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Wine to Complement Holiday Meal : Dramatic Choices Won't Offend the Guests or the Turkey

November 20, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN

Thanksgiving turkey and the grape seem to be made for each other. Just about any kind of wine will do, so selecting the right wine ought not to be a problem. Usually, I am torn among the many solid dry or sweet choices that go well with turkey.

If making a choice becomes a strain, don't worry: Place all of the selections in a hat and pick one. You are not likely to go wrong with such staples as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Champagne, Claret, red or white Burgundy, Rhone, Pinot Noir, red or white Zinfindel, Sauvignon Blanc, Sherry and Port.

At one Thanksgiving or another, I have tried them all and have never been disappointed. Each year however, I vary the choice. Although my palate leans heavily toward Cabernet or Chardonnay, trying something challenging and dramatically different has never offended my guests nor the turkey. Indeed, it has always been appreciated.

This year, Beaujolais is the choice. That may sound risky, since it is generally light structured, soft in texture, fruity to excess and not always given to taking on the melange of Thanksgiving tastes of turkey, dressing, condiments, baked yams and a variety of vegetables.

Intense Concentrated Flavors

Personally, I abhor fruity wines for special occasion meals but the 1985 Beaujolais vintage was exceptional in producing lush wines of intense concentrated flavors and elegance, and they are excellent with turkey. The taste is soft and generous without any hard edges, and because there is so much fruit here the higher than usual 13% alcohol is no problem.

Didier Mommessin, Burgundy proprietor of Clos de Tart, is so high on the vintage that he claims the alcohol is of no consequence because of the enormous quantity of natural fruit. "In many cases," he said, "chaptalization, the traditional practice of adding sugar to raise alcohol limits, was not necessary. Natural sugars were sufficiently high for the natural sugars and alcohol of the Gamay grape to melt into the structure of the wine far better than when sugar is added. Voila! Superb Beaujolais wines, many of which may need to age and reach their peak between four and 10 years."

It is unusual for Beaujolais to require any aging. Occasionally, in a fine, fully ripened vintage like 1985 some wines contain ample tannin and fruit to provide the kinds of tastes and nuances resembling fine Burgundy. Interestingly, Beaujolais is entitled to the appellation of Burgundy, but in more years than not the wines are so light and distinctive, any association is meaningless. Not the case for 1985.

Do not confuse these wines with Beaujolais Nouveau, wines that are so light and delicately fruity they require immediate consumption a few months after bottling. The intense fruit flavors and textures of '85 non nouveau are by no means light, nor are the aromas that are more refined, elegant and with floral scents that refuse to quit.

From Special Growths

Most of the vintage successes are Cru Beaujolais, wines from specific vineyards or special growths that highlight the distinction between Gamay, the Beaujolais grape, and Pinot Noir, the Burgundy grape.

Mommessin explains, "Regardless of the quality of the wine, you can distinguish a good '85 Gamay-produced Beaujolais by likening it to the tip of the tail or the equivalent of the finish of a wine in perceiving the last flavors as it goes down. Gamay starts out in the mouth as fruity, lush with flavor, without subtlety and ends a bit shorter. But the fruit is so assertive and dominating with flavor, there appears to be no time to even look for finish. It seems irrelevant."

Ordinarily Mommessin does not ship much Beaujolais to the United States, but since these '85s turned out to be superior and with Burgundy prices going through the roof, he believes Americans will take to this wine, not as a substitute for Burgundy, but rather as a new entry for daily and special table use. I tasted seven Mommessin Beaujolais, all of which were quite good and characteristic of the vintage.

The best was Domaine de la Rochelle, Moulin-a-Vent, an exclusive of the firm with a limited production of 5,800 cases. Here is assertive, strong fruit with a bit of spice in nose and taste that comes across more like a Burgundy than as a Beaujolais. Big bodied and luscious, this is an excellent bottle in a concentrated, assertive flavored style that should last a decade or two. This is an unusual wine, particularly at $8.99.

Another fine choice is Domaine de la Conseillere, Julienas, a vineyard that belongs to Mommessin's attorney. Here is an intensely fruity, strong, strawberry-like nose, classic style with gobs of fruit, long on mouth flavors in considerable length and depth. Exceptionally well balanced and with a bit of tannin for aging, this is a benchmark Julienas, a commune which may have outperformed all of the others in '85. Definitely worth more at $7.49.

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