Pairing Off: Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce

>Each week, Pairing Off attempts to find just the right bottle of wine to go with ordinary food.

Until recent years, when words like 'fresh,' 'local' and 'slow foods' crept into our vocabularies, we were all pretty well satisfied with canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. The real stuff is just too potent--and cans leave those cool rings.

The jellied loaf still has several advantages. It's easy to slice, for one. Preparation requires a can opener. And for those with a limited palate--kids, grandparents, the cousins from Arkansas--Ocean Spray's cranberry sauce tames that rip-roaring, bitter-tart flavor found in homemade dressing, replacing it with a calm, juicy, jiggling mound.

It's an everyman creation...which, of course, makes it far more difficult to find a subtle wine pairing.

"I usually serve Cru Beaujolais for Thanksgiving, like Moulin-a-Vent from George Duboeuf or a Louis Jadot Cru," explains Van Roberts, owner of the late, great Lola. "They seem to go great with turkey and can handle the sweetness of sweet potato and cranberry." But he has no specific wine in mind for Ocean Spray.

"If I was going to specifically try to match only the canned cranberry sauce," he finally decides, "I'd go with a Zinfandel with a high alcohol extracted style." Yet he's not really certain.

"It is not what I would personally seek out," he says, "but I think it would match very well."

So I approached Scott Ewing at Vino 100. With a good, homemade cranberry dressing he recommends a high end Gewurztraminer for its spiciness. Clearly he relished a more appropriate pairing than canned jelly--though he did eventually suggest a Beaujolais Nouveau.

Didn't sound like a bad idea, really. It's seasonal, light and pretty cheap. This year's batch just hit Dallas shelves last week.

I picked up an $11 bottle of Beaujolais Villages Nouveau from Domaine de Saint Ennemond. The new wine carries a twinge of newly cut wood on the nose, plus the fruit and must you'd expect. The taste is equally fresh and light, with a quick finish.

Now, I've never been sure why people rave over the annual nouveau release, although in France it makes for a great excuse to party. But its smooth, easy nature seemed like it would make a great pairing.

In fact, it was just OK. The wine picks up a salty taste from somewhere, with a swipe of astringent bitterness at the finish. Mostly, however, it becomes enigmatic between that first blush of fruit and that zap at the end--and odd sensation of old berries and musty attics. And it does ease through the acidic sauce.

So, it's not bad. You can set up a wrestling match with the recommended Zin or pick up a cheap Beaujolais Nouveau and let the wine slip into the background.

Either way.