The phone rang in the next room. I put down the bottle of wine I was pondering in my wine cellar, and rushed to get the call. My friend Leonard wanted to know what time to arrive on Thanksgiving. He, his wife and daughter were joining us. "I was just rummaging around in the wine cellar looking for something to drink Thursday," I told him. "Well, rummage away," he responded.
Although it was going to be a table of 11 thirsty souls, I decided not to take out multiple bottles of anything but to offer a range of styles. I looked at what I had lined up on the counter, and realized I had, without thinking, picked mostly Syrahs. I had some Aussie Shiraz, other Syrahs from Washington, Oregon, California and France. It's become my go-to choice with the Thanksgiving food array.
I decided to keep just two of them: Leasingham Shiraz Classic Clare 1996 and Cayuse Syrah Coccinelle Vineyard 2000. I also added a couple of other types, for those who might not share my enthusiasm for Syrah with turkey, gravy and herb stuffing. I kept a California Cabernet, a Spanish red, and a few white wines in the running, including a Riesling and Pinot Gris from Chehalem in Oregon.
We liked all the wines, but the revelation of the day and hands-down favorite was the Cayuse. It has refined into something truly sublime since I tasted it in 2003, when it was the least impressive of the set of wines from the then-new winery. The texture was silky, the flavors held black cherry and mineral notes in perfect equipose, and it felt intense, not weighty. With the bird and the gravy it was magic, and it even held its own with the yams and the cranberry sauce.
(I always make the sweet side dishes with the minimum of sugar, so they impact wine as little as possible. But I can't eliminate them from my tradition-minded family's holiday table.)
The Leasingham had a touch of coarseness about it, probably not the best bottle I've had from the case I bought, but it still delivered rich berry and tar flavors. Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Old Vine Reserve 1999 showed more elegance, but I'm not as crazy about the herbal flavors with this food. With lamb it might it have been perfect. Numanthia-Termes Toro 2001, a Spanish red made from Tempranillo in a ripe, rich-textured style, has softened a bit from my recollection of the new bottle. It felt more comfortable on the turkey day table than the Cab did.
I had another Syrah and a Grenache ready to open, but the gang was flagging at this point, having consumed a magnum of Champagne and the whites with the salad of shrimp, cucumber, fuyu persimmon, avocado and heirloom baby tomatoes for starters. But they rallied to drink a bottle of Beringer Nightingale 1998, a richly botrytised sweet Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, after the pies. At first, only three or four serious wine fans accepted a glass, but pretty soon everyone joined in. Sweet wines are like that, especially when the first sips cause delirious lip-smacking.