WINE TIPS BY DAVID SIT,
MacNeil-Lehrer Production's Vice President
What Wine to Serve with the Thanksgiving Turkey?
Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to America, and what better wine to serve with your turkey this Thanksgiving than another American exclusive - Zinfandel! Now, we are not talking about the pink innocuous stuff called White Zinfandel, even though it is made from the same grape as red Zinfandel.
Like all the classic wine varietals planted in America, the Zinfandel grape came from overseas sometime in the last hundred years or so. Its origin remains a controversy. Early investigations pointed to Syria as its motherland, but recent studies, which included DNA analyses, seem to indicate that it is closely related to the Duriff in France or the Primitivo, a northern Italian grape varietal. Unlike other American wines such as the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which one could find their brethrens in France and elsewhere, there is no other wine like the American Zinfandel in the world today. Recent plantings of the Zinfandel grapes in South Africa and Australia produce wines that are not quite the same as our own.
Planted in sizable quantities in California since the turn of the century, Zinfandel suffered a downturn in popularity in the seventies, until it was revived in the eighties by, yes, that innocuous pink wine White Zinfandel. The White Zin fad was greatly responsible in helping to preserve numerous old Zinfandel vineyards - some of which are over 100 years old - from being replanted with the more popular Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It also helped start up thousands of acres of new Zinfandel vineyards. Beginning in the late eighties, Red Zinfandel experienced a big revival. At $15-25 a bottle, it remains one of the better red wine values today.
At its best, a good Red Zinfandel is an in-your-face, intense and satisfying wine experience. Often infused with concentrated and jammy black raspberry flavors, a good Zinfandel also possesses many spice nuances such as black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. The bold forwardness and intensity of the wine is a good match with the flavorful nature of turkey.
As Napa excels with Cabernet Sauvignon, the Sonoma Valley is the best region for the growing of Zinfandel. Look for bottlings from the Dry Creek and Russian River Valley areas of Sonoma especially for the best expressions of the Zinfandel grape. And unlike many other great red wines, Zinfandel does not require cellaring to mellow out its tannins. The bottle you pick up from the wine store today is ready to be drunk tonight. And to make this year's Thanksgiving dinner that much more memorable, the current vintages (2003 and 2004) on store shelves just happen to be excellent ones.