Sweet, sour personalities spark table talk

You know that sweet guest at your Thanksgiving table whom you just adore? Well, that's not me.

I'm more like that sourpuss you feel obligated to invite — your rank relative or acidic, lonely neighbor — who sits there, fidgety and flinty-eyed, vigilantly waiting for that inevitable, edgy moment. Doesn't that tiered dessert stand look a little tippy to you?

Yes, I'm the one guaranteed to fall for your salty uncle and make your kids cry in their squash-smeared chairs. Often, I'm banished to a kitchen bar stool, placed under the watchful eye of a scolded canine that just attempted his annual, primal leap toward an unguarded turkey leg.

In between licking his shame, I think I hear him ask the age-old question: How best to select a wine for the Thanksgiving feast?

My mouth now full of tangy cranberry sauce, I point to my wallet-creased copy of New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov's shortcut column on wine character. He believes that — like a thin river of Cajun gravy cutting through a mountain of buttery mashed potatoes — a wine's weight, texture and "broad nature" of aromas and flavors can be divided into two personalities: savory or sweet.

Sweet here doesn't mean saccharine, but more like your amenable guest, someone who doesn't demand the spotlight or knock the rolls to the floor. Think fruity zinfandel, ripe grenache, plush pinot noir. Also part of this group are oaky chardonnay, voluptuous viognier and unctuous gewurztraminer. The picky Asimov once picked Brandborg Winery's rich, floral gewurztraminer ($18) from the Umpqua Valley as the best in the country.

On the other hand, savory wines are kicky with acidity. Like me, they lean more toward the citrus, bitter-cherry and tart-apple sides of the fruit group. OK, just say it (I've been called these names before): They can be stony and chalky, as well as smoky and earthy. These are the herbaceous syrah, dry riesling and extra-brut Champagne that slap you out of your tryptophan stupor.

I remind the dog that sweeping generalizations like these make for a flawed sorting system, but it's a start to inviting complementary opposites to your table. I look at him peevishly, hungry for confirmation of understanding, but he now seems intent on hiding under his tail.

Gratingly, I continue. From my sauerkraut-colored coat pocket, I pull out a chilled bottle of Slagle Creek Vineyards 2010 Clover ($15), a crisp chardonnay-gewurztraminer blend with subtle hints of peach and Meyer lemon.

I discovered this white wine at Ashland's Market of Choice when Applegate Valley grape grower Bob Denman was hauling in a case. He said he drinks it with his dried-peach-pear-apricot-cornbread stuffing. "The wine's spiciness also brings a hint of ginger to the yams," he says, not noticing me licking my lips. "And the lingering honey and spice notes carry over nicely with the pumpkin pie." With a primal leap, I grab a bottle and run.

Later, I see another viticulture character, Terry Sullivan. Get this: He's an organic grape grower, wine producer and glassblower who makes wine decanters and goblets. Oh, and he's an oceanographer. He deserves at least four seats at the table and a place on my "Survivor" team.

The talented Talent Renaissance man confesses that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. But because of his multiple, hmmm, let's call them "interests," his recipes are a bit "Sybil"-like. He brines his turkey, massages it with a molé spice rub made with chilies, unsweetened cocoa and cinnamon, then slow-cooks it on a wood-pellet Traeger grill.

He says the sweet and savory elements amplify each other, thus explaining the other items on his table: spicy Spanish chorizo stuffing, sauteed Brussels sprouts with roasted pine nuts and dried cranberries and his dark-fruit Upper Five Vineyard 2010 Tempranillo ($28). I let out a growl. I hear a bark. Was that me?

Just as the dog, showered by my bun crumbs, wonders if I'm ever going to share, I'm called back to the humans' table. It seems they are no longer afraid to mix personalities — the flowery and the prickly together, until the bitter end.

EVENT: Tasting rooms are closed Thanksgiving Day to let the staff power up for one of the busiest weekends of the year. Not only do locals trot their visiting relatives to vineyards, but many wineries plan case sales to make room for the new vintage. Del Rio will host Black Friday, for which cases of each of its currently released wines are concealed in black paper and sold for $100 each (one per person), starting at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23.

TASTED: On a recent, snow-dusted Friday night, RoxyAnn Winery held its fourth postharvest winemakers' dinner at Callahan's Mountain Lodge near Mount Ashland, with all of the wines made by John Quinones.

Chefs Jason Schwimmer and Jeremy Heady paired 2011 Pinot Gris ($16.50) with steamed, candy-striped beets marinated in chardonnay and layered with whipped chevre stacked on butter lettuce and roasted pistachios. The second course was the barrel-fermented, creamy 2009 Viognier ($20) that brought out the zest in the lemon-infused shrimp and scallops over rich, citrus risotto with a white wine-tarragon sauce.

That course was followed by slow-roasted duck breast with cherry gastrique and turnip-parsnip-rutabaga mash with 2009 Syrah ($30). The newly released 2009 Claret ($26), made from six estate-grown Bordeaux grapes, was served with a cocoa-dusted filet mignon with blackberry demiglace on a bed of fingerling-potato hash.

The evening finished with an array of cheeses — triple cream, mustard ale, Rogue Creamery blue — as well as fresh figs on crostini and dark-chocolate quenelle, served with RoxyAnn's first port-style wine, 2009 Founder's Reserve Petite Sirah Dessert Wine ($24).

Columnist Janet Eastman can be reached at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.

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