Flavors for a Thanksgiving feast Wines: Want white wine for the holiday? Here're some varieties that go well with turkey and the trimmings.

Vintage Point

November 04, 1998|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN WINE CRITIC

Pinot gris and pinot blanc are two white-wine varieties grown in the Alsace region of France and, increasingly, in Oregon. They are names that are well worth keeping in mind during the Thanksgiving season.

While most white wines fade into insignificance in the face of the traditional Thanksgiving feast, the better examples of these varieties hold their own.

That can be useful to know, because not everybody can drink the red wines that go so well with roast turkey with all the trimmings.

While some of us enjoy red wine with impunity, many people pay a steep price in headaches for a single glass.

As a longtime proponent of red wines with the Thanksgiving meal, I can't back down now. To me, the turkey dinner isn't complete without a full-bodied, not-too-oaky red such as zinfandel or Chateauneuf-du-Pape on the table.

But at large family gatherings, it pays to respect our differences and offer an alternative. And there are white wines that match up very well with the traditional turkey feast.

The problem is, they aren't the best-known whites. Chardonnay co-exists with turkey but doesn't really shine. Sauvignon blancs are generally too light and herbal. Certain rieslings can match up wonderfully, but most are either too delicate, too sweet or too simple.

After years of experimentation, I have found that the best white-wine matches with the traditional Thanksgiving feast are Alsace pinot gris and pinot blanc.

Both varieties produce full-bodied white wine with generous, soft-textured fruit that gives an impression of sweetness even when the wine is technically dry. (Pinot blanc is actually two similar varieties, but the explanation is so convoluted that it's not worth going into.)

Traditionally, Alsace wines are made without exposure to new oak, and pinot gris and pinot blanc are no exception. In turkey terms, this is good. If there's any flavor affinity between turkey and oak, it's missed me entirely.

Both pinot gris and pinot blanc typically display flavor nuances of peach and pear and wintertime spices -- nutmeg, clove, allspice. Somehow these fit into the melange of flavors at the typical Thanksgiving feast -- when a wine might have to compete with everything from dark meat to candied yams.

The differences between pinot gris and pinot blanc are fairly subtle. At its fullest and ripest, pinot gris offers a bit more depth, texture and crystalline beauty; pinot blanc can be more enticingly aromatic.

In recent years, winemakers in Oregon have been making a determined effort to establish pinot gris -- and to a lesser extent pinot blanc -- as their state's answer to California's chardonnay. So in searching for whites for the Thanksgiving table, it seemed sensible to cast a look in that direction as well as to Alsace.

After an arduous process of evaluation -- otherwise known as smelling and tasting -- I offer these wines as strong candidates for the Thanksgiving table.

* 1996 Chehalem Pinot Gris Reserve, Ridgecrest Vineyards, Willamette Valley ($20). Don't count on landing a bottle of this small-production wine, but if you ever have the chance, jump at it. This Oregon wine can compete with some of the best pinot gris in Alsace. Both crisp and rich (a tough trick), it offers a complex mix of lemon, apple, mineral, nut and pear flavors -- with just a hint of honey. Expensive? Yes, but it lives up to the price tag.

* 1997 Schoffit Pinot Blanc Auxerrois, Cuvee Caroline ($16.49). With the exception of Zind-Humbrecht, whose wines are relatively rare and expensive, it's hard to think of an Alsace producer whose pinot blancs are so reliably great year in and year out. This is a supple, smooth, wonderfully aromatic wine with such full fruit flavors that it's easy to forget you're drinking a dry wine.

* 1994 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve ($19). Despite this wine's crystalline clarity, it is not delicate. This steely, mineral-flavored product has real heft and grip. There are hints of hazelnut and coconut among its abundant fruit flavors. Perhaps it's a little dry and steely for the Thanksgiving feast, but I think it could hold its own.

* 1997 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc ($11). The beautifully floral aroma jumps right out at you. This is a long, full-bodied wine with intense flavors of winter spice, pears, peaches, melons and nuts.

* 1996 Spielmann Pinot Blanc ($13.49). A very worthy wine that is similar to the Albrecht but slightly more expensive.

Several of the wines, particularly the ones from Oregon, were well-made but should probably be paired with something other than turkey -- maybe ham or salmon.

These include:

* 1995 Domaine Weinbach "Clos du Capucins" Pinot Reserve ($20). This wonderful Alsace wine offers excellent, long flavors, but resembles a fine riesling more than most pinot blancs. I'd serve this with choucroute.

* 1997 WillaKenzie Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley ($27). The crisp, generous acidity is very much in line with the prevailing character of Oregon pinot gris. There's plenty of lemon, sweet corn and pear flavor -- making it a fine wine but not an Alsace-style turkey wine.

* 1996 Adelsheim Vineyard Oregon Pinot Gris ($15.49). Crisp and lemony, with good acidity.

* 1996 Bridgeview Oregon Pinot Gris, Cuvee Speciale ($13). This crisp wine offers hints of sweet corn, pears and light spice. It's a fine value.

* 1996 Oak Knoll Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($14). Elegant, even if not extraordinarily complex.

By the way, my candidate for a red wine for Thanksgiving this year is the 1995 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($25) from the southern Rhone.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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