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Wine Guide for Thanksgiving

Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? Which wine is best with your Thanksgiving dinner?

The key spice in a Thanksgiving feast is variety, and the diverse viticultural regions of Sonoma Wine Country provide all the variety of wines you need. There are Tuesday night pizza wines, and there are Thursday afternoon turkey wines—for that special Thursday afternoon or evening, late in November, when family and friends gather around the table and give thanks. If you’re charged with making the wine choice, be thankful for the bounty of Sonoma County wines this Thanksgiving. 

This holiday feast is generally thought of as among the “like with like” genres of food and wine pairing. Both the traditional turkey fest and the vegetarian lentil loaf option present an array of sweet, spicy, and earthy aromas and flavors, few or none of them—especially not the main course—requiring a big, bold wine to match.

Best to keep it simple for Thanksgiving, as the meal—and sometimes the seating arrangement—is complicated enough. With Sonoma County wines, you can please just about everyone, and step up the quality at the same time. Consider bringing a white and a red, plus an alternative like cider.

Top Sonoma County wine pairings for Thanksgiving:

Pinot Noir

This is no time to buck tradition, and Pinot Noir is truly a reliable wine pairing with turkey, dressing, and all the fixings. Pinot Noir from cool climate viticultural areas like Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Carneros exhibit aromas that may range from an earthy potpourri of cranberry and herbal notes, with light strawberry fruit, to deeper flavor of black cherry and cola, laced with pie baking spices.

Light to medium-bodied, Sonoma County Pinot Noir often displays a silky texture, and a lighter tannic grip than heavier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination of charming fruit and bright, cool climate acidity makes Pinot an ideal palate cleanser for the holiday meal.

Rosé

Dry rosé wine may be the perfect, all-round Thanksgiving wine pairing. Yes, this includes dry rosé of Zinfandel—a savvy substitute for those relations who simply must have their White Zinfandel. The majority of pink wines now made in Sonoma County are a very dry style—having as little residual sugar as the typical dry Pinot or Merlot, for instance—but still delight the palate with flavors of strawberry, watermelon and cherry, and the bright acidity keeps it friendly with salad, dressing, and lighter meats like turkey. Rosé of Pinot Noir and Syrah are top choices; quality dry rosé is usually priced between $12 and $25. Try Pedroncelli rosé of Zin. 

Gewürztraminer

Nobody likes their turkey too dry, and a very dry white wine won’t help with that. Gewürztraminer is not always a sweet wine, it is often made off-dry, but the key to this Thanksgiving pairing is that even when Gewürz is dry, it’s got that “sweet and spicy” savor that complements sweet and spicy fare like sweet potatoes with nutmeg and brown sugar. Many Sonoma County Gewürztraminers are limited releases, available directly from the winery or at the winery only—try Mill Creek, Chateau St. Jean or Harvest Moon. 

Chardonnay 

The butter isn’t just for the biscuits. Leave the crisp, “unoaked” Chardonnay for a warm spring day—Thanksgiving is for a toasty, fleshy Chard with buttery malolactic notes. Consider pleasing Chardonnay fans with a Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast. It’s hard to know what’s in the bottle, even with cool-climate Green Valley of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, but with many such wines, the natural acidity balances the richness of barrel fermentation. A Chardonnay of a wider girth may cut the fat of a deep-fried turkey just right. For a refined example of oaked Chardonnay, consider Landmark’s Overlook or Joseph Phelps Freestone.

Sparkling Wine

It’s never too early in the holiday season for bubbly wine. Try a richer version than you’d pair with seafood, like Gloria Ferrer’s Royal Cuvée or Iron Horse’s Russian Cuvée. And as with dry rosé wine, even better with a sparkling rosé.

Cider

Every host should keep sparkling, non-alcoholic cider on hand, but did you know that Sonoma County is host to a hard cider renaissance? These craft ciders, often made with heirloom varieties like the Gravenstein apples, are more complex than big-brand cider, and are well suited to autumnal flavors, while having a lower alcohol content than wine—generally about 6 to 9 percent alcohol by volume. Sonoma County’s Tilted Shed is making exciting ciders like lightly sparkling Graviva! and barrel-aged and smoked ciders. Also look for cider from Devoto and Horse & Plow.

More wine pairings to consider:

The New World’s Sonoma County is blessed with the climate to ripen diverse varietals from across the Old World. Light, fruity varietals like Dolcetto, Charbono and Gamay Noir are made by few wineries and can be challenging to find, but are fun and food-friendly—see Duxoup, Paul Mathew, Da Vero, and Jacuzzi.

Don’t forget late-harvest Chardonnay, Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc for dessert.

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.

Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight