This year I had the privilege to join friends and their family for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a traditional table – a gorgeous, lacquered turkey, roasted to perfection, accompanied by vibrant cranberry sauce and a rich, savory gravy with fluffy mashed potatoes, tender-crisp, bright green beans and earthy-sweet brussels sprouts, plus sweet potatoes sans sickeningly sweet marshmallows, and, of course, a moist, herb-tinged stuffing.
We were a room full of wine geeks, and everyone brought top-notch wines. I was immediately blind-tasted on a white wine that confounded me with its immense core of concentrated fruit – it was ultra-ripe nectarine, lemon curd, honeyed green apple pie – all very dense, ripe fruit but with tongue-tingling acidity. Full-bodied, with clear evidence of oak and lees stirring to impart richness, body, and flavor… my mind never wandered to Pouilly Fume, and certainly not a 2005. I was thinking more premium South African Chenin Blanc (which often see oak and lees treatment). I should have paid closer attention to the alcohol (it was only 13% but seemed a bit higher to me), as this indeed was the 2005 Majorum Pouilly Fume from Michel Redde ($30). Spectacular. It was consumed before the turkey was carved, so I cannot comment on its affinity for Thanksgiving, but it did pair beautifully with a crumbly goat cheese.
Our next victim was the 2010 Lail Sauvignon Blanc ‘Georgia’ from Napa Valley ($75). A complete departure from the Majorum, full of buttered pineapple, mango and banana flavors and an unctuous texture. A hedonistic style which paired best with the goat cheese layered with fig jam to match its sweet fruit. We then moved onto bubbles – a sprightly, pale pink Ruinart Rosé Brut NV – always a treat. While there wasn’t ham or smoked salmon nearby, my mind immediately wandered to those salty, smoky treats upon which the tangy bubbles could burst.
As the turkey emerged from the oven and readied itself to be sliced and diced, I opened my wine, a 2003 Mommessin Clos de Tart Grand Cru. There is a back story to this wine… The Clos de Tart is the wine that stole my heart as a fledging wine wannabe eight years ago. I happened upon a tasting at Del Frisco’s (for the “trade”) and upon arriving, a friend handed me a glass of wine. She said, “Try this.” I did, and immediately fell against the nearby pillar to keep upright. There are no words for that first magical glass. It was the 2002 – a legendary vintage in Burgundy. I didn’t know enough about wine then to understand that 2003 was a very, very atypical vintage in Burgundy. Some of you may recall the extreme heat wave that stifled Europe that year? Those poor Pinot grapes had a hell of a time staying true to themselves. I bought three bottles (at $190 a pop) of a wine that essentially tasted like massively oaked New World Syrah. No matter. It was the symbolism of it that made it worthwhile. This was my last bottle and I was more than happy to share the nearly 10-year old Syrah-in-Pinot’s-clothing with my wine-loving comrades. Unfortunately, it was not very well-received by my traditionalist friends, and the 14.5% alcohol didn’t do most of the dishes any favors.
Next I opened another – traditional – Grand Cru Burgundy (red) that Rich brought. It was unbelievably corked. Sad Pandas. 😦
Then… (timpani roll, please) I opened Carl’s Cellar Selection. A 1991 JL Chave Hermitage ($NA, over $500 at auction). Be still my beating heart. I have three favorite wines – Northern Rhone Syrah (Hermitage being the apogee of this region), Loire Chenin Blanc (Vouvray and Quarts de Chaume in particular), and Riesling from anywhere, in any style, as long as it’s good. Hermitage is rare and expensive, thus I have only had it a handful of times, and only once this old. The texture of this wine was surreal; a thick satin drape flowing across the tongue. The finish lasted at least a full minute and a half before beginning to wane. The flavors were smoky, with cured meat, iodine-y, dried peppercorn, dried leather, dried blueberry and black raspberry, and just a touch of dried purple flowers. A very savage, animal wine that was perhaps too masculine for our little white bird and certainly too dry for the sweet-tart cranberry sauce. But I adored it with the savory flavors of the gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. And on its own I sipped it at leisure, relishing the way it evolved and coated my palate with the most intriguing flavors.
A complete change of pace followed: A stunning 2011 Donnhoff Riesling from the acclaimed, “Grosses Gewachs” (essentially Grand Cru) Hermannshohle vineyard in the Nahe region of Germany ($57). An instant wake-up call, this wine pierced right through my palate, singing with clarity and crispness. You can’t help but smile, giggle, even, when something this pristine graces your palate. It was just lovely with everything on the table, reinforcing my previous findings that Riesling is the perfect food wine. Sweet, savory, spicy, salty, you name it, Riesling just works. And, as is evident from my gushing, at its best, it is also freaking delicious.
Sweet notes to end the night included lemon meringue pie, pumpkin pie, and French silk pie. I had a sliver of each – who could resist? A 2007 Royal Tokaji Co. Tokaji dessert wine from Hungary (6 Puttonyos) was our gluttonous ending. A ubiquitous but consistently great offering.
I hope everyone had a marvelous dinner with loved ones, new and old, and wines to be thankful for (also new, and old).
-Natalie Guinovart DWS CWE FWS CS
The Einstein of Wine