‘I am still Tetrazzini!’

Good leftovers deserve good wine

By Celia Strong

This week’s wine is from Burgundy, France, and goes great with turkey leftovers. You might ask why a dish such as Turkey Tetrazzini, which is not exactly gourmet, gets a special wine?  Maybe because we made it through the real Thanksgiving day and dinner, and we deserve a special wine more than ever! That’s my vote. And besides, it’s fun, too.

Part of our fun today is we get to learn about Turkey Tetrazzini. Backing up a little over a century, we come across an Italian coloratura soprano of great international fame. Her name was Luisa Tetrazzini (June 29, 1871 to April 28, 1940). She was born in Florence and began singing at the age of 3. The beginning of her career she spent in Italy and Russia, and then, in 1905, she had her American debut in San Francisco. In 1907, she sang the role of Violetta in “La traviata” at Covent Garden. From that point on she was a huge star, commanding the highest fees, and filling opera houses and concert halls whenever she performed.

Tetrazzini was a short woman, and grew fairly large as she aged. I only mention that because our Turkey Tetrazzini was supposedly named for her while she was living in San Francisco. “I am old, I am fat, but I am still Tetrazzini” was one of her favorite expressions.

So, on to our wine now. As I mentioned, our wine this week is really way better than what we usually think of as the level of Turkey Tetrazzini in the food world. Like it’s really leftovers!  It’s just time to have good leftovers with good wine.

So, off we go to Burgundy, a wine region in eastern France. The vineyards of Burgundy are located in the valley and slopes west of the Saone River that flows south into the Rhone River. The wines from this region are called Burgundies, red from Pinot Noir and white from Chardonnay. (Often, we have one of you ask for a red burgundy, and we always have to clarify if you mean a generic red wine or a true red Burgundy (capital “B”) made from Pinot Noir.)  Already a lesson. The Burgundy region has the highest number of appellations of any French AC region. Some white only, some red only, some for both red and white wines. The whole system in this region is based on the different specific soils, “terroirs,” because the grapes grown on each specific plot of soil end up with specific flavors and textures from that soil.

Wine in Burgundy has archeological evidence going back to the second century AD, but the Celts were growing vines in the region when the Romans conquered Gaul in 51 BC. And before the Romans, Greeks. After the Romans, monks and monasteries, and the Roman Catholic Church, had influence on the development of Burgundian wines. The Benedictines, through their Abbey of Cluny, were one of the largest vineyards owners. The Cistercians founded in 1098, created Burgundy’s largest wall-surrounded vineyard, the Clos de Vougeot, in 1336. The Cistercians, with their huge land holdings, were the first to notice that grapes from different plots gave different wines and the plots’ flavors and styles continued year after year. And, that is where that “terroir” thinking came from. There are supposed to be 400 different types of soils in Burgundy. It’s interesting how different this “terroir” classification of their wines is from the classification of Bordeaux where the producer is the basis of their classification.

The AC laws of Burgundy, which organize the classification for us, rank the wines from Grand Cru level, the highest used to designate the best plots of land and their wines, to Premier Cru, a second level below that, single village wines where the grapes are all  grown in a named village, to regional wines which are allowed to blend grapes from throughout the region. Not all villages have Grand Cru and/or Premier Cru vineyards. And, some have multiple Crus. As the level of their classification goes up the ladder, the AC laws control the number of vines per acre, number of shoots per vine sometimes, number of gallons per acre that can be made, and, always, the grapes that can be grown on each plot of land — Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. (Before you jump on this, in Burgundy they don’t really like to admit that Beaujolais, whose red wines are made from Gamay, on the southern end of their region is even part of them.  For our discussion, I thought that kept it easier.)

To make it confusing, and Burgundians love how confusing they can be, there are also some “sub-regional” appellations where grapes from several designated villages can be combined, just their grapes, not from all over the whole of Burgundy. The best known of these is probably Macon-Villages.  And, even more confusing, growers are allowed to downgrade, de-classify, grapes from a higher AC level to use in a lower level wine. Sometimes, this is done because they would end up with more gallons than allowed for the higher appellation/classification. These de-classified wines, while not the very very best, often have higher rated grapes in them than their bottle appellation would lead you to believe. Obviously, it pays to know these wines when they are available. And, yes, our wine is exactly that!

So, our wine is the Joseph Drouhin Cotes du Beaune-Villages. All Pinot Noir. If you’re not familiar with Joseph Drouhin, they are an old and very good producer in Burgundy. Founded in 1880, the house of Drouhin is still family owned and operated. Their wines are known for great purity of taste and flavors, balance, harmony, finesse and character. They can be enjoyed young and, some, aged up to 40 years. This Cotes du Beaune-Villages appellation is used for wines that come from the villages of Beaune, Aloxe-Corton, Volnay and Pommard. The inner circle secret is that, from Drouhin, this wine is basically de-classified Pommard. If you’ve ever bought a Pommard, they usually run about $50 and up.  Our Cotes du Beaune-Villages is way less. It is probably the best red Burgundy I’ve tasted in several years, without spending the $50. Cherry, plum, strawberry, cranberry, cocoa, truffle flavors meld with a delicate texture that still has some weight to it. It’s a great example of why, with Burgundy wines, the appellation matters. And it’s yours for $18.99.

Now, you know why this wine is special. Why it will upgrade your Turkey Tetrazzini leftovers. Why the dinners after Thanksgiving can actually be better than the big day’s meals. But, we know why. Let’s just drink some of this wine while it’s still available!  And toast Luisa Tetrazzini for her namesake. Enjoy.

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