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Bring on the team players


My parents weren't really wine drinkers, more your classic martini types, but for holiday dinners they -- and any guests -- 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.

Though it turns out Grey Riesling wasn'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 -- sweet, sour, bland, spicy -- 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 -- intriguing, moderately priced wines from more modest and less well-known regions -- 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 -- 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 under $20. My other choice would be a refreshing dry white wine from the Douro in Portugal, this one from an estate that's been around since 1842.

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, such as this lovely bottle from Monterey County.

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.


NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace "Brut Rose" (Alsace). About $18. With its pale peachy-gold masses of fine bubbles and delicate flowery scent, this pretty rose sparkler is a fine way to start out the festivities.

Available at: Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, (310) 306-2822,; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463,; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX,; and the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731,

NV Drusian Prosecco "Cartizze" (Veneto). About $22. Fresher than a Champagne, this lovely Cartizze (from a small cru inside the Valdobbiadene appellation for Prosecco) has a zesty citrus edge with notes of hazelnut. Crisp and modern.

Available at: Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX,

White wine

2006 Hogl Riesling Federspiel "Steinterrassen" (Wachau). About $18. Bone-dry, minerally white with a wonderful perfume of lime blossoms. Graceful and light on its feet, this Austrian Riesling can do double duty as aperitif and first-course wine.

Available at: Le Chateau at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, (310) 887-6006,; Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, (310) 392-7816,; Mission Wines in South Pasadena, (626) 403-9463,; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX,

2006 Niepoort "Tiara" (Douro). About $20. A beautiful Portuguese white from a Port producer in business since the 19th century. Crisp and minerally with notes of white pepper and green apple, with a long, gentle finish, "Tiara" can hold its own against any manner of dishes, even stuffing.

Available at: Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463,; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX,

Red wine

2006 Candela Pinot Noir "Mission Ranch" (Monterey). About $20. A Pinot Noir from Monterey County with a true Burgundian character. Earthy in the best sense, it's drinking well now, and with its velvety tannins, it's a perfect match for the bird.

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