davies wakefield | wine uncorked | dec. 2016
I have read countless food and wine articles about the definitive wines to serve with a holiday meal, and frankly, most of them don't fill the bill. When you consider all the side dishes that will be served with the turkey, disaster is lurking behind every recommendation. The way I look at wine and food is simple. The first thing I consider is the amount of fat that is going to be either added to the food or will express itself as the food cooks. I still remember the first time I cooked a Christmas goose ala Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. I defrosted the goose and started to take it out of the plastic wrapping and the goose slid out of my hands like a greased pig landed on the floor and slid across the tile. I nearly slipped and fell on the now greasy floor retrieving it. The fat was oozing out of every pore, which made it very difficult to handle. I had to move it around with my hand stuffed in the bird's cavity. The point is that there will be a lot of poultry fat expressed while the turkey cooks and lots of butter will be used in the roasted Brussel sprouts, oyster stuffing and sweet potato pie. A high alcohol (I'm talking about 15 percent or more) Napa Cabernet or one of those horrible Gnarly Head field blend wines that taste like sweetened prune juice will not do.
The current trend in California and some areas of South America and Australia is to let the grapes ripen to physiological ripeness. There are two types of ripeness; sugar ripeness is the other. Ideally, in a perfect world, the two occur simultaneously. In certain warmer areas of California, like Napa Valley, though, sugar ripeness occurs first. Most California, South America and Australian growers wait for physiological ripeness when the seeds have turned brown and the stalk has lignified to the first joint of the grape cluster. Some growers consider that physiological ripeness is only achieved when the grapes are raisined and the tannins are like melted milk chocolate. If you want to see what one of these wines tastes like, buy a bottle of prune juice and taste it, then open up a bottle of old vine Zinfandel and compare the tastes. The tastes will be similar: soft prune like and sweet. These types of wines are not designed for general food pairings but just a limited number of types of food like chocolate cake or pork ribs slathered with sugary barbecue sauce. As the grapes near physiological ripeness the grapes' acidity plunges. Low acid wines are not only tiring and one dimensional, but they won't keep well, in other words, they are bottled for immediate consumption and won't age. I have a small cellar in our home where I keep about ten cases of mixed wines (mostly French Bordeaux and white French Burgundy) and none of the alcohol levels are above 13.5 percent. I expect to enjoy these wines over the next ten years, God willing. But I get a feeling of schadenfreude when I think about the folks that have paid $2000+ per bottle for a 15.6 percent Napa Cabernet that will be prune juice when they open it 15 years from now.
So why is acidity good? It is not only good it is essential. A glass of wine with no acidity is undrinkable. The lower the acidity the more the wine risks being cloying and not refreshing. Think about that glass of lemonade or cold beer at a summer picnic of fried chicken and potato salad, with each sip of either of those highly acidic beverages, it invites another bite of chicken or potato salad. The acid washes the fat molecules off the palate to prepare your mouth for another taste of the food. The acids in wine accomplish that same purpose. In general, the wines of France, Italy, Germany, and Austria have had that precarious balance between freshness and lushness; acidity and fruit. The New World: United States, South America and Australia have long ago voted for plushness, lushness and fruit. Thankfully there are signs that this trend may be changing as the next generation of winemakers and drinkers takes a new view of the winemaking process that embraces higher acids. The three wines I have chosen have great acidity and low alcohol levels. These are my three perfect wines for a Christmas turkey or goose.
The first wine is the 2014 Schloss Vollrads Estate Spätlese, 7.5 percent alcohol, $30, at the new Ridgeview Liquor on Ridge Road. This wine is from an 800-year-old winery on the Rhine River. The soil is a mixture of weathered slate, loam and clay. The slate gives the wine a wet stone mouth feel that is a counterpoint to the acidity. The word spätlese literally means “late harvest." The grapes are picked a week after the kabinett. The vineyard has a south-facing slope overlooking the Rhine River. Some of these hills are on a 60 percent slope, which reinforces the Roman adage that “Bacchus amat colles" or Bacchus loves the hills. This particular wine was fermented for about 14 weeks at roughly 55 degrees F. The Germans measure acidity because it is very important in obtaining the correct balance. The acidity in this wine measures 7.9grams/liter which keeps the wine fresh and crisp. The aromas are peach, raspberry and honeysuckle with hints of apple blossoms. This wine is crisp enough to go with the main course but sweet enough to compliment a good old fashioned apple pie.
The L'Ecole No. 41 2014 Chenin Blanc, 13.5 percent alcohol, $11, at Woodman's is another white wine with sweetness balanced by acidity. This wine is a real steal and will drink well for years; so buy a case. The wine was produced by one of the original artisan wineries in Washington State. L'Ecole No. 41 is named after the Frenchtown school in Walla Walla which was founded in 1983. The grapes were harvested from the oldest Chenin Blanc vines in Washington dating back to the 1970's. The vintage year was a repeat of the warm 2013 year and required delayed thinning and stripping leaves to prevent early veraison (change of color). Temperatures cooled by mid-August, which led to bold color development, ample sugars, and strong acids. The wine's aromas are passion fruit and orange blossoms with tastes of star fruit, tangerine and apple, and like the Vollrads, a balanced crisp finish. This wine would also pair very well with pumpkin pie or cheesecake desserts.
The Georges Duboeuf Juliènas Chateaux Des Capitans Beaujolais, 13.5 percent alcohol, $22, can be found at the Main Street Market in Egg Harbor. This vineyard is located in the Beaujolais region of France between Macon and Lyon to the south. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape that attracts you to its sappy, grape smell, soft juiciness and slight nip (acidity). This is a very special area for this grape. The stony, schistose granite-based soils give Gamay a roundness and depth of flavor that it lacks elsewhere. There are ten crus in the Beaujolais region each with its own particular flavor. Juliènas is the northernmost cru along the Rhone River and considered to be a mealtime wine rather than a picnic wine. Due to the small size of the vineyards, 83 percent of the harvest is bottled by growers' cooperatives. George Duboeuf is the largest and most prestigious coop. This wine certainly shows that. The wine has a deep red color and aromas of peach raspberry and black current. At two years of age it is drinking very well. The acidity along with the sweet Gamay flavors is a perfect match for a roast turkey. And, because of the low alcohol volume, you might even stay awake for that family pinochle game.
That about does it for 2016. I have heard some nice compliments about the column and want to thank you for reading Wine Uncorked and wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I'm looking forward to 2017 when a whole new group of wines hits the market and gives me something to write about.