October 28, 2016
That's the headline on an offering from esteemed wine writer Eric Asimov in this week's New York Times food section. As he says of the upcoming holiday ritual, "People will stuff their faces, just as they always do. Family and friends will abound, and though we may occasionally complain about grudges and petty differences, the gathering will be pretty fine in the end."
In my own "always," Thanksgiving was a very big deal in the household of my childhood. My stepfather, an otherwise unsentimental man, regarded it as the perfect holiday, his favorite holiday.
Although I didn't learn much else from him, I did absorb a thing or two about wines and spirits and the proper appreciation of both.
He left the creation of the turkey and assorted treats to my mother and me -- or whichever grandmother happened to be visiting -- but reserved to himself the selection of the accompanying wines for all holiday repasts.
His go-to for Thanksgiving usually was a Sauternes, that ethereal French wine produced in the maritime climate of the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, that nowadays can be a rarity to find. As the aforementioned Mr. Asimov wrote in a commentary two Thanksgivings ago, "Nobody drinks Sauternes anymore, it seems. That is a shame, because this revered sweet wine of Bordeaux can so often be sublime."
I concur. Should you be interested in trying a Thanksgiving wine you may not have experienced before, I suggest you try this blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as "the noble rot." That is a fungus that, despite its rather disgusting appearance, is welcomed by many grape growers because it imparts a special delicacy to the grapes it infects by causing them to become partially raisined, thus concentrating the flavors.
The best sauternes balance common flavor notes of honey, apricots and peaches, sometimes even a mild nutty note, with a dose of acidity. They are a yellow-gold in color if young, and grow darker as they get older. If you find one that tends toward the color of a copper coin, you're on the path to big taste -- and big money. Sauternes typically are best served at temperatures in the mid-50s, although older versions can be a touch warmer.
I must caution, though, that a good Sauternes -- most often sold in 375ml bottles -- is not an inexpensive wine. Chateau d'Yquem, the most popular and well-known label, runs in the $200 range for the 2011 vintage. But, the 2009 Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey Sauternes is a bargain at $33.
Obviously, you'll need to consult with a trusted wine merchant who has access to top-notch suppliers so you can select from a range of possibilities. You won't be sorry you did.
Posted by William M. Dowd at 6:28 PM