Turkey isn’t so boring. At least not as boring as the people who insist on fretting over what wines to serve with the bird. It’s a blank canvas, more forgiving than most meats where drink is concerned, ready to soak up a variety of colours and styles.
But maybe you’d like some humble guidance, assuming turkey is in your immediate future.
Benjamin Franklin, who sadly failed in his attempt to make the gobbler America’s national bird, probably washed down that dry white meat with his cherished native North American grapes, a logical and not inappropriate choice for the times. Modern counterparts to those grapes, such as the hybrid varieties marechal foch and baco noir, work nicely. Quails’ Gate in British Columbia crafts a fine Old Vines Foch ($24.99) and Henry of Pelham in Niagara makes one of the best baco noirs ($13.95).
I find that boldly fruity wines with mouthwatering acidity work best. Those same qualities are what make sweet-tart cranberry sauce a suitable accompaniment. Pinot noir, like the Sterling below, is very good, as is gamay (a.k.a. red Beaujolais). Among fuller-bodied reds, I’d suggest Australian shiraz, New World merlot and California zinfandel (the quality red stuff, though pinkcoloured and sweet “white zinfandel” will do the job if that’s your thing). Wines based on grenache, such as many Châteauneuf-du-Papes and Gigondases, both from France’s Rhône Valley, can be terrific. In the white department, many people favour riesling (the Château des Charmes below should be brilliant). And most rosés get along famously with Big Bird.
The main caveats: Steer clear of exceedingly dry red wines (your mouth will be dry enough) and styles with heavy tannins, the astringent particles found abundantly in young cabernet sauvignon, Barolo and expensive French syrah, among other full-bodied reds. Those wines go best with juicy red meats. If you crave cranberry sauce, that’s another reason to give bone-dry reds a wide berth; the collision can be more uncomfortable than warring in-laws.
Deciding what to offer pre- and post-turkey can be just as critical to a festive time. You may want a suitable aperitif to stimulate palates before the chowdown and a selection of digestifs to go along with Bromo-Seltzer afterward. Dry bubbly and aperitif wines, such as vermouth, might be nice options for the former; try brandy, good whisky or amaro-style bitters for the latter.
Ontario and British Columbia government liquor stores are closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Most will keep regular hours Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve, though Ontario LCBO stores that generally close late will lock up at 6 p.m. both eves. So get there early. You don’t want to be the frantic schmuck who shows up at 5:55 p.m. You could run into me.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $54.95
Relatively soft, round and rich, this bubbly offers up an apple sauce nuance and delicious, nutty-toasty characters. The B.C. price is $62.99 and in Quebec it’s $61.
Painted Rock Chardonnay 2010 (B.C.)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $30
A regal, full-bodied chardonnay from one of B.C.’s star producers, this one is silky, with tropical fruit and spiced apple, melted butter and toasty oak. It’s available at select private B.C. wine shops; see www.paintedrock.ca for a list of stores and call ahead.
Sterling Vintner’s Collection Pinot Noir 2009 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $14.95
It’s got everything one could reasonably expect in a pinot noir at this price: jammy, berry-like fruit, mild notes of beet and cinnamon, a seductively soft texture and good acidity on the finish. Available in Ontario.
Pierre Amadieu Domaine Grand Romane Cuvée Prestige Gigondas 2009 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $27.95
Mostly grenache with some mourvèdre and syrah, this old-vines red is lavishly oaked, owing to 100-per-cent new barrels, not standard for the Rhône Valley. Full-bodied, it should please fans of earthy French as well as opulent New World reds. Available in Ontario.
Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Here’s a gorgeous riesling for the money, aromatic and silky, with crisp pear, lime, petrol and green tea flavours and a finish that’s ever-so-slightly offdry. It could almost be Alsatian or German.
Vina Zaco Rioja Tempranillo (Spain)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14.95
Smooth and fresh, this modern-style Rioja from Bodegas Bilbainas offers up plum, berry and vanilla notes and an undercurrent of sweet spices on a polished texture and mediumbodied frame. New to Ontario.
Morse Code Padthaway Shiraz 2010 (Australia)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $12.95
Full-bodied and succulent, this good-value red delivers blackberry and cherry flavours, a smooth texture and a crisp, spicy finish. Available in Ontario and B.C. The B.C. price is $13.99.
Springbank CV Single Malt (Scotland)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $74.95
Springbank, in Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula that stretches down toward Northern Ireland, is the oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland. It was named Whisky Magazine’s whisky distiller of the year in 2010, distinguished for its all-on-site production, smooth, leathery textures and moderately peaty style. This one’s delectably oily, blended from a mixture of casks that once held bourbon, sherry and port. Chewy, with a fruity core, it resolves with a bracing slap of smoke and spice. A well-rounded single malt. Available in Ontario and Alberta.
Warre’s Colheita Single Year Tawny 1997 (Portugal)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $39.95
Though 14 years old, this rusty brown port is free of sediment and needs no decanting, ready for a cheese course, creamy dessert or post-dinner sipping. With sweet notes of raisin, caramelized sugar and roasted nuts, it’s lively, not syrupy, thanks to a backbone of acidity. Available in Ontario. In B.C., look for the fine Warre’s Otima 10-year-old tawny in the 500-millilitre clear bottle at $29.99.