When it comes to holiday feasts, keep it young, inexpensive, and red.
With Thanksgiving over and the remaining holidays coming up — Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — the head scratching begins over which wine to buy for what dish.
The variable that is going to dictate your choice is not the wine, but what’s coming to the table for the big feast.
My main rules are: Keep it young, keep it inexpensive, and keep it red. Whether the main dish is roasted goose, stuffed turkey, or a good old standing rib roast, the things that you generally don’t want in a wine are in white wines, sweet or dry. Even though both turkey and goose are birds, white wines don’t work — mostly because of the myriad of nutmeg, bay leaf, thyme, onion, chestnut, sausage, sweet potato dishes, stuffing, and the rest.
It’s certainly nice to give an expensive, old red wine as a holiday gift, but it’s usually wasted on turkey with stuffing or any spicy trimmings. Expensive, older reds are fussier and more subtle, and don’t show well at these vast-flavored feasts. They like delicate cuisine and gentler aromas.
On the other hand, with beef it’s hard to pick the wrong older red. The world’s range of durable red wines is essentially your oyster.
With turkey or goose, cheaper, drier reds in the inexpensive to middle price range not only are going to be just fine but also definitely the best choice. You want a pretty lean wine with fairly high acid.
For turkey and its usual trimmings, I suggest Beaujolais from France, Barbera from Italy, Garnacia (Grenache) from Spain, a lighter-style zinfandel from California, or cabernet franc from the Loire Valley of France or Michigan.
Beaujolais is often overlooked because it has been so blanketed by successful lower-end versions, Beaujolais Village and Nouveau Beaujolais under the Georges Duboeuf and Louis Jadot lines. Nothing wrong with them, but once you move into the regional name of Beaujolais, such as Moulin-A-Vent, Julienas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, and Brouilly, you enter a world of richness, expansive flavors, and concentration that is a superb lineup for a turkey dinner. Look for smaller importers selling these same mini-regions under names such as Jean-Paul Thévenet, Guy Breton, or Jean Foillard.
In zinfandels, look for Cakebread Red Hills Zinfandel, Bonterra Zinfandel, any of the Rosenblum vineyard designated zins, or any made by Carol Shelton, who is one of the premier handlers of this grape in California these days. Also, look for wines from the dean of zin, Paul Draper, who owns Ridge Vineyards — particularly his Ridge Lytton Springs, a classic.
For goose, pinot noir is my first choice, and less expensive and young is better. Goose can be fairly fatty, so the sharper, more acidic versions from cooler climates will likely pair best and be more palate cleansing. You want French, Michigan, Oregon, or Washington state, including any of these: LaForet or Latour (Burgundy). And from Michigan you can’t do much better than our lean, cherry-noted, ever-improving pinot noirs: Arcturos, Brys Estate, Chateau Chantal, Bel Lago, Chateau Grand Traverse, St. Julian Braganini Reserve line, Shady Lane Cellars, 2 Lads, and Domaine Berrien Cellars.
If you are planning on serving a standing rib roast, this is where your rare, older, and more expensive reds will work, such as aged Bordeaux or the older styles of California cabernet sauvignon from before 2000.