Keep your Thanksgiving wine choices fresh
Continuing on the theme of last week — planning your Thanksgiving wines — here is Rule No. 3: Keep your red-wine choices fresh...
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Pick of the WeekCrane Lake 2006 Malbec, $4
The price is hard to believe, but even harder may be that this 4-buck Chuck of a wine actually brings with it some varietal character. It's light of course, and the blend unlisted, but it has fruit, grip and spice in modest proportion. There is also a Crane Lake Petite Sirah (untasted) that sells for the same price. (Distributed by Young's Columbia)
Continuing on the theme of last week — planning your Thanksgiving wines — here is Rule No. 3: Keep your red-wine choices fresh, versatile and inexpensive.
Fresh, because young red wines are full of juicy berry fruit flavors that complement the bounty of the harvest, which is, after all, the underlying theme for the holiday feast. Versatile, because there are so many flavors going on — in spices, sauces, stuffing and side dishes — that your wines need to be able to go with the flow. And inexpensive, because thrift fits the current economy. And as an added bonus, value wines are most likely to be fresh and, yes, versatile.
Many recent Wine Adviser columns have profiled Northwest reds, so this week I'm looking elsewhere. Which is not to imply that you should avoid having Washington, Oregon or Idaho wine on the table. I would complement them, however, with wines from around the world.
California, Australia, Argentina and Chile are all happy hunting grounds for New World red-wine bargains. Among the widely available California brands that have won my admiration are Blackstone, Bogle, Castle Rock (they also make some Columbia Valley wines), Cycles Gladiator and Kendall-Jackson. These brands offer both quality and value pretty much across the board.
As a general rule you will do best if you pass over the cheap merlots and Cabernets from California and focus on wines that include generous amounts of zinfandel and petite sirah — California's heritage varietals. Crane Lake Petite Sirah ($4), Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel ($8), Blackstone Winemaker's Select Zinfandel ($9), Cline Ancient Vines ($14), Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve ($14) and Spellbound Old Vine Zinfandel ($15) are all good choices.
From Australia the best wines in any value lineup are almost always the syrahs (here called shiraz). Shiraz blends are good choices as well. The top brands include Rosemount Diamond Series, which offers Shiraz, Grenache-Shiraz and Shiraz-Cabernet (all $10); Wyndham Bin 555 ($8); and Peter Lehmann (about $15). But despite my innate distrust of critter brands, the latest offerings from Little Penguin ($6.50) are nicely done, and worth considering. Bonus: These are also sold in magnums, which brings the cost down even further ($11/1.5 liters).
Argentine malbec is surefire. Some favorites in the budget category: Alamos Malbec ($10), Altas Cumbres Malbec ($10), AltoSur Malbec ($10), Altos Las Hormigas Malbec ($10), Conquista Malbec ($8), Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec ($9), Doña Paula Estate Malbec ($12), Fantelli Malbec ($8), Tilia Malbec ($10), Trumpeter Malbec ($9) and Zolo Malbec ($11).
Turning to Europe, don't overlook many of the inexpensive Burgundies from 2005 that are still to be found. The big producers all offer complete lines from simple Bourgogne (sometimes labeled varietally as pinot noir) right on up through the Grands Crus. But for less than $20 a bottle (sometimes far less) you can drink excellent, low-alcohol, turkey-friendly pinots from Bouchard, Drouhin, Faiveley, Jadot and Louis Latour.
For heartier wines look to the south of France. Simple Côtes du Rhône and the bigger, richer Côtes du Rhône Villages wines are value central. But there are many attractive smaller appellations in the south, which includes the sprawling Languedoc-Roussillon region. They offer wines from artisanal producers and co-ops, that may give you more of the regional flair and flavor, though quality is less predictable overall.
I'm especially fond of wines from producers in Fitou, Faugères, Corbières, Costières de Nîmes, Côtes du Ventoux, Minervois, Cotes du Roussillon and Vacqueras. These are spicy, zesty, chewy blends that are typically some combination of cinsault, carignan, grenache, mourvèdre and syrah.
Spain may well deserve its growing reputation as Europe's best country for flavorful, distinctive bargain reds, and Spain has the advantage of growing the world's best tempranillo. Regions to explore on your bargain red treasure hunts include Jumilla, Mencia, Montsant, Navarra and Toro. But good values can also be found in the places best-known for quality, particularly Ribera del Duero.
Earlier this year, I wrote about an exciting new importer — Casa Ventura. Basilio Grueso is a native of Spain, with the finger of a local on the pulse of change. Among his new offerings are a slew of great choices: La Aldea 2007 Monastrell ($9); Lopez Panach 2006 Roble (a tempranillo-cabernet blend $12); Casa de Illana 2004 Tresdecinco ($15); Rejadorada 2006 Tinto Roble ($18) and Damana 5 — an exciting tempranillo from Ribera del Duero ($18).
Southern Italy completes the quest for excellent red-wine bargains from Mediterranean climates. Focus on the regions of Puglia, Calabria and Sicilia. Primitivo from Puglia often draws comparison to California zinfandel, while Nero d'Avola is the grape of choice in Sicily for spicy, hearty, tannic reds. The producer to look for is Donnafugata.
But ... but ... but what about Beaujolais Nouveau, you may wonder? Isn't that the quintessential fresh, young, right-out-of-the-fermenting-vat red-wine choice for Thanksgiving? The marketing pooh-bahs would certainly have you believe it, but this might not be the best year to jump into that giant pond. The rising euro has made Beaujolais Nouveau as expensive as real, cru Beaujolais. The 2008 vintage was no barnburner either, and the wines (untasted as I write this) are likely to be rather dilute. If it's Beaujolais you're after, scoop up Beaujolais Villages wines from 2006 or 2007.
Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines and Wineries The Essential Guide." His column appears weekly in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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