My parents weren't really wine drinkers, more your classic martini types, but for holiday dinners they -- and any guests -- drank wine. For me, as a kid and later a teenager, setting out the wineglasses used only at Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed almost ceremonial. Since my mom and dad didn't know a thing about wine, I took on the job of deciding what they should buy. Neither Robert Parker nor any of the other wine gurus were on the scene yet, but I remember reading somewhere that Riesling was a good match for turkey and that Wente Grey Riesling was one of California's best. And so that's what we bought.
Though it turns out Grey Riesling wasn't a true Riesling (it's actually the French grape Chaucé Gris), here I am in 2008, thinking about wines for turkey day and zeroing in on Riesling for one of the wines.
I say "one" because nothing really is a slam-dunk for the Thanksgiving meal. The widely varied flavors -- sweet, sour, bland, spicy -- make it notoriously difficult for one wine to show well under the onslaught. Any bottle ends up a bit player, outshouted by the divas of cranberry sauce and gravy and sweet potatoes.
My idea for the Thanksgiving play this year is to cast a handful of character actors -- intriguing, moderately priced wines from more modest and less well-known regions -- and have some fun with holiday drinking.
No matter how tempting, this is not the moment to break out that precious Burgundy or cult California Cab from your cellar. It's sure to get lost amid all the talk and dishes competing for everyone's attention.
What's needed is a wine that is just plain delicious, one that everybody at the table can appreciate. That means everyone from the occasional wine drinker or novice to the passionate wine buff. The ideal wine for the occasion won't upstage either the company or the food. And particularly this year, the wine shouldn't be a budget breaker.
My inclination is to start with a bubbly while everyone is settling down -- before they get to the table. Prosecco or Cartizze, a dry sparkling wine from Italy's Veneto region, is perfect with little nibbles.
Then I'm thinking of a Riesling with the first courses. I've found a terrific one from the Wachau in Austria for under $20. My other choice would be a refreshing dry white wine from the Douro in Portugal, this one from an estate that's been around since 1842.
With the turkey, I'm going with a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley that has the spiciness and zest to partner with the bird and all its fixings. But you can't go wrong with Pinot Noir either, such as this lovely bottle from Monterey County.
And with the pumpkin or apple pie, I'm pouring a Moscato d'Asti from Italy's Piedmont region. Low in alcohol, this lively sparkler won't put your contentious uncle over the edge or send your grandmother into a snooze at the table.
NV Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace "Brut Rosé" (Alsace). About $18. With its pale peachy-gold masses of fine bubbles and delicate flowery scent, this pretty rosé sparkler is a fine way to start out the festivities.
Available at: Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, (310) 306-2822, www.beverageware; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463, www.hitimewine.net; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex.com; and the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com.
NV Drusian Prosecco "Cartizze" (Veneto). About $22. Fresher than a Champagne, this lovely Cartizze (from a small cru inside the Valdobbiadene appellation for Prosecco) has a zesty citrus edge with notes of hazelnut. Crisp and modern.
Available at: Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex
2006 Högl Riesling Federspiel "Steinterrassen" (Wachau). About $18. Bone-dry, minerally white with a wonderful perfume of lime blossoms. Graceful and light on its feet, this Austrian Riesling can do double duty as aperitif and first-course wine.
Available at: Le Chateau at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, (310) 887-6006, www; Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, (310) 392-7816, www.lincolncom; Mission Wines in South Pasadena, (626) 403-9463, www.mission; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex.com.
2006 Niepoort "Tiara" (Douro). About $20. A beautiful Portuguese white from a Port producer in business since the 19th century. Crisp and minerally with notes of white pepper and green apple, with a long, gentle finish, "Tiara" can hold its own against any manner of dishes, even stuffing.
2006 Candela Pinot Noir "Mission Ranch" (Monterey). About $20. A Pinot Noir from Monterey County with a true Burgundian character. Earthy in the best sense, it's drinking well now, and with its velvety tannins, it's a perfect match for the bird.
Available at: Bristol Farms, www.bristolfarms.com; Next Vintage Wine Shop at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's in Costa Mesa (714) 352-2525; the Grapevine in Laguna Hills (949) 380-9463, www.thegrape; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa (949) 650-8463, www.hitimewine.net; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex.com; and the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com.
2006 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil "Vieilles Vignes" (Loire Valley). About $16. Cabernet Franc has just the right weight and spice to make that turkey sing. And this Bourgueil from vintner Thierry Voucard is a beauty -- spicy and lush, with something wild and smoky in there too. Be sure you buy enough.
Available at: Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex15 Degrees C Wine Shop and Bar in Templeton (805) 434-1554; Elvino Wines in Venice, (310) 396-9705.
2007 Saracco Moscato d'Asti (Piedmont). About $16. Light and effervescent, scented with white peaches and flowers, this Moscato comes from respected producer Paolo Saracco.
Available at: K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, (323) 464-9463, www.klwines.com; the Wine Country in Signal Hill, (562) 597-8303, www; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX; www.winex.com; and other retailers.
2007 Elio Perrone Moscato d'Asti (Piedmont). About $16. Another top Moscato with all the light-hearted pleasures of this traditional Piedmontese dessert wine. Perfect at the end of a heavy meal. The single-vineyard "Sourgal" is a few dollars more.
Available at: Du Vin Wine & Spirits in West Hollywood, (310) 855-1161, www.du-vin; John and Pete's Fine Wines & Spirits in West Hollywood, (310) 657-3080, www.john; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex.com.