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Top wines for the holiday table

By Pascale Le Draoulec,
November 24, 2007 13:03 IST
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If you think navigating Aureole's famous glass and steel wine tower by mechanical hoists is tough, you should see the feat that Allison Cook -- one of five sommeliers at the showy Las Vegas restaurant -- has in store for Thanksgiving.

She'll be preparing the holiday feast for 20 members of her family and other wine geeks in the industry -- and selecting the wines, of course.

Fortunately, says Cook, it's a slow week in Sin City, when people choose relatives over the roulette wheel. That should give her plenty of time to explore the local wine shops for some rare finds. That's good, because Cook has some very specific wine preferences associated with the holiday.

"I always lean toward Burgundies," says Cook. "They tend to go so many different ways. Burgundies are also great with black truffles, and I'm a sucker for black truffles on Thanksgiving." (Not only does Cook slip thinly shaved truffles beneath the skin of the bird, but she tucks them in her mac and cheese--a little Alain Ducasse trick--and in her mashed potatoes.)

Super Sips

This year, she's on the lookout for a 2001 Romanée-Conti Echezeaux, a $395 grand cru from Burgundy that was the star of her lineup last holiday. She also likes to serve a white wine with the meal and almost always goes for a Puligny Montrachet.

"Depending on how 'tropical' it is," she says, "it can really go well with some of the fruit flavors on the table, like cranberry."

Her current favorite is the elegant Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 2002, with its peach and pear notes.

And, she always has a bottle of Krug Champagne on hand for when guests first arrive. (Guests who come early to help " prep" in the kitchen are asked to each bring a different bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. "It's light, easy to drink and pretty "chuggable," says Cook.)

Perfect Pairings

Rick Pitcher, a sommelier at Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan, also has some interesting wine-turkey tendencies.

"I always serve the same thing," he says. "A riesling, a Chateauneuf du Pape and a Madeira."

He likes a dry riesling because " its acidity lends itself to just about anything," and the Chateauneuf (in particular, the Domaine Saint Prefert "Reserve August Favier 2004) "because I like its earthy spicy notes and the perfect middle ground that it hits." He chooses a vintage Madeira, like the Verdelho 1981, because the spirit's " toasty, nutty flavors play off the gaminess of the crisp bird's skin" and the chestnuts or pine nuts often found in stuffing.

Pitcher serves the three wines simultaneously and encourages guests to drink back and forth because "Thanksgiving is a smorgasbord of sorts," he says, "so we play by different rules."

Still stumped? Adam Rieger, sommelier at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain in midtown Manhattan, says there aren't too many tremendous misses you can have with the Thanksgiving meal, save from serving "something too light, like a Muscadet, or too heavy, like a Pedro Jimenez."

He'll be recommending (and later drinking, when he sits down to dinner post-service with the staff) a soft red, like a pinot noir, a Barbaresco or a Rioja. For white wine, he leans toward Robert Sinskey Abraxas 2006 for its exotic spice and hints of nectarine and almond. But, he insists, "the best pairing is going to be in the company."


That goes for the bevy of holiday parties that will begin next week and won't stop until the wee hours of 2008.

The perfect bottle to bring to a holiday party (be it a dinner party or a cocktail party) is a sparkling rosé, says Rieger.

"They seem to make the biggest impression," he says, "and are much more versatile in food pairing."

He is particularly fond of the Schramsberg Brut Rose from California and the Castell Roig Brut Rosat, a lesser-known robust cava from Spain.

Jim Rollston, a sommelier at Cyrus, a Napa Valley gem that was just pinned two Michelin stars, agrees that the holidays go hand in hand with pink bubbles. For a special party, he leans toward the elegant Vilmart Cuvee Rubis Champagne, burly enough to accompany any meal, even this week's big bird extravaganza.

But he also favors a slightly "game-y" Morgon with his turkey, or a pinot noir, particularly the Littorai 2005, a wine from California's north coast made with young vines farmed bio-dynamically. Ted Lemon was the first American winemaker to run a "domaine" in Burgundy, says Rollston.

A pioneer on foreign soil? Sounds like the perfect choice.

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