Wine column no. 43: Talking turkey (and wine)

It's that time of the year when cranberries invade grocery store shelves and the fresh butternut squash look positively huge.
Marshmellows suddenly have a use outside of camp fires. Cans of pumpkin sit in your pantry, waiting patiently to be scooped into a pie crust. And then, there's the turkey.
We have friends who deep fry it in less than an hour. This seems to be the way to go if you've got two or three Thanksgivings to go to in one day. Others, like my family, roast the turkey in the oven for hours.
The goal, in each case, is to serve a juicy, tasty turkey to family and friends. And while we can't specify wines for each specific recipe, we can give some general pointers.
The first is: don't sweat the wine. The reality is that turkey can be a dry, stringy meat, and not everyone will like your choice of wine, for various reasons. Some are white wine drinkers, so that earthy, fruity, medium-bodied Pinot Noir you've selected? They won't even sample it. As the host, stay focused on what you can control, and options are key. As in: provide lots of them. Thankfully, turkey is easy to work with (we'll talk about the side dishes later). Looking for a white wine? Think spicy, honeyish Gewurztraminer, crisp Pinot Grigio, dry or lightly sweet Riesling or a tart, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. Going for a red? A berry-filled, heavier-bodied Zinfandel will work, as will Pinot Noir, heavy, spicy Syrah/Shiraz or a light, fruity Beaujolais nouveau (available just in time for Thanksgiving!). And if you have guests that are comfortable with dry Rose, then offer some of
that, too.
Our second pointer? Start with something that will ease the mood. Champagne is a good idea. After all, Thanksgiving is about celebrating -- and about being thankful for -- the people you are with, and for what you have. So let the dry toast flavor of a non-vintage Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut and its bubbles fill your mouth. Let it relax you. And remember that not everything has to be perfect.
Our third pointer is that there are clearly more edible items on your table besides the turkey. So keep the variety of flavors on your menu -- sweet, savory, salty -- in mind when choosing a wine, or wines, for the meal.
Say you're planning to serve a sweet potato dish with brown sugar and marshmellows. In general, a Riesling Spatlese might be a good pairing because, in basic terms, it's both acidic and sweet. Choosing to pair a wine that is just acidic and not sweet -- like a Sauvignon Blanc -- with this particular sweet potato dish would really make the wine taste unpleasant because the sweetness just enhances that acidity in the wine. So a sweeter wine like a Riesling Spatlese that also has a good amount of body to match the sweet potato dish would be a balanced pairing.
As for butternut squash, I've tried various recipes that involve sage, and a wine that often comes up as a good pairing is a young Viognier. Luckily, this round and creamy white wine with the flavor profile of a Riesling that usually expresses floral and fruity notes also goes well with turkey.
Now if you happen to be a Thanksgiving duck family -- some of our readers are -- we've got a good wine for you. The 2009 Meiomi Pinot Noir with grapes from Sonoma County (47 percent), Santa Barbara County (34 percent) and Monterey County (19 percent) in California was an excellent pairing with a roasted duck we tried this past Sunday. We used a Barefoot Contessa recipe for the duck, which took us, in all, about two hours to complete. Schnucks has sold a vintage of Meiomi
Pinot Noir in the past, but this particular 2009 was a gift to Greg from my father. What's great about this 13.9 percent alcohol wine is that it's got the usual cherry and strawberry of a Californian Pinot
Noir, but it's also a bit tart and slightly acidic. That means that it's a wonderful foil to a fatty duck, which is flush with meaty texture and flavor anyway. And this Pinot has just the right amount of body for duck, too. Some Pinot Noir we've had have been thin and light, better for hot summer days than a cold day in November. But not this one, which is on the full-bodied side.
Regardless of your choice of wine, we wish you all the best for a safe, happy and fulfilling Thanksgiving.

Wine column no. 42: California: Go west, young man

Writing our wine column every other week, it's hard to avoid talking about California. Looking for a Cabernet Sauvignon? Chances are that most bottles sold in the Tri-state will be from this third-largest
state in the nation. Chardonnay? That happens to be the state's most widely planted grape, according to www.discovercaliforniawines.com.
Overall, almost 90 percent of the wine produced in the United States comes from this home of Hollywood, technology start-ups, surfers and Disneyland. More than 100 varieties of grapes are grown there overall.
Not that we're complaining, mind you. What's great about California is that it also produces worthwhile wines for affordable prices. Here are three that we had recently:
The 2009 Tamas Estates Double Decker Red is from the Central Coast of California. Livermore is in the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. For less than $10, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera is an easygoing, likeable wine that has minor tannins and definite red fruit but a muddled flavor overall. That's not a criticism, since all it means is that it's hard to distinguish
which specific red fruit it exudes. But what's great about this Weinbach Avenue Winetree Liquors purchase is that it's flexible. We could see it pairing well with chicken or pork, assuming that your
recipe isn't too sweet or acidic. 13.5 percent alcohol. Schnucks is selling a tasty 2010 Fess Parker Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County these days for only about $15. Santa Barbara is on the coast, north of Los Angeles, and the winery is in Los Olivos. The winery was founded by the actor of the same name who portrayed frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the late 1950s and 1960s. His children now run the business.
What's great about this Chardonnay is that it's not too buttery. Sure, some malolactic fermentation -- put simply, it's a process that makes a wine silky and changes its flavor -- is there, but the Fess Parker
group didn't let it go too far. If you like Chardonnays that aren't very oaked (meaning they don't have strong flavors of vanilla) and that give off more of a green apple flavor, this one's for you. That said, this Californian isn't tart. It was a decent pairing with baked salmon with oregano, salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice, but it was even better with an herb rotisserie chicken we picked up at Schnucks.
Wine Spectator rated this an 87 out of 100. 14.2 percent alcohol.
Finally, on the pricier side of the spectrum is the 2011 Orin Swift Cellars Abstract. The website says this Californian is a blend of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Grenache, Petite Sirah and Syrah primarily from hillside vineyards. At 15.7 percent alcohol, it packs a punch for about $30 at Winetree. Greg said it had a fruity nose and was too strong when paired with our relatively lean grilled steak. I thought it had a concentrated blackberry flavor and a soft texture. That soft texture seems to be a bit of a trademark for Orin Swift, which is also well known for The Prisoner (we've had the 2002 and the 2008, and the 2011 is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah,
Charbano and Grenache.) Orin Swift Cellars is located in Napa Valley. It was founded by David Swift Phinney, who was first introduced to wine, and how it was made, in Italy. After college, he got a job as a temporary harvest worker at Robert Mondavi Winery. He started Orin Swift Cellars in 1998 and now has 300 acres of vineyards in the southwest of France, according to www.orinswift.com. Phinney also has projects in Spain, Italy, Corsica and Argentina.