Find the “best” Thanksgiving wine, by embracing contradictions

So I have decided to leap into thanksgiving talk a bit early, and go over this well covered but confusing topic: that is how to choose a wine for Thanksgiving. There are as many options in the world of wine there are people. The true question of what to serve at Thanksgiving is actually two separate questions that I will try to break down clearly: What wine goes well with Turkey and the standard accompaniment  , AND how to serve wine for a larger group with varying tastes.

 

For the traditional thanksgiving fare, Turkey is in the fore, yielding some difficult flavors and textures to work with. Turkey tends to soak up pretty any flavor you match with it, which makes it easy to run roughshod with a bold wine. The fixings tend to be quite full flavored and rich. So delicate flavor that won’t overwhelm, and enough food friendly acidity is key. Hence, the full bodied white or light red. I will also cover some great outliers that will satisfy the fans of big California red wines.

To start as people lounge around a kitchen, the smells antagonizing the stomachs, start with Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades XXIV (22$), it’s light enough for an aperitif, but could pair with a lighter meal too. For a crowd that appreciates the earthier, tarter wines that transform a meal, you could choose a nice Southern Italian Etna Rosso, even Palari’s Faro (70$) from that volcanic region if you wanted to spend a little extra. The impeccable balance and intense minerality make it one of the best food reds I can think of.

If you have to have that classic Pinot Noir and nothing else will suffice (or keep your guests in line) Oregon’s Cristom makes Pinot at several price points (20-40$) that will satisfy any group. Also look at Soter’s North Valley Pinot Noir (20$) from Northern Willamette. Its robust and earthy and can stand up to anything short of Pumpkin pie and sibling rivalries.

 

But Poultry being Poultry, your guests might clamor for chardonnay, while a lean Chablis would cut through the stuffing and a fine Mersault would impress, more flavor and body is going to serve you well for a white wine, so go with an Oregon Chardonnay from Big Table Farm (45$). The humble farmers at Big Table are out Burgundying Burgundy with this 2013 bottling featuring full lush notes of lemon meringue and crushed gravel. Best of all it doesn’t need to be served ice cold, and will improve as it warms up on the table in front of the family. You can also go out on a limb and pick up an outstanding Verdicchio from either Villa Bucci (20$) or Fattoria La Monacesca (30$). Classico or Riserva, These wines have all the minerality and structured you need for each and every course.

 

So these light reds and full whites cover a lot of territory in taste and food, but there are plenty of full ripe red wines from California for those who just don’t give a s%&t about what goes well with Turkey, and I would be remiss if I ignored that demand. What’s going to taste good and get everyone prepared for a long holiday season? Limerick Lane from Sonoma has made waves with their old vine Zinfandel, but its their outstanding Syrah/Grenache (30$) blend that is a force to be reckoned with. It is decadent, its ripe, and can be drunk alone or with the meal. Across the Atlantic, the previously reviewed (here) Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas (25$) is a nice old world alternative with rustic acidity and herbaceous aromas. You could go a step further with another high level offering from Sean Thackrey, either his Petite Sirah (45$) or even his Pinot Noir (45$), which is fairly full bodied as well.

 

Maybe at this point you are shouting at the screen, “Rory! I have 25 people coming over, I can’t serve them these wines, they’ll drink me to the poorhouse!” Ok first, I occasionally feel that way with just one guest (me), but there are wines abound that you won’t feel bad about serving (or paying for). My favorite options are the Felsina Chianti (16$), which is earthy, fruity and infinitely variable, or Planeta La Segreta (11$) from Sicily, with its rustic minerality and sun drenched fruit.

Whatever your go-to wine is for thanksgiving, you’re going to end up balancing the needs of a group of family member’s and the meal that they are gathering around. When in doubt, open two. Good Luck.

 

New-Age Australian Wine, is this the real life?

Like many who walked these roads before, I had my share of Yellowtail back in…let’s call them the good old days. While the attractive price and

easy style drew me to it, the other side of that double-edged wine was that my own opinion of Australia and wine was pretty well perverted. As far as New World wine regions go, Australia sort of led the pack in Ultra-big high alcohol wines. Between those knockouts and the jug wine behemoth of Yellowtail the Australian wine scene was as barren as the outback…right?

Well I’ve had my words handed to me on a plate haven’t I? In my glass tonight is a 12.8% Grenache/Syrah blend called The Green Room from a small family winery Ochota Barrels. What is surprising is not just the ABV on a wine from a hot climate, made from high-alcohol grapes, but that the texture still manages to be quite lush and rich, but instead of gobs of fruit we smell baked blueberry and damp earth, and Instead of toasted oak I smell lemon-grass and black pepper.

Now the wine suffers a bit on a technical level, with some tartaric acid precipitate near the end that had to be filtered off, but the style and quality of the fruit is unimpeachable and it means I’ll take a closer look at Australia from now on.

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Price 37$

Cellar Rating- *1-5 years

Food pairing – Chicken with an earthy sauce, Game, grilled veggies

Affordable Bordeaux: a nod to the elephant in the cellar

My goal, when it comes to wine, is to seek out solid age-able wines for not insane amounts of $$. The Bordeaux region of France could not be more antithetical to that aim. But I would be remiss if I passed on the opportunity to explore one of the last great values from a classified chateau.

 

So enter Chateau Cantemerle, a fifth growth Bordeaux in the Haut (high or upper) Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde. Catemerle is so far one of only two additions or changes to the 1855 French classification of its vineyards, and it was added less than a year later after someone realized it was left off by accident. The importance of classification is an evolving discussion particularly given the Bordeaux merchants success in marketing their products worldwide, leaving any reasonable value in Bordeaux wine to the unclassified producers. Catemerle produces a Bordeaux Superior and a second wine (shown above) that still manage quality red wines from a ranked Chateau for between 30-45$ depending on the reputation of the vintage (don’t get me ranting on the grand silliness of Bordeaux futures).

 

2009 Les Allees de Cantemerle

Price: 20-25$

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating – *2-8 years  90pts

The second wine of this Chateau is an approachable on release, but I had to include this 2009 because it is still readily available and an incredible chance to try a mature good value Bordeaux. It is much less age-worthy and structured than its big brother and as such is now showing some awesome cedar and dried mushroom notes with a fine cocoa finish. Still some dark fruit left but generally old-world. This is a weeknight wine, but it’ll start some conversation for sure.

 

2010 Chateau Cantemerle

Price: 45-50$ (30$ less for 2012)

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating: *** 10+ years (the 2012 is more ** 5-10 years)  93pts

 

The flagship Bordeaux Superior of this Chateau is a wonderfully balanced and approachable wine that can still age gracefully for 10 years or much more for those who prefer the smoother, less fruit forward characteristics of mature wines. 2010 was a fantastic vintage for age-worthy wines, and for those who want something more approachable should look at the 2012 But its a nice, rich wine today with rich impenetrable blue fruits, jammy yet still with savory streak to balance the palate.

I love Cantemerle because at <50$ it is far far more affordable than most classified Bordeaux, and especially for the 2010 vintage, it is a wine that can go for a long long time. In other less structured vintages its an even better value and the 2012 is currently available too. 2015 is lining up to be an equal to 2010.

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.

A Response to a WSJ Article on Millennials and Wine

Why is it morally better to be the generation paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages.

 

Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal posted an article last week taking a look at how a new generation of technology enabled drinkers might be shaping the wine industry. After touching on some interesting ideas ‘confirmed’ in an unscientific focus group, she came to an odd conclusion:

“[T]o truly claim their position as the most powerful consumers in the world, [millennials] need to develop a broader context and a deeper understanding of the entire world of wine…”

One thought tugged at my brain as I came to the end of her WSJ ‘post.’ Teague rather bluntly seems to conflate the natural trends of a rapidly evolving marketplace with her own broad-stroked criticism of an entire generation. Try as she might to give an analytical yet personal touch to her piece, she can’t avoid coming off as whiny and bigoted. When a Gen X blogger writes this cynical clickbait aimed at millennial bashing snobs, who is really exemplifying the worst qualities of a generation?

Reference: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-millennials-are-changing-wine-1446748945

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Maybe it is unfair to bash a WSJ ‘blogger’ because of her unscientific and brash claims about millennials, after all in the modern age everybody online can publish an opinion. But her article came off as a digital age equivalent of “can you believe kids these days?!” and that she writes for the WSJ seemed incredible. The article is riddled with such beautifully ignorant generalizations such as “I bought wines that millennials were purported to like” (purported by who?) and “a millennial might answer ‘Yaaaasssss!’”(I just can’t even…). Her world-view seems dominated by a couple quotes from two young wine directors (her expert witnesses) and some new data released by Wine Opinions. But Teague is not able to make these anecdotes and data match and instead falls back on the former to make whatever claim feels right for her.

Personal anecdotes can be called up and molded for any purpose. For instance, my experiences with Boomer/X Generation diners while a Sommelier at an upscale establishment, showed a huge lack of “broader context and … deeper understanding” of the wine they drink; those with money ordered what was the most expensive or well known, and those without ordered the cheapest or the second cheapest, and both tended towards whatever regional identiy was part of their cultural comfort zone (napa cab, Provencal rose, Moscato). But is that a sign of moral degradation? And more importantly, is that a feature of just one generation? Choosing a wine based on what you are familiar with or what is in your price point is no more ignorant or wrong than choosing a wine because of a nice story or because its the next big ‘discovery.’

The ability of an entire generation to exert a powerful economic impact has little to do with their intelligence or understanding.  I would observe it is only natural within a large segmented industry for “gaps in knowledge” to occur based on a consumers personal interest and investment in an industry. Teague’s shallow examination leaves any kind of critical understanding behind in favor of routine generation bashing.

 

I want to step back a little to the entire approach that Teague and other major new outlet bloggers share. The silliness behind these trending articles, now picked up and flung far and wide by WSJ, NYT et al, is exacerbated by plain sloppiness. Teague claimed her focus group supported the Wine Opinions research, yet that same research claimed “[Millennials] all like Moscato”, which none of her group did, and none of them found the wine from the “obscure grape” with “hipster cred” compelling, which happens to be the whole crux of Teague’s broad-based critique! As for Moscato, that wine has absolutely no compelling story and is certainly not a rare undiscovered grape. Its popularity has certainly exploded recently (thanks Nicki Minaj), just as white Zinfandel and sweet Lambrusco did before…in the 1970s, driven by boomers. Ascribing the ebb and flow of trends in cheap sweet bubbly to a critical fault that can be pointed to in a single generation is a rookie mistake by a writer who probably feels left behind herself. Teague’s research and anecdotal claims clash in every paragraph as she attempts to force both into a clickbait worthy narrative.

After all, why is it morally better to be the generation duped into paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages. My parents and grandfather are far more likely to go looking for a wine that is dry farmed, bio-dynamically grown, and featuring an elegant label with extensive backstory on it than they would have 30 years ago. I hope we can roundly reject the ageist hate mongering that these articles stoke and just like what we like in peace.

 

Domaine du Gour de Chaule – Gigondas

Domaine du Gour de Chaule – Gigondas

In the southern Rhone river valley there are the many and the well traveled Red Rhone Blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre etc. Of my many goals here, this is a great wine to explore the lesser known neighbors of the world’s great wine regions. The small AOC appellation of Gigondas is considered a sibling of the Chateauneuf-de-pape (along with Vacqueyras) and no less capable of producing beautiful wines.

A Grenache forward blend, the 2011 Domaine du Gour de Chaule imported by Rosenthal (an importer of family/independent wineries whom I put tons of faith in) is an excellent mid-priced (31$ at an overpriced market) example of what the Mediterranean climate of the southern Rhone can produce for your dinner table.

An inky, semi-opaque purple color, the wine bursts out of the bottle with an almost California intensity of fruit, yet within 30minutes settles down with herbal notes of thyme and a savory mineral streak. It’s easy to see why the wines of the hotter Rhone valley have done so well transplanted in California. The palate is still somewhat ripe (for those that prefer to drink their wines young, today is the day!) yet it is just beginning to show hints of mature aromas of mushroom and leather (with some time to breathe). This is definitely the most new world region of France with the alcohol reaching 14.5%! While lesser wines of the Southern Rhone should not be aged more than a few years, this one can be held on for up to 10 years from the vintage no problem. Those who like their wines with strong tannin and ripe fruit shouldn’t forget about it for more than a year. Others will find their patience rewarded with a complex, herbal wine with fantastic acidity and balance.

Price 30$

Cellar Rating- *2-5 years

Food pairing – Roast Chicken (with a robust sauce and accompaniments), Braises/Grillades, BB-Q

Ditch the Brunello, the Best Tuscan Red Wine under 50$

Tuscany offers two world-class appellations for your average aristocrat: The Brunello of Montalcino and the Super Tuscans of Bolgheri. What lies beneath/beyond?! Both of those regions offer some difficult contradictions and overshadow the extraordinary quality bubbling up from their less appreciated neighbors.10119910

On one side we have the  so-called Super Tuscans, which are (typically) Bordeaux/Meritage blends conforming to international styles and are often criticized for lacking the Tuscan personality, in addition to their $$$. Brunello is a regional clone of Sangiovese and its (deservedly) high reputation for quality also results in high prices. These two pillars of Tuscan wine fueled by the power of the global collectors market have an unfortunate influence on traditional Tuscan wines, but there’s hope!

I love to explore Sangiovese in Tuscany, its both so ‘everyday’ and so distinctively Tuscan, but I found myself facing the same conundrum of price v. quality while tasting two ‘lower’ priced Brunelli, the 2006 Ferrero BdM and the 2004 Caparzo BdM. Both from solid vintages and reliable somewhat modern producers. Both10411156 cost $40-$45, which is pretty much the bottom of the spectrum for Brunello pricing. So how did they fare? They were similarly full textured, broad wines with good Sangiovese characteristics of dark cherry and tobacco. Both stopped short however of wowing me with any true personality or complexity. In short they tasted like a dictionary entry for Brunello, and not a whit more. At $40, you should be able to find good examples of Tuscan wine with at least some personality? And is complexity too much to ask?

So I set out to find the best Tuscan wines at <45$, wines that offered more personality and complexity than comparably priced Brunello di Montalcino. My Cellar Rating is not an overall score, but an indicator of how many years from the vintage date I think it needs to hit its prime drinking window.

 

*Spoiler Alert*

It was really really hard, because there is just too much darn good wine in Tuscany, and because most styles lack a regional brand cache attractive to international collectors, these wines fly far under the radar. Some, like those from Chianti are even more disadvantaged because that region has a long undeserved reputation for poor quality.

 

2012 Felsina Chianti Classico and 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva

Price: 18-20$/26-29$  Where to buy:

http://www.klwines.com (they have most of their wines available)

Where to buy Classico: Wine Searcher

Where to buy Riserva: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating (Chianti Classico) * 2-5 years   90

Cellar Rating (Riserva) ** 5-10 years   92

A large producer of Sangiovese in Tuscany, with a broad portfolio of Sangiovese based wines at every price point. Felsina takes the proverbial cake for extraordinary quality at the most reasonable price. I’m doubling up this entry, for both their 2012 Chianti Classico and 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva. The wines differ in their drinking window: the Riserva takes a few more years to really open up and shine, while the regular CC is for near-term drinking.

Humble Wine Cellar

 

The Felsina Chianti offers plenty of good typicity for Sangiovese: dark cherry cola, sweet tobacco. It offers plenty of complexity as it opens up with notes of tea leaf, herbs de provence and menthol. The palate is light-weight but more elegant than thin, with robust acidity and clean mineral tinged finish. The 2010 riserva offered greater intensity and a broader palate, as well as some tertiary aromas of damp leaves, mushroom and leather. Both wines scream for pizza with spicy sausage, salumi, or a hearty stew.

They also produced some declassified Sangiovese (Fontallaro) and a single vineyard Chianti (Rancia) that are outstanding in the 45-60$ price range.


 

2011 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico

Price: 25-35$  Where to buy:

http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/castello+dei+rampolla+chianti+classico/2011/usa

Cellar Rating *2-5 years   91

 

What the 2010 Tuscan reds have in structure and power, the 2011s have in elegance and accessibility. Like Felsina, Castello dei Rampolla was an both early advocate for high quality sangiovese AND one of the original producers of Super Tuscan blends. Add to that their Bio-dynamic practices dating back to the early 90’s and you get a winery known for trail-blazing.

The 2011 Chianti Classico is dark but fruity, with dark red cherry and warm broad textured tannin. There’s about 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in there which add some darker bigger fruit flavors, and yet it still screams typical Sangiovese with its fresh acidity. I picked this one not just for the overall house style but because its an excellent example of the elegance of 2011 Chianti.


2010 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva

Where to buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating ***10+ years!!   90

This is NOT the Monsanto you are thinking of! Rather, Castello di Monsanto is a modern producer in Tuscany, and one of the first to produce a ‘cru’ Chianti (from a single vineyard). The 2010 Chianti Riserva is a bit of a wild card here, a real cellar experiment for those who have never ‘laid down’ a bottle. Its rare for me to find a wine priced under 20$ that not only can last over ten years, but damn near requires it. In an act my wine merchant called ‘infanticide’ I opened the 2010 up and gave it a try: it was absolutely undrinkable for the entire evening. Leaving the bottle open I revisited it for several night in a row and it slowly unfolded from an undrinkable wine to a a recognizable Chianti. By the third day it was still quite a massive wine but showing potential to be a classically style Chianti.

A homegrown blend of 90% Sangiovese and the rest Colorino and Canaiolo, it had deeply buried notes of smokey black tea, dark licorice, and dusty black cherry. Long racy acidity with a rough grained tannic finish. This is one the best values for a long-term cellarable wine I have found. Stash it somewhere cool and forget.

 


2010 Podere le Boncie “Le Trame”

Price: 40-45$

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating ** 5-10 years   94

 

I couldn’t well leave Le Trame off this list, though the 2010 I last tasted is not as easily found anymore (so my wine-searcher link will direct you to all vintages). Beyond the quality of the juice, this wine should soon be a major icon of modern Tuscan wine, first because Giovanna Morganti is of a new crop of female wine makers (still a rare-breed) making some of the best wines in the world (Also look up Elena Fucci in Southern Italy). Second because a few years ago she handed in the black rooster, her Chianti Classico certification after a long conflict of how to best represent Sangiovese in this terroir. I can’t say I know the specifics, though it may be that her single wine “Le Trame” is primarily Sangiovese with a few nearly extinct native varieties making up a small percentage.

Le Trame has been described as “ferociously” and “supremely” elegant by some of its more enthusiastic fans. I can get behind both; An intense combination of floral perfume and intense blue and red berry fruit may seem a-typical for a sangiovese from Chianti, but the rustic damp earth, racy acidity, and dusty tannin are indisputably Tuscan. Long graceful finish with lithe balance defies expectation (and physics). When reviewers use the words ‘focus’ or ‘linear’ to describe a wine, this is what they mean.

The Magic of low-tannin and high-acid: California Barbera

The everyday reds of Northern Italy are famous for pairing with everyday foods that can be tougher to find a wine for. Barbera has the unusual combination of rich, concentrated flavor with high acidity, and its lower tannin might just make it the perfect ‘pizza’ wine. How has California appropriated one of Italy’s most casual contributions to wine?

Pour yourself a glass of Barbera and you’ll see an inky purple wine tumble out, rich in polyphenols (that is the good stuff from the skins) and surprisingly high in natural acidity (great for food). A traditional Northern Italian table wine, Barbera has transplanted to California with great success, and its for the same reason that some other grapes fail to make great wine here. California has a long warm growing season, causing the grapes to ripen extremely well and often too much if the growers leave them too long on the vine, causing a tradeoff between ripeness, and acidity (as one rises the other declines). Barbera has naturally high acidity to balance out the ripeness that California’s perfect weather provides. So rather than getting over extracted jammy wines, you get a tasty ripe red with perfect balance, not to mention food pairing gold! This makes Barbera one of the few ‘old-world’ grapes that end up doing better in California than their original home.

Food pairing suggestions: Most CA Barbera is going to be bigger in body and fruit than their Italian counterparts, but it still complements the acidity of tomato sauce really well, either in pizza or a hearty ragu.

 

So lets take a look at my favorite Barbera wine grown and produced right here in California.

Unti Estate Barbera 2012

Price: 30$

Where to Buy:  https://store.untivineyards.com/order/  Or  Wine Searcher

Cellar rating *2-7 years  90pts

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Unti Vineyards has made a name for itself growing Rhone varietals up here in Northern California but they also are one of the few producers going all in on Italian varietals, making stellar Sangiovese and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Their Barbera is thick in the glass, deep dark red and purple fruits leap off the surface. The palate is far more muscular than a Piedmontese Barbera, but the acidity leads to a clean lightweight finish. Its has a touch of complexity with some earth and cola on the nose, and a bit of  spice from the modest use of French oak.

2012 was a prosperous year for wine making in California. The long growing season never got too hot leading to a bumper crop that maintained exceptional quality. This couldn’t have been a better year for Barbera, and this Unti bottle shows it well.

As for food, try it with the biggest, spiciest, most loaded pizza you’ve ever had!