Red wines for the holidays

Last week I wrote about white wines for Thanksgiving. This week the red wines will be featured and there are many red wines to choose from.

In a traditional sense, red wines have not been the choice for the holiday dinners when turkey is the main course. Turkey can be a real bear to choose wine for. The white meat can be very dry and easily overcooked, the dark meat can have a "gamy" quality to it, which lends itself to wines with some power and length.

In the past we have seen Beaujolais Nouveau as the choice for many of the American tables, but I am of the belief that this fruity, dry, lightweight red wine from the Midi in France just does not have the power to cut through gravy, stuffing and sweet potatoes — to say nothing of the butters and creams used at the heavy holiday meals. These Beaujolais have become expensive per bottle, have almost zero shelf life and are just too lightweight to manage the American V-8, high octane, Norman Rockwell, supercharged end-of-the-year feasts.

The other problem with Beaujolais is its inability — like so many of the lighter red wines — to stand up to the intense fruitiness, sugar and acidity of the evil, palate-destroying cranberry. Cranberries can take the balance away from almost any red wine unless the wine has a punch of alcohol, palate density and a finish that ends in Utah. Cranberry cuts red wine in half like a scythe and flings the pieces away. Cranberries have always been the demon of balanced wine pairing and have stymied even the most headstrong wine lover and chef.

Let me give you a few choices for red wine and traditional holiday dinner pairing, including the ubiquitous (and should-be-illegal) cranberry.

Zinfandel: Here we have a red wine that can beat the stuffing (sorry) out of the cranberry menace. Most Zinfandel sits at over 13 percent alcohol and moves rapidly upward. These monster Zinfandels are all more than the West Coast landscape and are arguably the most American of all of the red wine grapes produced today.

There are those who say that the Primitivo, a red wine grape from the south of Italy, is the close relative of the Zinfandel. That is much like saying that a Harley Davidson is a close relative of a Vespa because they both have two wheels! There is very little resemblance to the two grapes even though there is supposedly a scientific link somewhere in the past.

My suggestion is the powerhouse and quite beautiful Lalonis Zinfandel from Redwood Valley, Calif. This wonderful wine will do beautifully with any kind of large fare holiday cuisine and will sock cranberry back to Bandon, where it belongs. (Hey, don't get me wrong, I love Bandon.)

Tempranillo can do wonders with big meals as the wine is usually quite fleshy, has a plum, black cherry backbone and can really finish with long, lovely aftertastes. These Spanish treats are made for beef of all kinds and rich sauces. There are a wonderful variety of them on the shelves and a winner can cost as little as 15 bucks per bottle. This might be the fastest-growing red wine, sales by sales, in the United States today.

Montepulciano: I love these reds from Abruzzo, Italy. Here we find balance, plummy, dark fruit flavors and forgiving soft finishes that silk over cuisine. These wines can come in the less-expensive varieties, but I find if one spends about fifteen bucks, the quality level is magnified tenfold. The venerable Colligiata family makes a superb example for about this price and is well worth the effort to find. The unfolding flavors of this wine are quite magnificent!

Well, there you have them! See you soon.

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