Holiday spice

Every year about this time, wine buffs revive their perennial squabble over what to drink with the food of American holiday dinners. Traditional wine pairings just don't exist for food like Thanksgiving ham inlaid with pineapple slices or turkey with cranberry sauce, let alone marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. In recent years a kind of consensus has formed around dry "country" ros鳠like France's Oeil de Perdrix or the lighter grenache-based wines from the Rh� but it's an uneasy one, because such wines are pricey when you're buying for a miscellany of visiting relatives. And anyway, shouldn't American food be paired with American wine? John Abbott has a better idea. For him, the problem is looking for a match among red wine varieties: He believes that by far the best varietal for the American holiday table is gewrztraminer, a minor variety in its native Germany where it's valued mainly for its flowery, herby bouquet (wrz means "spice" in German). Abbott's hardly a disinterested advisor: As winemaker for the Chalone Group's Canoe Ridge label, he produces a little over a thousand cases of 100 percent gewrztraminer yearly with grapes from the five-acre Oak Ridge vineyard near White Salmon, on the Washington bank of the Columbia near Hood River, Ore. Most American winemakers follow the Germanic formula with the grape, producing fragrant, sweetish wines just this side of a stand-alone dessert product. Walla Walla-based Abbott goes a different route, favoring the crisp, dry style of the vintners of Alsace, who have found possibilities in the grape their neighbors across the Rhine never dreamed of. Abbott ferments his grapes till the remaining sugar in the must is well under 1 percent: "Just enough to bring out the spice in the flavor," he says. He also favors long, cool fermentation in oak barrels to preserve the evanescent aroma of the grape: "Too much time in stainless steel and the flavor makes me think of canned pineapple." But the almost subliminal sugar in his wine "picks up the honey tastes in a good ham" and harmonizes with herbs like sage in the turkey. At $13 a bottle, it also won't break the bank. Abbott loves to recommend music as well as food to match his wines, but he doesn't insist you puzzle granny by cueing up Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" as the bird's brought in. But how about Lenny Kravitz's Greatest Hits? The old girl would love that. Cheers, people! Write to

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