Wine Time

A Crunchy, Low-Alcohol Wine for Thanksgiving from California Naturally

Of the California winemakers who thrill me the most, three of them are bottling fruit grown in California's El Dorado AVA in the Sierra Foothills -- the heart of historic Gold Rush country.

They've been attracted to the area, they tell me, in part because they've found older vines (some in vineyards established during the Gold Rush) and in part because the growing zone's relative anonymity has helped it to maintain its pristine state. The growers there have been shifting from the usual suspects -- Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon -- to Rhône varieties that seem to perform better in Californian terroir (namely, Syrah and Grenache).

While La Clarine Farm and Edmunds St. John are not currently available in Texas (although there are legal methods of obtaining the wine here), the Donkey and Goat winery (based in Berkeley) has broken the iron curtain of "big wine distribution" in our state thanks to one of the handful of quixotic indy distributors who have set up shop over the last eighteen months.

I didn't include their 2011 Grenache Blanc in my Top 5 Thanksgiving Wines Under $25 because it retails for around $30 (at the Houston Wine Merchant). But I'm thrilled that it's here (and you can rest assured that my family will be drinking Donkey and Goat for Thanksgiving in Orange, Texas).

The wine is a "natural" wine: The growers employ chemical-free farming and winemaker Jared Brandt doesn't add anything but a little bit of sulfur dioxide to the wine; he manipulates it as little as possible in the winery.

The wine is an "orange" wine: Skin-contact during fermentation gives the wine its slightly orange color (as you can see in the photo above).

The wine is unfiltered: Don't be alarmed by cloudy color of the wine; the opacity is intended by the winemaker.

I love the Technicolor fruit flavors of this wine (think stone fruit). I love the crunchy mouthfeel of the wine and the way it coats my mouth and interacts with the textures of food. And I love the low alcohol: At just 12.6 percent, the wine is going to work well for memaw and for me.

At my in-laws' house in Orange, "natural," "orange," "crunchy," "unfiltered," and "low-alcohol" are old news. But if you happen to be joining with family still unhip to the new wine revolution, this wine is sure to be a conversation starter...

I have one more recommendation for an over-$25 but still reasonably priced Thanksgiving wine that I'll share on Friday.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeremy Parzen writes about wine for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen