“Thanksgiving Wines” has become an annual favorite of mine to write. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find wines that pair well with a Thanksgiving meal—and informing my readers of my choices—because, quite frankly, not many wines do. This Cabernet will go perfect with some turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole…said, no one.
Of course, big reds like Cabernet would not be the varietals I would look to in this situation, but even some subtler reds or whites can be a difficult task for this once-a-year feast.
I tend to favor American Chardonnay because Thanksgiving is an American holiday and while Chardonnay may not be a match made in heaven for this cuisine, it works about as well anything else. And since I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much, why not use it in this instance. The key is to find a Chardonnay that has good minerality with little oak and only a small percentage of malolactic fermentation. There is no reason to have a fruity, oaky, butter ball wine with your marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. It’s too much. And favor soil (terrior) over fruit. The more Burgundian your chardonnay is, the better.
I also enjoy some white Rhone varietals with this meal as well as Sauvignon Blanc, but I would advise the same as with Chardonnay—look for minerality and acidity, over round, oaky, buttery wines.
If you go with a red, Pinot Noir from California or Oregon (again, we are going domestic on this holiday) is always a safe bet. Syrah and Zinfandel, which have lighter tannins, can also work provided they are cooler climate ones. Warmer climate reds from places like Paso Robles, for example, can run very high in alcohol and brix (sugar) levels which can put you to sleep on your father-in-law’s couch a little sooner than you anticipated.
So with that in mind, for this 2021 iteration I am focusing on the cool climate, under-appreciated Carneros region of California (with one wine from nearby in Napa Valley). I love the range and variety of wines that come out of the Carneros region. Situated on the southern border of both Napa and Sonoma and just north of the San Pablo Bay it has a sort of “goldy locks” climate with hotter temps to the north in Sonoma and Napa and cool air coming off the bay to the south. While most of the region is known for cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are micro climates in Carneros that allow for the growing of myriad varietals—Syrah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and even Riesling.
Ok, enough of the foreplay. Here are my 2021 Thanksgiving wines:
2018 Bouchaine Las Brisas Vineyard Riesling ($38)
As I mentioned, Carneros has a wide range of varietals that can grow in the region. One of these is Rielsing—a varietal that thrives in southern Germany and Alsace, France and is beloved by many somelliers for its complexity and food friendliness. But Carneros has cool enough sites for this grape and the Las Brisas Vineyard is one of the most suitable in all of California due to the fact that the region is often covered in fog until mid-day. The Las Brisas Riesling from Bouchaine showcases beautiful floral notes, white peach and tangy apple notes with just enough acidity to compliment your turkey with gravy as well as your sweet potato pie.
2019 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc ($22)
More and more Napa Valley wineries are experimenting with non-Bordeaux varietals and I love that. While not quite as many micro climates as Sonoma there are still plenty of micros and soil types in Napa to allow for all sorts of varietals, including most of the Rhone varietals.
The Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc comes from the Somerston Estate in the Napa Valley, a 1,682-acre property with 244 acres of hillside vines, located in the east of Pritchard Hill. When done correctly, white Rhone wines have a lovely bouquet of stone fruits (particularly peach) and white pepper with floral notes and minerality that I love. This Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc is no exception, with intriguing floral aromatics, ample acidity, and flavors of peach, apple tart and Crème Brûlée on the finish.
2018 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Carneros Pinot Gris ($24)
I consider Etude to be one of the forefathers of the Carneros region. Established in 1982, the winery has been a top Pinot Noir producer for decades. And while Pinot Noir still dominates Etude’s varietal lineup, the winery actually produces quite a few different varietals and blends including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Rose and even a sparkling wine—and they’re all good.
Etude’s Pinot Gris— grown at their Estate “Grace Benoist Ranch” vineyard—has actually become quite popular (a staple on many menus in Northern California) as it’s extremely consistent, food friendly and varietally correct. This classic Pinot Gris offers solid acidity with aromas of pear, apple, stone fruit and white flowers on the nose. Delicate notes of spice, citrus and peach dance on the mid palate while classic Carneros minerality lingers on the long finish.
Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Noir ($85)
Located at the epicenter of three of Sonoma’s greatest AVAs, Ram’s Gate’s estate vineyard borders the Sonoma Valley to the north, the Sonoma Coast to the west and Carneros to the east, and is the proverbial “Compass Rose” of Sonoma. Like most of the region, the signature morning Carneros fog rolls in off the San Pablo Bay and the wind-rich location creates a “temperature controlled” impact on the estate that is ideal for Pinot Noir.
This wine erupts with a bouquet of cherry, tobacco and clove on the nose. Subtler, classic Pinot Noir notes of strawberry, anise and holiday spices come through on the palate. This wine should work with anyone’s version of a Thanksgiving feast, whether you fancy white or dark meat; sweet potato pie or classic mashed potato with butter; peas or a green bean casserole.
2018 DuMol “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay ($75 – $90)
If you read my “Talking Turkey—With Wine” article from last year I covered another “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay. If it seems redundant for me to cover another one this year, that’s fair. But the truth is, Carneros is currently making arguably the best Chardonnay in California (Aubert, Donum, Tor and Hyde de Villaine all make world-class Chardonnay here) and the superstar Hyde vineyard is probably the best of the best, turning out high quality Chardonnays on the most consistent basis. So why not touch on it back-to-back years.
DuMol’s “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay has lots of pineapple (tropical fruits are indicative of this vineyard) elegant floral notes, and lemon zest on the nose with wonderful acidity and limestone minerality on the long, long finish. The wine is extremely complex with integrated acidity and flavors that unfold fluidly. It should go wonderfully with your Thanksgiving meal but can also be relished afterward while you settle into a football game or talk politics with family and friends. Your only issue with this wine will be finding a bottle of it, but if you do, it’s worth the price.
Enjoy your Turkey Day and be safe!