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Choose a variety of wines for the holiday

By S. Irene Virbila
Los Angeles Times
My parents weren’t really wine drinkers, more your classic martini types, but for holiday dinners they ó and any guests ó 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.
Although it turns out Grey Riesling isn’t a true Riesling (it’s actually the French grape Chauce 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 ó sweet, sour, bland, spicy ó 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 ó intriguing, moderately priced wines from more modest and less well-known regions ó 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 ó 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 less than $20. My other choice would be a refreshing, dry white wine from the Douro in Portugal.
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.
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.
nnn
Virbila is the Times’ restaurant critic.
Wine list, page 6A.

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