I had the chance to drink two utterly dissimilar styles of wine during Thanksgiving dinner; Cazin’s 2007 Cour-Cheverny Vendanges Manuelles ($15***) and Williams Selyem’s 2003 Forchini Vineyard Zinfandel ($40***). Both came from my wine cellar to serve as testimony to a nagging personal dilemma rooted in an evolving and schizophrenic palate. As full disclosure, my split wine personality does have favorite styles, begs for quality, but remains indiscriminate enough to enjoy fat or skinny, modern or old world, pretty or bruising, and elegant or rustic wines. For example, this meal’s old world Cour-Cheverny had enough acidity and hard-edged angles to burn away dental enamel while the new world’s Williams Selyem boasted over-the-top alcohol content, heft, gobs of fruit, and fatty richness to satisfy even the most perverted big flavor junkie.
Lots of wine critics and writers freely distributed permission slips leading up to Thanksgiving this year, urging consumers to drink whatever wines they wanted and to forgo attempts to pair wines with their rainbow spectrum of Thanksgiving holiday meal flavors. I guess I took the bait.
I served four different wines during the meal, including the southern Rhone fashioned 2007 Pax Cuvee Moriah ($58 ***1/2) that worked fine with the main savory dishes, and the sweet essence of raisin Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Jiminez ($25 375ml ****) to complement three home baked pies. The Cour-Cheverny was a purposeful attempt to find the most austere and acidic white wine in my cellar, and the varietally American Zinfandel is consistent with a running traditional wine service tribute I stick to on this uniquely American holiday. I pondered how remote the chance was for anyone to be serving these four styles of wine, sourced from the same personal collection, during any one meal. In this case, the answer was buried in a fully curious wine orientation that is tickled by lots of styles that are outcomes of locally representative and authentically serious approaches to grape vinification.
The single vineyard Zinfandel could only be interpreted as a freak of nature. I like that it tells a story and offers a distinctive, if somewhat overwhelming, and demanding flavor profile. Its completely dry quality and whopping 16% alcohol have created a dense and massive modern new world profile that is hard to reasonably enjoy with food. First, it is awfully filling all by itself. Second, it tastes like you are sucking on pure black licorice nibs. Third, it can not possibly be paired with any food that it wouldn’t overwhelm or arm wrestle with. I suggest a really strong cheese to accompany this wine for a rich and filling desert. I just giggled to myself at the wine’s giant personality, how so many members of the “anti-flavor elite” movement would simply spill it out in dismissal of its alcohol level, and the fact it was made from the same Zinfandel grape that tastes so different in the 13% alcohol renditions that helped me fall in love with the jammy berry fruit flavors of the earlier harvested and more restrained styled wines of the eighties and early nineties. While it had no place at this dinner, I liked the wine because it was fun, it taught me something about wine, and it had freakish flavors and mouthfeel that were really interesting to me.
The Cazin, which I opened and poured before dinner, is another case all together. It is made from the Romorantin grape, which is primarily found in Cour-Cheverny even though it once was more commonly and widely grown throughout the Loire. Cazin’s version showed ripe apples and raw nuts combining with a steely cold lemon aromatic that was lean in its attack. For a moment you are abe to detect a small touch of round, rich fruit coating your tongue, but it only lasts for a quick flash before intense tartness and piercing acidity consume the tasting experience. The wine is laser sharp and drinking it alone requires the taster to have an affinity for magnified acidity. My wife pushed it away while one of our guests found it immensely satisfying. Tasted with fresh pecorino proved the wine worked better with food as the saltiness of the cheese started to hint at its food friendly partnership. We brought the wine to the table and found a totally different experience drinking it with our first course; a heavily spiced and uber rich creamy butternut squash soup. The wine performed like a razor or mandolin, slicing through the soup’s richness and providing structural companionship to our immensely flavorful soup.
At $15, this acid bomb of a wine is a fine value if used with care, alongside food, and with adult supervision. This wine lives on the freakish side of vinous nature, but in complete opposition to the Zinfandel’s awkward power. I liked it because it also taught me something about wine, amazed my senses, and allowed me to place its value next to specific foods. The Zinfandel and Cour-Cheverny experiment worked out in its own strange way and made for a challenging, but fun, afternoon of food and wine with family and close friends. Both are recommended, neither will please the masses, and more of both can be happily found in the schizophrenic wine cellar I call my own.