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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 09:15 am

Red or white with the holiday bird?

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Photo by Nick Steinkamp

Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be complete without turkey, yams, and cranberry relish. But in addition to the standard holiday fare, how about a bottle of red or white?

People are more likely to serve wine with their Thanksgiving feasts than with any other holiday meal, according to Geoff Bland, owner of the Corkscrew Wine Emporium. In fact, "Which wine do I serve with turkey?" is a question he hears hundreds of times from customers in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

"It's almost universal. Thanksgiving is the one holiday during the year when even people who don't usually drink will serve wine," he says. "It's such a family holiday. People like to serve wine."

Choosing a wine to enjoy with any meal is confusing for some. But that task is even harder when it's a large feast for many people with various tastes. Red or white? Fruity and light, or rich and spicy? Bland says his customers ask for suggestions of wines to accompany unique holiday menus featuring first courses ranging from the unusual (fried squirrel) to the extravagant (lobster, caviar, smoked salmon) to be served before the traditional turkey and dressing. But choosing a wine is much easier than you might think.

For starters, either color is fine. "It's very much an occasion and meal where you can go with your preferences, either red or white," says Bland. "It's perfectly fine to do either or both."

Bland suggests serving a glass of sparkling wine such as Gloria Ferrer before the meal to cleanse the palate, wake up the taste buds, and get guests in a festive mood. He then suggests a small glass of white wine before the meal, followed by a glass of red to be sipped during the feast. Although dessert wines are always an option for a final course of pumpkin or pecan pie, he says, "dessert wines really haven't caught on in this country," and people still tend to favor coffee at the end of a large meal.

Each year, Bland and his staff hold their own Thanksgiving dinner and sample a variety of wines to see which work best and decide which ones to recommend to customers. A Chardonnay generally gets the most votes.

Although people have different tastes in wine (someone who drinks a dry Chardonnay at most meals is probably not going to ask for a spicy red just because it's Thanksgiving), Bland says a few wines will please most palates and enhance any turkey dinner. A bonus: All of these wines work well with ham. If you're serving seafood, stick with whites; lamb and beef go best with reds.

Adding wine to the menu has its benefits beyond the taste: Sipping a glass of wine during dinner relaxes you, makes you feel fuller, and helps you eat slower, according to Bland. Plus, the wine's acidity helps you digest your food better.

So what's Bland serving this year with his bird? "I hate turkey," he laughs. "I usually serve lamb." But for dinner at a friend's house, he says, he'll probably bring a bottle of Chardonnay or Shiraz.

So consider Thanksgiving as a time to break open a few different bottles of wine, adding to the pleasure of a great family gathering.

Consider these wines:

Whites:

Leitz Dragonstone Riesling, Germany. Lower in alcohol than other white wines (8 percent), with apple and pear flavors, this is a good choice for people who don't usually drink wine with a meal.

Milat Chardonnay, Napa Valley. A full-bodied and voluptuous white wine. Drier than Riesling, it has a taste more like fruit than like oak (important when served with a Thanksgiving meal).

Reds:

Hangtime Pinot Noir, Santa Maria. Light- to medium-bodied, with a smooth taste. Bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors.

Marquis Philips Shiraz, Australia. Flavors of blackberry and dark cherry add a bit of spice that plays well with food. A full-bodied, dry, fruity red wine.

Dessert wines:

With your pumpkin and pecan pie, try Warre's Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port from Portugal. This port, featuring a cool caramel-and-hazelnut flavor, is designed to be sipped at the end of a meal and is a perfect match with sweet pastries.

The Corkscrew is located at 2613 Chatham Rd.; 217-698-1112. Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., noon- 5 p.m. Sun. The store hosts two wine tastings focused on what to serve on Thanksgiving: The first, held from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, costs $3 per person. The second, which will feature as many as 20 wines, will be held from 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24. The tasting fee for this session will be donated to a local food pantry.

Winter fruit chutney

This cinnamon and coriander-spiced chutney combines wine, raisins, and citrus. Serve it with the turkey or as an appetizer accompanied by goat cheese and crusty bread.

Ingredients
1/2 orange, peel and white pith removed
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried pears
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried figs
1/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
2 small apples, peeled, cored, and cut into half-inch pieces

Directions
Using a small sharp knife, cut between the membranes of the orange half to release the segments, then set segments aside. Combine white wine and next six ingredients in large nonreactive saucepan (e.g., stainless steel, anodized aluminum, enamel, or another nonstick surface). Cover and simmer contents for 15 minutes. Strain mixture; discard solids.

Return liquid to saucepan. Add cranberries, pears, figs, raisins, and ginger. Cover and simmer until fruit is tender (about 10 minutes). Add apples and simmer until apples are just tender (about 15 minutes). Cool to lukewarm. Stir in reserved orange segments and transfer to bowl; cover and refrigerate. May be prepared one week ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Yields 3 cups.

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