "SBS," Columbia Valley ($23) — This type of Bordeaux-style white blend seems to have disappeared for the most part from the domestic wine scene, but Washington's Cadaretta remains true to the vision with its SBS (sauvignon blanc and semillon) blend. This vintage shows a nose of white flowers, honeysuckle and spice, while on the palate the wine offers a richness and complexity that is often missing from a straight-up sauvignon blanc. Fresh, clean and well-balanced, it will serve you well as an aperitif or with grilled fish or light pasta dishes. Rating: 90.

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