Hallelujah! I’m not cooking for Thanksgiving this year — the Kellys have gotten themselves invited to a monster gathering up north. When I asked what I could bring, they just said, “Wine, and lots of it.” The hunt was on.
“With the traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Matt Francke of San Diego Wine Company in Miramar (858-586-9463; sandiego-wine.net), “you want a wine that’s versatile, something that isn’t too rich or too light for all the different flavors going on. Pinot Noir has that versatility, especially when you have the flavor profile of California Pinot, which is a little more fruit-driven. One that’s been doing really well for us is the 2008 Stephen Vincent California Pinot Noir [$9.95]. Another red that’s fairly versatile is the Garnacha-Tempranillo blend from Borsao, out of the Campo region in Spain [$5.99]. It’s a good quaffing wine. If you’re looking for something unusual, I have a Grenache-Syrah-Cinsault blend from the Languedoc region of France, the 2009 d’Aupilhac [$9.95]. Bright fruit, really soft characteristics, and most people would just pass it up.”
I got curious and started thinking about sauces. “What about cooking wine?”
“You don’t want to buy cheap wine,” said Francke, “but you don’t need to spend very much money. Our inexpensive wine is wine that we feel is a particularly good value. The Crane Lake Petite Sirah, which you can find in a lot of places, is a good red [$2.99]. And the 2009 Tierra del Fuego Sauvignon Blanc from Chile [$4.99] is a fantastic value.”
John Lindsay at Vintage Wines in Miramar (858-549-2112; vintagewinessd.com) agreed about the Pinot Noir — “a natural with turkey” — and offered a bargain of his own. “Under normal circumstances, $20 would be a very good entry price for Pinot Noir. So, the 2009 Sean Minor [$12.49] from Carneros that we’re selling is a good value. And it’s been a hit.”
When I asked after something unusual, he suggested a white. “Try something like the 2009 Elk Cove Pinot Gris [$12.99] from Oregon. Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio. But in colder climates, it gets a lot more floral and a lot more flavors of peaches and pears. It also develops a nice acidity. It’s a good food wine. It’d go well with turkey and especially ham. Or anything spicy.” Lindsay thought Sauvignon Blanc might prove a little too tart for cooking. “I think the Bogle California Chardonnay [$7.99] would be a little more round. Obviously, you don’t want to pay a lot, but the better the wine, the better the sauce. The Bogle is still reasonable and more than palatable.”
Lindsay’s suggestion of an oddball white wine led me to Truly Fine Wine in Bay Ho (858-270-9463; trulyfinewine.com), a store that carries German imports, many of them Rieslings. “I serve Charta Riesling at every holiday table,” said owner Damon. “It’s not often available in the U.S. The Charta association was founded in 1983 by a small number of growers who wanted to make site-specific wines to go with food. Essentially, it’s a declassified dry Spatlese. It’s going to have a fuller body, lots of structure, and bright acidity. You’ll get flavors of candied Meyer lemon and great viscosity. It’s effortless. I have an ’06 from Barth and an ’07 from Lang [$20].
“For something a little more standard, I have some more classic, off-dry Riesling. The Thanisch Kabinett [$15] has a little bit of sweetness, so you’ll get more flavors of peach and tangerine, apple and pear. For cooking wine, I always tell people that if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. My wife and I will crack a bottle, pour ourselves a glass, use some of it when we’re making dinner, and finish it when we eat.”
On the other side of the white-wine spectrum, Nick at Wine Steals in Hillcrest (619-295-1188; winestealssd.com) opined, “A lot of people like to go with a big, buttery Chardonnay as long as it has subdued, subtle oak. For Thanksgiving, I like the 2007 Ramey Chardonnay out of Carneros [$26.99]. It’s full-bodied, very creamy, with plenty of big, buttery notes. It’s well balanced, so it’s smooth but still has big, bold flavors. I can see that going with a nice turkey and stuffing. For a red, I like the 2007 Anderson Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc [$17.99]. It’s a dry-style wine with plenty of earthy tones and subdued fruit.”