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Toasting the Turkey

When you're choosing a wine for Thanksgiving don't forget the side dishes.

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The good news on this subject is that lots of wines do. Riesling for one, the great grape of Germany, Washington state and Virginia. Every wine writer in the world feverishly predicted its return to prominence and immense popularity. They were wrong. It is still a terrific wine for both the bird and the cranberries, but it hasn't taken off as they expected. Since collectors don't clamor for it, the price is still a bargain. It's perfect for Thanksgiving, because unlike chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, Riesling won't dominate the flavor of the bird.

The Barboursville Vineyards Riesling, Virginia, 2001, $11 is off-dry and delicious. The Riesling fruit is a perfect accompaniment to everything, even the pumpkin pie.

A drier version of Riesling is the Manfred Breit Piesporter Goldtrophen Kabinett, 2000, $13. The Breit Piesporter Spatlese, $13, is an excellent off-dry Riesling with the sweetness comparable to the Barboursville. The Breit Piesporter Auslese, 1999, $18 is the sweetest of the three and is truly great with the cranberries and the pumpkin pie. There are lots of other excellent Rieslings around, too.

Pinot grigio is also good for Thanksgiving dinner. The Italian version of the grape is very light and crisp. The Oregon and Alsatian versions of pinot gris (same grape) are sturdier, fatter and richer, also with no sweetness. They work well with all the side dishes as well.

A classy Italian is Furlan Pinot Grigio, Fruili, 2000, $11. The secret here is no oak aging and the tight, smooth flavor of the fruit. The standbys in Alsatian are Adam and Trimbach, two great winemaking firms of impeccable quality. Adam Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2001, $15. Alsace is a step up in power and richness of flavor from the Italian wines. The best thing about pinot gris and Thanksgiving is the universal appeal that this grape brings to the table.

A classic for Thanksgiving is the Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve, Alsace, 2000, $17. This wine is like a grape fattening up like a turkey. It isn't sweet, but it is plump. Both of these wines are ideal for Thanksgiving.

One of the all-time great wine pairings with a cranberry is, of course, the Beaujolais Nouveau. It arrives airfreighted on the third Thursday in November, just in time for the cranberry harvest. This is the first wine release of the 2002 vintage and it tastes just like it came from the barrel. Which it did. There are lots of French producers to look for. The American who makes a nouveau is Beringer, California, 2002, $10. They are meant to be consumed during the holidays and are the epitome of fresh, fruity red wine.

There are many nonchardonnays and cabernets that will work with the bird. A fume blanc with little or no oak closely resembles pinot gris but with more body and flavor. Make sure to avoid those grassy and grapefruit-tasting wines with this dinner. The Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc, Sonoma, 2000, $15 is also a great wine for Thanksgiving. The light oak flavor imparts an enjoyable mellow taste.

The Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, Napa, 2000, $20 has a lime-marmalade flavor but without the sweetness. This is a great wine to cut through all of the gravies and sauces.

Every Thanksgiving there has to be a ringer. A new discovery that will have everyone cheering. The Torres winery in the Penedes region of Spain has just released their 2001 Vina Sol, $11. It is sleek and astonishing. A great value for this much flavor. It is similar to yet leaner than both the pinot gris and the fume blanc.

For the non-nouveau drinker there is the Willamette Valley Vineyard's Pinot Noir, 1999, Oregon, $20. With its cherry and sweet oak nose, it will be a crowd-pleaser. The flavor is elegant with a hint of mushroom and that flavor of cherries continuing through to the finish.

With any of the above wines, add a couple of bottles of bubbly for emergency and a bottle of port for dessert, and you're all set for Thanksgiving. S

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