“Thanksgiving wines” has become an annual piece for me. I enjoy coming up with a list of food friendly wines that pair nicely with turkey and gravy and stuffing and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole (insert traditional sides) because, quite frankly, not many do. My general rule is, don’t overthink it…and stick to white wines.
What do I mean by don’t overthink it? When you have family and friends over (though this year may be different) and you are in charge of the wines it’s perfectly normal to want to offer some different choices, including something that may not be on your guest’s radar. Albarino or Riesling for example. But do these wines really match well with turkey? Not in my book. Sometimes the obvious choice is the best. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Not Stonewall Jackson.
So what is the obvious choice? I always favor American Chardonnay. Why? Well, first off, because it’s American. This is our holiday after all. Yet ironically, it pairs nicely with Thanksgiving cuisine. Why do I say ironically? Because I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much. And yet it pairs well with a meal that doesn’t pair well with much. Go figure. But there are other reliable choices other than Chardonnay. Plenty in fact. Here is is my 2020 lineup:
Gary Farrell “Ritchie Vineyard” Chardonnay 2017 ($60)
Simply put, this is one of the best chardonnays I have tried in a long time. And being 2020, of course I tried it on a virtual wine tasting session via zoom call. A wine writer on the call made what I thought was a very astute comment about this wine, saying that it had a “lean mid-palate.” But he meant it in a complimentary way. And I knew right away what he meant. In addition to the wonderful stone fruits, lemon curd and limestone minerality that this wines exhibits, the lean mid-palate creates a sense of even-flow and gracefulness that allows the fruit to fully shine as the wine slowly unleashes all its splendor right up through the long finish. This is a wine you can certainly enjoy on its own but it is a food wine through and through. It’s California fruit meets Burgundian acidity and minerality. It’s opulent yet practices restraint. It’s a Chardonnay that people who aren’t particularly fond of Chardonnay will still like.
Ram’s Gate “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay 2018 ($70)
Usually when I think of famous vineyards in Napa and Sonoma I think of vineyards planted for Cabernet. There are many. But Chardonnay has a few too. And the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros—who’s soils its namesake Hyde family has been working since the late ’70s—is one of them. The cool Carneros winds here lead to slow and steady ripening allowing for complex and exquisite flavor development, with more of a Burgundian framework. The Ram’s Gate Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay is no exception.
A medley of the two clones—Robert Young and Musqué—produce a mineral-driven, austerely elegant chardonnay (similar to the Gary Farrell Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay in this sense) with white peach, apricot and lemon zest. Partial malolactic gives lovely texture in the mid-palate while the chalky soils drive saline and minerals on the finish.
Says winemaker Joe Nielson, “Hyde Vineyard is one of those cherished places in California where heritage, hard work and terroir come together to produce a wine that has incredible depth, richness and precision—hallmarks of not just a complex wine, but a delicious addition to your favorite meals.”
Gamble Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2019 ($28)
Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes to people’s surprise, actually thrives in Napa Valley (the chardonnay on the tasting list at a Napa Valley winery is likely from Carneros or Sonoma and not from their actual estate). Yet for a long time, it played the role of warm up wine—a palate cleanser or amuse bouche—before the featured wines. Not anymore. Across the board, vintners are no longer making Sauvignon Blanc for a little extra cash flow. They are investing it in big time—from farming, to specific clones, to barrels and concrete eggs.
One such producer is Gamble Family Vineyards. While their “Heart Block” is a benchmark for Napa Valley Sauvignon block (and commands a $95 price tag) their regular Sauvignon Blanc at a more palatable $28 is a wonderful wine, composed of four distinct Sauvignon Blanc clones:, Sauvignon Musque and 530, which originate from the Loire region, and Preston and 316, which originate from Bordeaux.
Truchard Vineyards Roussanne 2018 ($28)
This white varietal has been traditionally associated with the Northern Rhône, where it is blended with Marsanne to make white Hermitage wines. Like a lot of varietals that originated in France, it can also thrive in California, provided the right soils and microclimates are present. Carneros has exactly this, with cool (enough) temps, volcanic rock and ash soils and gently sloping vineyards—like it’s Northern Rhône brethren.
Floral aromas of pineapple, honeysuckle, and jasmine, with highlights of brioche and vanilla. The mouth is crisp, with clean flavors of fresh pear, honeydew melon, and lychee. Bright acidity provides a lengthy finish of citrus, mineral, and spice.
Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc Los Carneros 2016 ($92 1.5 L Magnum)
This one might seem like a bit of a wild card. And yes, it’s only available in 1.5L Magnum format (and .375L split) but that shouldn’t be a problem for a Thanksgiving feast. I say wildcard, because at first glance a Pinot Blanc may seem a bit light for your average Thanksgiving meal. On the contrary, Pinot Blancs from California tend to be a bit “bigger” than those from Alsace or Italy. And not everyone’s turkey lunch or dinner is dominated by heavy gravy and buttery mashed potatoes. If your Thanksgiving meal is on the lighter side, this could be a perfect match.
Truthfully, when it comes to white wine, Robert Sinskey is more known for their “Abraxas” white blend, which includes Pinot Blanc but also Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtz. I like the straight Pinot Blanc more though. It has been one of my favorite white wines from the sunshine state since I first tried it about 15 years ago.
The bouquet on this wine never disappoints. Aromas of fresh cut flowers, honeydew melon and even a little allspice jump out of the glass. Stone fruits (peach and apricot) and Meyer lemon are joined with white pepper and crème brule on the long finish—framed by great minerality.