This has become an annual column for me and one I really enjoy writing. I find this food and wine pairing fun to write about because it can be a challenge. Yes, old man winter’s wrath may queue the obligatory Bordeaux or Cabernet from many an oenophile’s wine cellar, but not necessarily on the fourth Thursday in November with turkey and gravy or in late December with a Christmas Ham. Nor do these muscular reds ingratiate themselves with any particular harmony with those potato latkes during the 8 days of Hanukah. Indeed, the various cuisines that we celebrate with during the final month and a half of the year are not necessarily a great match with the wines we might otherwise think to drink this time of year. To be fair, not a lot of wines, in my opinion, are an obvious match with turkey and gravy. But I’ll try.
2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River, ($25)
From acclaimed winemaker David Ramey, Sidebar is the only winery to make a 100% Kerner wine in California. Kerner, an aromatic cross between Riesling and Trollinger (known as Schiava in Italy), with origins in Germany, shows well in this dry, aromatic and acidic bottling—an ideal white wine for offsetting heavy meals.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2016 Eroica Riesling ($22)
Riesling is one of the most misunderstood wines out there, often thought to be overly sweet. The fact is, Riesling can be sweet but also bone dry. Offering sweet lime and mandarin orange aromas, this CSM Riesling is more in the middle and could match with a variety of foods. It will pair with your turkey and gravy but also with those sweet potatoes.
2018 FEL Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley ($25)
FEL, a second label from Cliff Lede Vineyards—one of my favorite Napa wineries—produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. A blend of fruit from three different vineyards (Wiley, Hein and Klindt) located in the “Deep End” of Anderson valley near the town of Navarro, this wine is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean allowing for bright citrus flavors and refreshing acidity. Pinot Gris, if done right with plenty of acid (some can be flabby), can be a great match with myriad cuisines from Thai to Indian to oysters on the half shell.
2016 Inman OGV Estate Pinot Noir ($70)
Kathleen Inman made her name in wine at the Inman estate, the 10.45- acre Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) located in the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. The site was planted by Kathleen in 2000 and has always been farmed organically to encourage a healthy ecosystem and soils. The OGV Pinot Noir is complex, with great aromatics. The wine’s bright red fruits—strawberries and red cherries—and complex savory components reflect the full depth and nuances of the vineyard. California Pinot Noir is a no-brainer with your Thanksgiving feast—it’s fruit forwardness a better match with all those flavors than Burgundy in my opinion. Just make sure you get one that is balanced with plenty of earthiness (terroir) to keep the fruit in check. The Inman Pinot Noirs do this in spades.
2016 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Tascante Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso DOC ($50)
If you read my article “A Winemaking Renaissance in Sicily” then you know how fond I am of Sicilian wines these days. I think they represent a value in terms of price-to-quality that is hard to match on a world stage. The vineyards of Contrada Rampante are characterized by volcanic formations of different lithological characterization but belonging to the same time period as Contrada Pianodario (between 15,000 and 4,000 thousand years). Rampante, one of the four Contrade in which Tasca d’Almerita works, is located at an average elevation of 740 meters a.s.l., between the communes of Passopisciaro and Randazzo. This is as food-friendly of a wine as I have had in some time. Bright red fruits, spice and an earthiness almost reminiscent of a classic French Burgundy are in abundance, framed with sharp acidity that keeps everything in check throughout its long finish. This wine would go great with richer pasta dishes, like pappardelle with bolognese but because of it’s lighter body can easily work with Thanksgiving turkey, gravy and all the fixins.
2018 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Capofaro “Didyme” Salina IGT ($26)
Sicily, like mainland Italy, does not get enough recognition for their white wines, sans Pinot Grigio which is almost too popular and takes too much of the spotlight. The fact is Italy has a ton of white varietals, many of which are wonderful food wines. The Malvasia fruit for the Didyme is harvested at the ideal stage of ripeness and immediately vinified. The result is a dry and savory wine with good acidity. Didyme shows notes of aromatic and floral herbs, which recall the Mediterranean characteristics of the Island. The wine is named Didyme, the ancient name for the island of Salina, because it captures the essence of the island’s terroir. So often we talk about terroir in red wines but whites have it in equal amounts and I love a white wine that has equal amounts fruit and terroir and plenty of each.
Chateau Des Jacques Moulin a Vent (Louis Jadot) 2016 ($27)
Depending on your level of wine interest, you’ve either never heard of Gamay or you’re tired of hearing about it—particularly in reference to it being the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Then add in the common confusion (mainly among Americans) that surrounds Beaujolais—namely it being grouped together with the folksy Beaujolais Nouveau wine that is released the third Thursday of every November—and Gamay can be a bit confusing. But there is no denying it is an elegant, highly versatile wine, if you pick the right producer. It also happens to be a favorite choice among sommeliers—however much that counts for you. I’ve gone with Louis Jadot here because its extremely consistent, highly available and in general a classic example of the Gamay grape. This Beaujolais offers a fleshy texture and greater longevity than any other Beaujolais cru. Its exceptional structure supports vivid red fruit aromas and crushed flowers with good minerality.
Alban Central Coast Viognier 2018 ($30)
Alban Vineyards makes what many consider to be the best Viognier in California. As one of the original Rhone-style wineries in the United States, Alban has helped to bring Viognier out of obscurity, claiming its rightful place in the American wine drinker’s lexicon. This white Rhone varietal is full-bodied, fresh tasting, with nice balance, depth and concentrated flavors. Remembered for its complex aromas hinting of apricot and peaches, this wine is just the right amount of floral with low to moderate acidity. Their cool climate location and use of malolactic fermentation helps to counteract the high acidity, high alcohol and over-luxuriant flavors that Viogniers tend to be chastised for. The 2018 J Rickards Viognier ($28) from the lower Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma is another fine choice.
Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2018 ($45)
Tensley describes the 2018 vintage as a cool one that “gave the grapes plenty of time to hang on the vine to develop flavor and texture.” I would agree. It’s a great example of cool climate Syrah and my preferred style. Warmer climate Syrahs from places like Napa and Lake County can sometimes be overripe, too high in alcohol and lack balance. Not the Tensley Syrahs. The Tensley Colson Canyon delivers the up-front fruit you would expect in a California Syrah along with spicy, meaty, and peppery qualities that beautifully balance it out. Also of note, if you’re into scores. Their 2017 Colson Canyon scored 95 points with Wine Spectator and made #14 on its Top 100 List. The 2018 could be better though!
Mi Sueno Chardonnay, Los Carneros 2017 ($42)
Chardonnay is a classic pairing with the typical Thanksgiving meal. The key is finding the right style of Chardonnay. Turkey may not be known for its wine pairing ability but there is plenty of richness in a Thanksgiving smorgasbord—from the gravy to the buttery mashed potatoes to the stuffing and all the flavors it absorbs. Therefore I like to go with a full-bodied Chardonnay but one that is still Burgundian in nature. Mi Sueno’s Los Carneros Chardonnay achieves this balance. Their Chardonnay also owes some of its rich elegance to a wild yeast fermentation, and 18 months of aging in 30% new French oak. This stirring of the lees and a secondary 100% malolactic fermentation lends a plush texture to the wine. A platinum-hued color begins the experience and follows with aromas of guava, white peach, lemon zest and wet stone. The flavor echoes the nose and reveals additional flavors of pineapple, lemon custard and green apple delivered with a mouthwatering, bright acidity.
I also like the Mi Sueno story. Husband and wife team Lorena and Rolando Herrera started the winery in 1997 as a side project while Rolando was assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle. The brand represents the couple’s love story as well as the culmination of Rolando’s journey from being an immigrant dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil to his becoming director for Paul Hobbs Winery and eventually winemaker more than a decade later, before giving 100% of his time to his own winery.
The 2018 Pfendler Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) is another example of a full bodied California Chardonnay with a Burgundian backbone. Lemon curd, nectarine and crème brule on the nose, and framed by good minerality, it’s a great example of Petaluma Gap (Sonoma) Chardonnay—one of my favorite regions.
Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG ($50)
Amarone della Valpolicella—the most prestigious red wine of the Veneto region in Italy—might seem a little too muscular for turkey and stuffing but I think it can be a match made in heaven (especially with all the other side dishes) if it’s a well balanced Amarone from a good producer. The four brothers who started Tenuta Sant’Antonio dedicate their primary Amarone to their father, Antonio Castagnedi. The best grapes from different vineyards are selected for this wine and are brought to the winery’s drying room to undergo the appassimento process. After at least 3 months of drying, the grapes have shriveled and lost much of their water, while retaining their sugar, flavor, and other components. Once fermented and aged in new barrels, the Amarone is a powerful wine, yet fruity, fresh, and clean.
“Amarone is a wonderful complement to Thanksgiving meals because it will hold its own against the many flavors at the dinner table,” says Armando Castagnedi of Tenuta Sant’ Antonio. I agree. And once the meal is over it is the perfect wine to retire to the couch with and watch a little football.