Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Southern Rhone Valley and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a difficult meal to pair wine with.  Turkey calls for a white or a light red.  Heavier stuffings or dressings that involve bacon or sausage might do better with a medium-bodied red.  Sweet cranberry sauce needs something with lots of fruit character or some residual sugar.  And what if you don’t know what your relatives are bringing? 

The classic advice (and it is good advice) is to get a couple of wines that go pretty well with everything.  Pinot Noir and Riesling usually fit the bill.  They have a good amount of acidity.  They have a light- to medium-body.  And Rieslings usually have some residual sugar to balance the cranberry sauce and candied yams.

But today I was thinking that wines from the southern Rhone would be good at Thanksgiving.  Probably because I had just been to a master class on 2 southern Rhone appellations, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel, led by James King of The Texas Wine School.

It’s a shame the southern Rhone Valley is unfamiliar to so many American wine drinkers.  If you like medium- to full-bodied reds, with lots of red fruit, moderate tannin, and often a hint of herbs and spice, the southern Rhone should be on your radar. 

The most common appellation you see from this region is Cotes du Rhone.  The primary grape here is Grenache (Garnacha in Spain), but others are blended in as well (Syrah and Mourvedre are the usual suspects).   Cotes du Rhones are fruity, and usually not too heavy on the tannin.  They could work at Thanksgiving, especially if your turkey is roasted with lots of herbs, or smoked, or fried.

Grenache is also the main grape in Tavel.  Tavel is the only French appellation which produces rosé wine exclusively.  These wines are dry, usually fruity, with some mineral characteristics, and plenty of acidity.  A few years ago I enjoyed a 2008 Brotte Tavel Les Eglantiers, purchased at Spec’s for around $14.  The current vintage for sale is 2010 or 2011.  The 2008 had lots of fruit and some floral aromas, plenty of acidity, and should give you an idea if you like the style of Tavel or not (although, as I learned today, there can be significant differences between one vineyard and another, and one producer and another!).   Tavels are food-friendly and strike the balance between red and white when you’re not sure which you’ll need. 

So if you’re feeling brave, try out a new wine at Thanksgiving this year.  Pick up a Cotes du Rhone or a Tavel, and see how you like it!

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