A cornucopia of Thanksgiving wines

It’s that time of year again. All forms of media, from local grocery store leaflets to national network morning shows, are offering tips to help us make this year’s Thanksgiving feast better than ever.

While I am often dumbfounded at the full range of creative ideas at our disposal, like Martha Stewart’s 54 variations of table settings (I find the “Using Your Gourds” theme eerily captivating), I am always underwhelmed by the lack of imagination when it comes to wine selections. Predictable and staid, hearing the same varietals called out year after year affects me like tryptophan.

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Don’t get me wrong — I respect classic wine-and-food pairings. They are inherently smart and rewarding. I am always fond of Rieslings and Pinot Noirs at Thanksgiving, and the holiday wouldn’t be the same without their good company. But this year, to mix things up a bit, I’m inviting some new personalities to join them at my table. I encourage you to do the same.

“The Party Starter” — Hill of Content Sparkling Red NV, Padthaway, South Australia ($16). This is a sparkling Shiraz. Yes, you read that right. Although for decades Australians have been producing sparkling red wines using the same techniques as their counterparts who make Champagne in France and sparkling wines everywhere else, the body and flavor profile of these Aussie sparklers are altogether different. Think of a regular “still” Shiraz with an excessive amount of fine carbonation. From bottle to glass flows a violet froth that settles in to a dark purple mousse.

The nose is an explosive, ever-changing expression of black licorice, chocolate, prunes, blackberry jam, menthol, spice and raw earth. Initially, a lot of alcohol is present, but it recedes after a few minutes of aeration. Just a sip delivers a powerful punch of blackberry, fig, vanilla and spice. It’s a dry wine, but both sweet and savory. My wife describes it as “both cozy and refreshing.” Pour this wine for guests when they arrive, and they’ll know a special occasion is afoot.

“The Charmer” — Conundrum, White Table Wine, California, 2010 ($20). Do you know someone who manages to endear himself to everyone? That is this wine. Conundrum is a one-of-a-kind blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon grown in several different regions of California. The proportions vary each year, depending on the characteristics of each of the grapes.

I make it a practice to use only my own tasting notes to describe wines I review. This is one of the rare instances when I will defer to the winemaker’s tasting notes because I find them to be a perfectly concise description of this beguiling wine. “The wine enters round with a Chardonnay weight then quickly lightens up as the Sauvignon Blanc adds a fresh element. The Viognier adds a spicy character with Muscat Canelli and Semillon adding to the layers of flavors. Explore this puzzling wine as rich aromas of honeysuckle escape from the glass, followed by hints of peach, vanilla and citrus notes. On the palate, lush tropical flavors of melon, pineapple and pear are matched with crisp lemon zest and hints of grapefruit. The complexity of this wine is brought into balance by a rich, round mouth feel supported by fresh acidity, creating a stunning, satisfying finish.”

I’ve shared Conundrum with family and friends since its inaugural vintage in 1989 and cannot recall one person who didn’t express curious affection for it.

“The Eccentric Cousin” — Darting Scheurebe Kabinett ($18). Scheurebe (SHOY-ray-beh) is a white varietal that was created by German viticulturist Dr. Georg Scheu in 1916. Schereubes are opulent with often gaudy bouquets of musk, petrol and manchego cheese. Most people have a visceral reaction to the grape, either loving or hating it.

The Darting offers honeysuckle, apricot, grapefruit and hints of game on the nose, followed by minerals, spice and eucalyptus flavors. This wine has a unique, viscous, oily mouth feel. Again, fascinating to some, off-putting to others.

Derek M. LaVallee, director of public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners, and certified wine buff, can be reached at dereklavallee@hotmail.com.