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Word on the Bird: Light reds like beaujolais or grenache make perfect accompaniments to turkey or duck.

Beyond Wassail

Christina Waters' recommendations on the perfect holiday wines for raising a glass and toasting old friends.

By Christina Waters

THE SEASON'S ritual dinners cry out for just the right wine to match the entree. Let me start out with a sure-fire concept--champagne. If all else fails, never forget that a crisp, dry bubbly goes with any and every food. So if you're feeling gastronomically lazy or just can't decide what to serve, either a decent French champagne (Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Roederer--all will do nicely), or a well-made California sparkler such as Gloria Ferrer, Schramsberg or our own local Equinox, will carry the entire meal from smoked almonds to pumpkin pie. But for those who enjoy the hunt for a wine to go with appetizers, another to go with the turkey, or lamb or roast beef, and yet another for the cheese course--here are some solid ideas to get you started.

Since you do live in wine country, and of course you'd like to introduce out-of-town guests to some of our fine regional vintages, consider starting off with a crisp white to go with the relish tray, the olives, almonds, crab dip, what have you. Ahlgren's complex Semillon 2007 works nicely, as does the mineral-intensive Ca' del Solo Albariņo 2008 or Storrs' elegantly dry Viento Vineyard Riesling 2007 filled with apricot aromas (around $17-$25). J-P Correa at VinoCruz likes the 2008 Thomas Fogarty Riesling. "It's dry, not sweet and great with appetizers, or to be nipping while cooking," he contends. Plus it's priced accessibly at $16.

Let's say we've moved on to turkey. Correa suggests the Ridge Santa Cruz Mountain Estate Chardonnay--with 93 Wine Spectator points--that he describes as "clean, lush, full of beautiful minerals and a touch of oak in the finish," a classy pour for $40. "Also, just in time for the holidays," Correa rolls on, "we just received the 2006 Silver Mountain Estate Pinot Noir. The first time they've made an estate pinot, with Tony Craig as the winemaker. It's a lighter pinot, zesty yet full of earthiness" ($39). And yes, you do know that pinot noir is lovely with turkey, as well as with such alternative holiday foods as salmon or duck.

Patrice Boyle at Soif suggests "light reds" to partner with turkey. "Gamay with a little bit of acid makes a fine match. It's clean, not overwhelming," she says. And if you're thinking ahead to dinners built around a centerpiece of beef or ham, Boyle suggests "a big pinot noir, for example, Windy Oaks Estate Diane's Block ($45)." If you are thinking of a truly substantial wine--a "really big" wine, as Boyle puts it, to accompany red meats and especially a festive holiday lamb, you will certainly want to consider the award-winning 2005 Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah ($50), which the vicar of vintages Robert Parker gives 92 points, if you like to buy by the numbers.

Finally, one of my favorite new wines--the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards 2006 Grenache--is possibly one of the most versatile food wines you'll find out there ($16.99). It opens swiftly into a delicious and accessible pour filled with aromas and flavors of red berries and white pepper. Just complex enough to romance those green olives, manchego and bruschetta apps, it stands up to game dishes and even the pasta course. But it truly shines as the willing love slave to the traditional star--roast turkey with all the trimmings.

You'll find most of the wines suggested here at your favorite wine stores. Enjoy!

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