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Riesling or red? Everything goes with turkey

Thanksgiving? Seems to me they ought to call it Deliver-Us-From-Turkey Day.

Each October, everybody - if my inbox is any indication - starts to fret over what booze to serve with Butterball.

I know what they're all up to.

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This isn't about la-di-dah sophistication and honouring the cook. It's about rescuing an inevitably bland bird with at least something flavourful and ensuring there's plenty of alcohol on hand should the conversation become tedious.

Here's the irony. Pretty much everything goes with turkey. Even, dare I say it, milk.

Turkey, particularly anemic breast meat, is tabula rasa. A blank slate.

This explains why so many wine aficionados insist the ideal partner is pinot noir.

Debatable at the very least, this claim is probably closer to hogwash. Most wine snobs just want an excuse to drink more pinot noir (a.k.a. red Burgundy).

Fact is, turkey doesn't clash with pinot noir, which in their minds makes it as good a reason as any to uncork a pinot.

Turkey pairing, in the end, is all about the trimmings. And in many cases, these will spoil all the subtlety and earthiness of a good pinot.

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For people partial to cranberry sauce, frankly milk would be better than pinot or any other wine, period.

Thanksgiving started with Pilgrims, who liked to find applications for Massachusetts cranberries, but these guys were not exactly a Bacchanalian bunch.

Riesling, the crisp and sometimes off-dry or sweet white wine, is a much more flexible partner for the turkey feast, given that the traditional preparation involves an array of sides, often sweet potatoes and fatty gravy.

If you don't mind your wine on the sweet side (and some of the world's greatest rieslings are sweet), one very good choice is Domdechant Werner Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Spatlese 2003 ($25.95, product No. 0654830).

It's being released in Ontario today along with many of the other selections below.

This is an excellent (though I repeat, fairly sweet) German wine from the Rheingau, rich with apricot-dominated fruit and hints of minerals and kerosene.

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At a mere 7.5-per-cent alcohol, it would almost meet with Pilgrim approval.

Another very good choice, this one only slightly sweet, from Germany's Mosel valley, is Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatte Riesling Kabinett 1998 ($20.95, No. 0940809).

Prefer your riesling bone dry?

Consider looking to Australia, where riesling is a hugely underrated and underpriced specialty.

Granit Hills Riesling 2006 ($22.95, No. 0072876) is a standout from the lesser-known Macedon Ranges region.

Light and charged with electric acidity, it bursts with lime, minerals and a spritzy-salty quality reminiscent of club soda.

If you can't find it, look for more widely available brands from reliable Aussie riesling producers such as Leasingham, Plantagenet and Wolf Blass.

Released today in Ontario and available in a couple of other provinces is Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2007 ($20.95, No. 0606269).

Better still might be a riesling from British Columbia and Ontario, two regions that excel in the variety and focus mainly on dry and off-dry styles.

For a terrific bubbly that could pair exceptionally well with the turkey, consider Skillogalee Sparkling Riesling from Australia ($23.95, No. 007286).

Fizzy riesling often has a faint quality that I think of as metallic. Here it's subtle and I think quite attractive, rounding out a panoply of flavours that include pear and citrus.

Fine red choices for turkey - or beef, lamb, duck or goose - include the following, all released today in Ontario.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Chile ($19.95, No.0275594).

Great value here in a full-bodied, spicy, complex wine showing some savoury, attractively herbal Bordeaux character.

If you can afford it, consider indulging in an underrated California trophy wine, Justin Isosceles 2005 ($73.95, No. 684282), a limited-inventory product not listed in the LCBO's Vintages catalogue.

Rich, succulent and impossible not to love. Imagine spiking an espresso with cassis and lighting up a good cigar. That's the taste.

Its baby brother, Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($32.95, No. 684308), is very fine for the money too. Full-bodied, with rich notes of raspberry, coffee, vanilla and tobacco. Handsome and nicely tailored.

Also excellent from California: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($44.95, No. 0904532), teeming with luscious chocolate, cassis and vanilla.

And for a good value, consider Clos la Chance Ruby-Throated Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, also from California ($17.95, No. 0966069).

Pick of the week

Santa Rita Medalla Real Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Chile ($19.95, No.0275594). Great value here in a full-bodied, spicy, complex wine showing some savoury, attractively herbal Bordeaux character. A good red to serve with turkey.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Beppi Crosariol writes about wine and spirits in the Globe Life and Style sections.He has been The Globe's wine and spirits columnist for more than 10 years. In the late 1990s, he also wrote a food trends column called The Biting Edge.Beppi used to cover business law for ROB and previously edited the paper's weekly technology section. More


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