Wine Guide for Thanksgiving

Tasting Room at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville
Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? Which wine is best with your Thanksgiving dinner? Photo: Francis Ford Coppola Winery
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The diverse viticultural regions of Sonoma County provide the wines you need for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you are considering Chardonnay from Russian River Valley, Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley or Pinot Noir from Sonoma Carneros, Sonoma wineries produce great wines to accompany your Thanksgiving dinner.

The traditional turkeyfest is a pastiche of light and dark poultry meat, earthy flavors—like baked sweet potatoes, shiitake mushroom stuffing, mashed fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts with almonds, mmm—perked up with sweet-sour cranberries, and fattened with gravy.

Here’s a list of which wine to pair which with food:

Pinot Gris
Not to be confused with Pinot Grigio, which is the same thing. Confused? When called Grigio, it’s likely modeled after a refreshing, light Italian style. Locally produced Pinot Gris is more often Alsatian style, barrel-aged, with floral aromas and a round, sensuous mouthfeel. Hard to find, but worth it for a starter wine.

Fumé Blanc
The trend of Sauvignon Blanc is toward New Zealand-style, bright and fruity zippers that don’t fit the flavors of fall. But the smokey, barrel-fermented fumé style should get you as far as the bird-carving.

The question is, how rich is your gravy, if you don’t mind my asking. Oak bomb, butterball styles might be too heavy for the fare, unless we’re talking deep-fried turkey, where a Chardonnay of a wider girth may cut the fat just right. But it’s a popular and familiar wine, so look for a Sonoma Coast or Russian River Valley Chardonnay and check its specs, if possible: less new oak, higher acidity is the key.

Take it from Chef John Ash, who says forget about the old Blue Nun stereotype: “Dry style Riesling is the perfect wine to serve with holiday foods, which typically tend to include lots of aromatics along with sweet/savory highlights.” For a spicier option, try Gewürztraminer.

Dry Rosé
Pick a quality Sonoma County rosé (you’ll pay more than $10 but less than $25) made from Pinot Noir or Syrah, and you can deliver a surprise crowd pleaser, make peace between the red and white wine contingents, and introduce your white Zin holdouts to the good life.

Pinot Noir
Light or medium-bodied, silky, with the tartness of cranberries, the charm of cherries, and earthy undertones of forest floor, Pinot Noir has the home advantage for this holiday. Just do those hard-working cooks a favor and skip the cheap stuff, more likely to be stuffed with “filler” grapes or lacking in the subtle spice and texture that makes Pinot what it is. Sonoma Carneros Pinot, very generally speaking, may be lighter-bodied, with cranberry, strawberry flavors and herbal overtones; while Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Pinot may be richer, with black cherry, cola, and brown baking spices—good bet for barbecued turkey and dark meat.

Other Wines
Don’t hesitate to pick up a dry, white Muscat for fun. Light, fruity Italian varietals like Dolcetto are candidates, while Sangiovese can be unreliable. For nontraditional and vegetarian dinners like pasta, go with a Syrah. Crab cakes? Pop open a Blanc de Noirs sparkling. What about America’s top red, Cabernet Sauvignon? I’m sure there’s an exception for every rule, and an incipient movement against wine rules. But it’s best to just pass on the Cab. And please pass the gravy.

Where can you find Sonoma County wines? Apart from local beverage stores, you can order directly from the wineries, or even better, pick up a few bottles in person. Here are listings for Sonoma County Wineries and info about how to ship wine home. Depending on your state or country of residence certain regulations and restrictions apply.

Get a free Sonoma County Visitors Guide and Wineries Map.