SONOMA, CA, November 23, 2014 – It seems like it was just Halloween, but the holidays are upon us, ready or not. Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and Christmas is lurking right around the corner. With the holidays come celebrations, and with celebrations comes wine, lots of wine. Thanksgiving may be the toughest holiday of them all with which to pair wines and keep everyone happy at the dinner table.
You may have heard that Pinot Noir goes well with Thanksgiving dinner, and this is true. What makes this food-based holiday challenging is all those wonderful side dishes, such as sweet potatoes with marshmallow sauce and green bean casserole topped with crispy onions. Yes delicious for sure, but tough to pair with wine.
Sometimes it is best to focus on the main course dish to impress your guests. To achieve this, try pouring wines from lesser-known producers that hand craft their artisan wines. It will be a conversation starter and fun for all involved.
The best wines, generally speaking, to serve with Thanksgiving dinner are sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is also a good habit to decant your still wines for an hour before serving. The freedom from the bottle will allow the wine to open up and impress your guests even more.
Let’s begin with Pinot Noir. This finicky little grape is all the rage right now. If you want the best, seek out single vineyard designate wines from California regions such as the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands. Typically, the more specific and detailed information found on the wine label, the better the wine. Here are a few favorites from small producers.
Sojourn Cellars is a boutique winery that has been gaining acclaim over the past few years, and they produce very high quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Sojourn has been crafting Pinot Noir for ten years, and their impressive line-up features nine different Pinot Noir wines, seven of which are single vineyard designates. Anyone located in the Bay Area can make a short trip up to Sonoma, visit Sojourn’s quaint, by-appointment-only tasting room to sample their line up, and choose a few spectacular wines for the holidays. Otherwise, never fear, you can buy their wines online.
Try their 2012 Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. This is a deep Pinot that has lovely mouthfeel, with gorgeous dark red fruit aromas and a hint of earth, which is just perfect for that turkey. Be sure to serve the wine at proper cellar temperature, no more than 60 degrees. Cost is $48 per bottle; 550 cases produced. Either visit their tasting room or join their mailing list to acquire their wines. (Note, if they have any available, seek out their Sangiacomo Vineyard and Rodgers Creek Pinot Noirs – absolutely delish.)
Walt Wines is another quaint and charming tasting room tucked away just off the historic Sonoma town square. Walt is owned by vintners Kathryn Walt Hall and Craig Hall of Hall Wines in Napa Valley. They are dedicated to the production of premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Pacific Coast’s most distinctive vineyard sites. Their 2012 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast has a medium ruby color and wonderful deep cherry aromas that float seamlessly into a bit of earthy spice. Cost is $65 per bottle. Their 2012 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills has a powerful, spicy nose that oozes with red fruit. This wine is a bit funky, so you need to be able to get down with an earthy Pinot to enjoy all that this wine has to offer. It is elegant with nice structure and a super smooth finish with a bit of lingering strawberry. This wine is also $65 per bottle.
Additional Pinot Noir Wines
- Townley Wines 2010 La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, $48
- Miner Family Winery 2012 Sierra Mar, Santa Lucia Highlands, $75
- Freeman Vineyard 2012 Akiko’s Cuvee Pinot Noir, $55
- Emeritus Vineyards 2012 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir, $42
- Wait Cellars 2012 Devoto Garden Vineyard Pinot Noir, Green Valley, $33
- Papapietro Perry 2011 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, $56
- Steven Kent’s La Rochelle 2010 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, $75
Chardonnay has certainly ridden the highs and lows of the wine industry over the years: from the big oaky and buttery wines in the 1980s and 1990s, to the super-lean, stainless steel wines from the early 2000s. Now Chardonnay has seemed to find focus and balance in a world of extremes. That’s not to say un-oaked and big butter bombs aren’t still out there, but if you look in the right places and seek out the smaller producers, you will find an elegant Chardonnay with a superb balance of acidity and creaminess.
Patz and Hall
Patz and Hall Winery has been around for over 25 years, and has maintained their commitment to producing high quality, small lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. They moved into their new facility about a year ago and continue to impress. A few favorite Chardonnays to explore for Thanksgiving are their 2012 Durell Vineyard from the Sonoma Coast, or their 2012 Dutton Ranch from the Russian River Valley. The Durell Chardonnay is a multi-layered wine with aromatics that leap from the glass filling your nose with apple, pear and perhaps a hint of cinnamon. It has good acidity to stand up to nearly anything on your dinner table. Cost is $55 per bottle. The Dutton Ranch Chardonnay has lovely tropical and citrus aromatics, excellent texture and has a wonderful mouthfeel; $42 per bottle.
Hanzell is tucked away in the hills just north of the town of Sonoma — literally a hidden gem in this town. They have been producing 100% estate wine since 1961, and are greatly respected in the industry, although hardly known to the average wine consumer. Hanzell focuses on Burgundian-style wines, specifically Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their estate single-vineyard Chardonnays are impeccable. A few of the Hanzell wines are available to general consumers (not just club members). Try their 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay. This wine has an enchanting floral scent with highlights of chamomile, honeysuckle and grapefruit. It possesses a full mid-palate with wonderful structure and balance; $78 per bottle. (Note, you can’t go wrong with any of their Chardonnays.)
Grgich Hills Estate
Grgich Hills is one of the few wineries in this list from Napa Valley. It is hard to talk about California Chardonnay without mentioning Mike Grgich. Back in 1973, Mike crated the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the famed 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, beating the best in France, and forcing everyone to look California’s way in the world of winemaking. Today, Mike is still at it, but is now producing his own label, Grgich Hills, and he is still producing world-class Chardonnay. Try his 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay; $42 per bottle. (Grgich is also pretty well known for his Fume Blanc and Zinfandel.)
- Deerfield Ranch 2012 Los Chamizal Chardonnay, $40
- Michel-Schlumberger 2013 Gold Collection Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, $42
- Cellars 33 2012 Keefer Ranch Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $39
- Thomas George Estates 2011 Starr Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $38
- Failla Wines 2012 Chuy Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, $60
- Amapola Creek by Richard Arrowood 2012 Jos. Belli Vineyards Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $45
- Castello di Amorosa 2012 Reserve Bien Nacido Vineyards Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, $38
Nothing quite says the holidays like popping open a little bubbly. It is a wonderful way to start your guests off on the right foot upon arrival to your holiday feast. And sparkling wine can chew through even the creamiest of cheeses.
One cannot miss Domaine Carneros on a visit to California wine country. Its iconic and dreamy chateau estate is the perfect setting to kick off your wine tasting visit to Napa or Sonoma. Located in the Los Carneros region (the only region that spans both Napa and Sonoma Counties), they are best known for their methode champenoise sparkling wines. You can’t go wrong with any of their bubbles, there isn’t a bad one in the lot. A few personal favorites are their 2011 Brut Rose ($37 per bottle), and their 2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvee ($32 per bottle), available through the winery only.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Iron Horse Vineyards is a country chic winery that is tucked away in the hills of the Green Valley AVA, inside of Russian River Valley. This stellar winery is truly a hidden gem in Sonoma County. The winery boasts a spectacular Russian River Valley view of rolling hills of grape vines. They are best known for their sparkling wines, but also offer Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. A few favorites are their 2010 Brut X ($50 per bottle), and their recently named top 10 wine of the year by Wine Enthusiast, 2010 Wedding Cuvee ($42 per bottle).
Additional Sparkling Wines
- Paradise Ridge Winery 2011 Blanc de Blanc, Russian River Valley, $42
- Bryter Estates 2010 Le Stelle North Coast Brut, $44
- Breathless NV Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County, $30
- Schramsberg 2011 Brut Rose, $37
- Domaine Chandon, NV Reserve Brut, $35
Bonus Wine – Ribolla Gialla
Yes, you read it right, Ribolla Gialla. No it is not a small town in Italy nor the lead character in an Antonio Vivaldi opera. It is in fact a white Italian wine grape found mostly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northwest Italy. There happens to be a little bit of it grown in Russian River Valley as well.
This wine is a pure delight, with a nice deep color, and light body with high acidity. Floral and honey notes will leap from the glass and tease your palate and leave you with a bit of a nutty dry finish; perfect for pairing cheese appetizers. So where can one acquire this rare gem? Find it with ultra-small and ultra-premium producer Cowan Cellars. Owner and winemaker Jim Cowan cares for this wine as if it were a newborn baby; gently hand sorted and de-stemmed, skin fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral French oak barrels. Serve this beauty at cellar temperature – note it is best not to over-chill this wine. Cost is $28 per bottle; 112 cases produced. Order online or by phone. (Cowan Cellars also makes a pretty fabulous Pinot Noir.)