Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wines for Thanksgiving

  Many years ago, I rented a house in the barrio of East Flagstaff on 3rd Street. Having a spare bedroom, I decided to rent it out. My takers were a Romanian couple who had recently moved to the U.S. Vlad was an electrical engineer who'd been hired by some firm or other, and Corina, his wife, stayed home to do whatever she did all day.

  Vlad and his bride were eager to become acculturated into mainstream American society. Old habits die hard though, and the quaint Romanian custom of standing in line for a week to get a loaf of bread was so ingrained in them that every time they went to the nearby Safeway and found something that caught their eye, they bought ALL of it. As a result, they had an entire 3 door overhead cabinet in the kitchen stuffed full of Hostess cupcakes, Twinkies, Ho-Ho's, Hoo-Hoo's, Ring-a-Dings and Ding-Dongs. I tried to impress upon them the fact that it wasn't necessary to hoard Hostess pastries. "There'll be more tomorrow, I PROMISE." Vlad and Corina were unconvinced, and continued to buy out the Spoil-Proof Forever-Pastry rack every time they visited the store. If you've ever wondered how many Ding-Dongs will fit in a 5 x 3 x 2 foot cabinet, I can tell you: A LOT, that's how many.

  Apparently, the only reliable, consistently available foodstuff available in Romania was cabbage. Did you know that cabbage turns a lovely mahogany brown color when it's boiled vigorously for HOURS? Corina was a master at bringing home enormous hunks of pork, which she would cut into rough chunks and place into a large enameled tamale style pot. The kind that holds like 10 gallons of water. To this pork soup she would add several quartered cabbages, put the lid on, light the fire, and proceed to boil the be-jeezus out of it, all day long. Hours upon hours would pass. It's  amazing how synthetic furniture upholstery, draperies and carpeting ; impervious to the effects of such serious pollutants as cat urine, dog upchuck, human sweat and other nasty fragrances fairly SUCKS up, apparently forever, the delicate aroma of overcooked cabbage. My plastic shower curtain stank of cabbage. The clothes in my closet would have gone unnoticed in a wardrobe in Bucarest. Nobody would have said "hey, whose clothes are dese? Dey are not stinking!!"

  Don't get me wrong. Vlad and Corina were genuinely nice people, in spite of their constantly aromatic condition.

  In those days, I always headed to Phoenix for Thanksgiving at my mother's house. My mother, like yours, was the world's greatest cook. Vlad and Corina decided that they wanted to invite me to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them, as they had no one else with whom to share in this new American holiday they couldn't wait to adopt.
  Corina, apparently taking advice from her Romanian Bride Magazine's "How to Cook Everything" cookbook, went to Safeway and bought the biggest turkey she could find that would fit in her giant pot and still leave room for the required cabbages. Into this pot she placed her intact turkey, the cabbages, and topped the whole thing up with water and boiled it for several days. It was frozen, after all. I'll leave the results of this culinary summit to your imagination.We feasted the day before Thanksgiving, so I could still make it to Phoenix to be with my mom and family.

  Served with the turkey was a traditional Balkan liquor called Slivovitz . Slivovitz, it turns out, is Plum Brandy. Plums, yummy. Brandy, what's not to like about brandy? Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, this stuff doesn't taste anything like plums, and even LESS like brandy. Since taste is actually at least 60% olfactory, Slivovitz tastes just about like what you smell on the runway of a busy airport when you get off a plane. Jet fuel. Brake fluid. Mechanical parts cleaner. The only thing that eclipses it's deadly aftertaste is the incomparable headache it leaves behind. It took ALL of one of my mom's pumpkin-praline pies the next day to bring me back to some level of physical normalcy.

  In honor of Vlad and Corina, it's time to talk about what to drink with Thanksgiving dinner. This is problematic. Lots of folks will decide "turkey is white, so we'll have white wine." Not so fast. The mish mash of savory, salty and cloyingly sweet tastes that come with this meal demand a bit more thought.
  Some ideas: First, forget about only white wine with white meat. What's needed here is lightness, acidity, and fruit. The tastes of Thanksgiving won't go with great big reds like Cabernet and Merlot. Lots of oak and tannin are not your friends today, save them for the Christmas prime rib. Consider serving reds as well as whites.

  I was gabbing about the Thanksgiving wine conundrum recently with a young lady who's with Pillsbury. Wise beyond her years, she said "the best way to pick Thanksgiving wine is to imagine what a smoothie made out of turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberries would taste like. Pick your wine for the combination of tastes, trying to match a wine to a particular item on the menu will make you crazy." She's right if you think about it. It's not about the turkey by itself, or the sweet potatoes, it's about the combination of flavors on your groaningly full plate as all the component parts get blended together. So here are some suggestions. I intentionally left out the pricier stuff, because I can't afford it and don't know it well. Most of these wines are in the 15-30 dollar range.

Whites: Skip the heavily oaked California Chardonnays. These wines are best skipped anyway. The wood notes in them chops off the top notes off grass, hay and herbs that Chardonnay naturally has. It's always been a wonderment to me why someone in California somewhere along the line decided that Chardonnay would be a good wine to put into heavy oak casks. Most european Chardonnays never see any wood; finishing their finishing in stainless steel. If Chardonnay is to your taste, consider Arizona Stronghold's Site Archive Chardonnay, if you can find any. There were only 80 some cases produced, but it isn't sold out as of this writing. It's seen oak, but the barrels were neutral oak, and it isn't noticeable. I don't like Chardonnay as a rule, but this one shines. Grassy and herbal, bright and slightly acidic. Good luck finding it. I don't even have a link.

  Another white to consider is Arizona Stronghold 's Tazi. A blend of Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Malvasia Bianca, this wine is reasonably priced and has the unique combination of acidity, roundness and floral bouquet necessary for such disparate tastes as those that come from turkey, gravy, cranberries and sweet potatoes.

  Page Springs Cellars has their unfortunately named but tasty Vino del Barrio Blanca . A nice fruity white blend. A bargain at 15 dollars retail. Go a notch up on the price list and their Vino de la Familia Blanca ("Wine of the white family"?) is a good buy at 18 bucks. It's 100% Malvasia Bianca and while it might not be the first choice for know-it-alls at Thanksgiving, I think it'd be an interesting choice.

  Pillsbury's Wildchild White , aka "Crop Circles" will fill the bill nicely. It's a field blend of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Roussanne grapes. Fragrant on the nose and finishes crisp and clean. It's 18 dollars. The crop circles nickname is a funny story. A guy down in Wilcox, where Pillsbury grows their grapes, got the brilliant idea of planting his vines in circles rather than rows. He eventually got bored or ran out of money or something and abandoned his vineyard. His vines survivied however and the Pillsbury crew decided to hop the fence and harvest the weed infested field. The Wildchild wines were the result.

  Merkin Vineyards, owned by He Who Must Not Be Named, has Lei Li Rose', a pink blend of Cab Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Grenache. It's 23 dollars. Described as a light summertime wine, I think it'd be interesting with Thanksgiving dinner.

  A really interesting rose, which might fit the bill if only one wine is to be served, is the Stronghold's Dayden . Dayden is Apache for "little girl". This isn't your usual sweet, slightly fizzy rose. It's a blend of Zin, Grenache, San Giovese, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. Crisply acidic and floral, it will back up your feast quite well.

  Pillsbury's Rose, nicknamed "One Night Stand", comes from another neglected field of unknown grapes that were harvested and then pulled up, hence the name. It's a one time vintage. At 20 dollars, pretty interesting but maybe not for a one wine dinner.

Reds: Like I said, you want lightness, acidity and fruit here, not oak and tannins.

  On that note, I'll recommend first Pillsbury's Wildchild Red. I'm pretty sure it's going to be on the table here.

  Arizona Stronghold's Mangus, named after another Apache person, is a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cab and Merlot. Eric Glomski describes it as "food friendly" and I agree. It's 20 dollars. At the same price is their Nachise, one I've had several glasses of and is still on the shopping list this weekend. I'll let Glomski's words from their website describe it:

 "This wine has beautiful aromas of concentrated dark fruits, mocha, tar, sweet cigar smoke, hints of black tea, star anise and pumpkin spice. The palate is immediately full and textured, with alluring crushed blackberry, plumb, raspberry jam and hints of stone fruits, transitioning to plenty of mid palate grip and underlying nuances of dried rosemary and bittersweet cocoa; leading to a very balanced and multi-layered finish."

  Merkin's Chupacabra, which I've mentioned before, is currently on sale for 20 dollars, and a great buy at that price. You'd have a hard time going wrong with this one. Besides, it's called Chupacabra. Leave it to M.J.K. to come up with a name like "goat sucker".

  There are many more local wines to choose for this holiday and Christmas as well. Page Springs has a bunch of Rhone style reds and blushes in this price range, and I haven't even touched on Freitas, Keeling-Schaefer, Alcantara, and others.

 I sure hope Vlad and Corina are by this time well acculturated and have learned the skill of roasting their turkey, and wish everybody a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving!



Anonymous said...
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Marti Spudboater said...

Goatherder. Johnny Montezuma specifically directed me to this specific Thanksgiving blog and now I know why. I am a big fan of Slivovitz. Yes indeedy,Petey, it is plum brandy and any country person in Croatia makes their very own. I've had good, bad, awful and awesome slivovitz over the past few years on various trips to Croatia and the Balkans. Romanians don't know how to make it, by the way.The best sold in the U.S. is Makarska. It is very distilled and certainly is more akin to what I've dubbed "Hrvatski Tequila". It mixes well like Tequila, too.

If there is any left over and I can smuggle it on board a Southwest flight when I come visit John and Susun I'll share my Slivovitz cordial. It's my plum brandy that is more like what we think of as a sweetened cordial. It's really vodka infused with plums that ferments for abouta 3 to 4 months, perfect for the holidays. I drink it over ice. It's much smoother.

They make other types of distilled alcohols called Grapa that are made from grapes or even grasses and herbs that are really quite good.

The cabbage story is oh so true. There are some Romanians here I hang out with and that stuff will kill you. There is a better Polish pork stew made with the cabbage that is much better. I'll have to find the recipe for it.

Ciao, and keep writing your blog. Johnny has been riding me about mine and I've been doing better.

Marti spudboater

Wine Party said...

Cool blog. I love it!