Mead On Wine

© 1997 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 46

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by Jerry D. Mead

     About as necessary as the sprig of parsley on a coffee
shop breakfast. That's how I feel about my annual column on matching wine
with American holiday dinners. This is the one time of the year that you need
no expert help.

Let me explain. While some wine gurus will spend a thousand or so words telling you that only this, or perhaps that, wine, will make your turkey dinner a perfect experience, the truth is that there is no meal you'll serve all year where it's more difficult to pick a wine that won't work. And no meal that is more difficult to match with a "perfect" wine.

Further explanation. Turkey is one of the most versatile of meats when it comes to wine. The white meat is light enough to handle white wines, yet flavorful enough to handle lighter more delicate reds. The dark meat can stand up to bold reds.

Even further explanation. The gnat in the gravy, so to speak, is that the traditional American holiday dinner doesn't stop at the bird. Depending on the region of the country from which we come, all sorts of difficult to impossible to match with wine flavors are on the table.

Take the dressing...maybe savory with sage, or slightly sweet and cornbready, or salty and even a little metallic with the flavor of oysters.

Then there's cranberry anything...the high acid of which, even sweetened, becomes the arch-enemy of any wine.

Candied yams, the gelatin salads, whether vegetable or fruit, offer lots of challenging flavors, and that thing that Aunt Mildred makes with the fresh oranges, bananas and marshmallows...well, for some things there simply isn't a wine solution.

There was a time when I too (it was a very long time ago) tried to select a wine each year that I thought most likely to work well for everyone, with everything on the table, at a traditional turkey dinner.

Then I got smart. For at least the past 25 years I have been the hero of every family holiday dinner. You too can be hero if you follow this sage (no play on words intended) advice.

Give every guest at least two wine glasses (even if you have to buy a little additional stemware). Then place on the table at least three different wines, all different in style and color, and let your guests try the different wines with different foods and flavors. Be prepared to declare the first bottle emptied to be the best wine.

The more people at your table, the larger variety of wines you might make available. And it's really no greater cost to you, because total consumption will be no greater of several wines than if you were serving only one.

Let me digress for just a moment. How much wine to plan on is something that many hosts and hostesses fret over. It's really fairly simple.

At the dinner table, plan on serving two to three people per bottle, depending on whether they are once a year wine drinkers or serious devotees of the grape. If that sounds like a lot, it really isn't. On the low side that's only two really tiny four ounce glasses to perhaps two six ounce servings on the high side. (The standard 750ml bottle size holds approximately four 6-ounce servings.)

I've told you to serve more than one wine, but I still haven't told you which specific wines, have I. Guess what? I'm not going to. Too many choices. Too many different selections at too many different stores. But I will give you some really good general suggestions.

If you have a reliable wine merchant (and if you don't you should find one), tell them what you're trying to accomplish, namely selecting wines that will work with the different flavors of your holiday dinner, that will appeal to different people with varying levels of wine drinking experience and totally different palates.

If you are only going to do three wines, I would suggest the following three general categories.

Dry white: This could be a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or even a dry Chenin Blanc. If you live in the Midwest or East, Seyval Blanc or Vignoles are more likely to be available. This will work with the white meat turkey, oyster dressing if it's on the agenda and lots of other flavors as well.

Semi-sweet: Think Riesling, Gewurztraminer, some roses and White Zinfandel. These will please beginning wine drinkers who tend to prefer very fruity and slightly sweet flavors, and may actually work best with some of the sweet flavored foods, Jello salads, etc.

Friendly reds: First choice is probably Pinot Noir, but also Gamay, many Merlots and the Beaujolais Nouveaux which are released in mid-November each year. This will work with any part of the bird from white meat to gizzard, and will please the hardcore red wine drinker while having a chance of appealing to a novice.

If you're expanding the list, I'd go to a full bodied red next, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel, then you can play with more examples of the other categories above.

One good choice for your turkey dinner would be the number one Pinot Noir in America, according to the book California Wine Winners, and based on the number of medals won at this year's competitions: Napa Ridge 1995 "North Coast" Pinot Noir sells for $10 or less.


Forest Glen 1996 Chardonnay ($10 or less) One hundred percent barrel-fermented, and with considerably more complexity than is usually found at this tender age and in this value price range. Smoky, toasty notes on top of rich tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Fruit is the major statement, including some ripe pineapple qualities. More smokiness in the after-flavor. Rating: 89/92

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.


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Latest Update: December 13, 1997