Wine Not? A Guide to Great Wines this Holiday

Figuring out which wines to have on hand for Thanksgiving can be intimidating, especially if you’re planning on hosting a huge crowd (with varying palettes to match). I’m here to tell you that you can stop your worrying — there’s really no “perfect” wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, because there are simply too many variations in side dishes to have a one-size fits all wine for every table.

Instead, I recommend you use this time of year to try something new and fun with wine. I’ve actually discovered that some of the most unique, uncommonly served wines end up being my favorite not only at holiday time, but year round.

Here’s my list of ten great wines, wine regions or varietals you should consider serving this holiday (okay, with a few safety nets in there too)…

One of my favorite under-the-radar white wines is a white Rhône blend. These blends, typically pretty affordable, blend white grape varietals most commonly found in the Rhône growing region of France. Think Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier, Grenache Blanc. They typically have great minerality (I admit, it’s something I adore in a white wine), but with ripe, honeyed fruit notes and a body big enough to stand up to whatever you’re serving on Thanksgiving. Try the 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Château La Paws Côte du Bone Blanc ($14), the 2009 Tablas Creek Côte de Tablas Blanc ($22), or the 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel ($33).


I LOVE unoaked Chardonnay. Unoaked simply means that the wine was not fermented or stored in wood barrels at any time; instead, these wines tend to be fermented in steel tanks. The result is a clean, crisp flavor that lets the grape be completely expressive. It also would make an excellent match to a starter salad with a light, citrusy vinaigrette, or as a before dinner refresher. Heck, it’d also be delicious WITH dinner, if you’re serving something lighter like roast chicken with herbs. Try Passagio ($16) (amazingly good, and the winemaker is one of the nicest, most talented winemakers around), or Valley of the Moon ($15).

Okay, okay. You can’t really go wrong with a classic Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, clean and acidic, if you’re entertaining a crowd that likes white wine, you should probably stock up on a couple bottles of Sauv Blanc. Try a Napa Valley classic, like the 2009 Cakebread Cellars ($25) or the 2009 St. Supery ($15).

It absolutely wouldn’t be a holiday without some sparkle, right? To really zhush up the occasion, buying sparkling wine or Champagne is a must. One fantastic, really affordable option that’s a bit unexpected is Spanish Cava. Somewhat similar to Italian Prosecco, Cava (in my experience at least) tends to be a bit more fruit forward than classic French Champagne. It’s becoming more popular too, but the price points have stayed very low. One Cava I’ve recently tried and loved was the Caves El Barcino ($15). Yum.

Without a doubt my favorite domestic sparkler. Roederer ($19) is pretty easy to find these days, and in my opinion, it’s far, far superior to the Gloria Ferrer’s, J’s, and Chandon’s of the domestic sparkling world. Louis Roederer is the gent that made a little French Champagne that you might know as Cristal (or Cris, if you listen to good early 2000s rap music). Roederer Estate uses many of the same techniques as their French counterpart, but it just happens to be located in Anderson Valley, a few hours north of San Francisco. If you can find it (though it’s much harder these days), try the 2002 L’Ermitage Roederer Estate Brut ($35). It’s toasty, yeasty, redolent of pears, and simply put, a beautiful sparkling wine. Personal aside: Joe and I recently shared a bottle of this on our 8 year anniversary. We figured out that the grapes in that wine were being harvested around the time we met (cue: Awwww).

Very popular on the brunch scene these days, like Cava, Prosecco is a wonderful, affordable sparkling alternative. I find Proseccos that are extra dry tend to be more to my liking, as they can otherwise be a bit cloying and leave that sweet, heavy feeling in your mouth. As a general rule, a Prosecco from Valdobbiadene won’t lead you too far astray. You can easily find a great bottle of Prosecco within the $10 to $25 range.

A lot of folks recommend Pinot Noir as a great red varietal to drink at Thanksgiving and I completely agree. However, even within California, there are SO many styles of Pinot Noir: the robust, intense, spicy Pinots from Santa Rita Hills in the south; the rich, velvety, cherried Pinots from Russian River. One style I think is great with Thanksgiving is the Anderson Valley Pinot. Lighter bodied, fruit forward, well-balanced, restrained. It’s a Burgundian style Pinot that I think suits Turkey Day well. Don’t miss Migration ($34). It’s made by Goldeneye, but in my opinion, is better.

Similar to the Anderson Valley Pinot, Sonoma Coast has been churning out some fantastic Pinot Noirs in recent years. In my mind, these wines are a bit rounder, fuller, with maybe a touch more spice than their Anderson Valley counterparts, but both are wonderful choices. From Sonoma Coast, look for Hirsch, FogDog (made by the Joseph Phelps family), or Dehlinger — the 2007 vintage in particular was one of the great wines I’ve had in the last few years (but then again, it was shared with two of my favorite friends over an awesome dinner. With wine, context can be everything!). Sonoma Coast Pinots can run from the mid $30s on up.

If you’re looking for something with bright, gorgeous berry notes, good acidity but a guaranteed medium body, try the Barbera grape, from Italy. The best Barbera’s all hail from Piedmont in the northern region of the country; look for Barbera d’Alba or Barbera d’Astis. Even though they’re imported, Barbera’s are a great deal. Most will be priced from around $15 to $25.

And lastly, something completely unexpected — a Greek wine! Amethystos is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend that Joe and I have seen at a few different Greek and Mediterranean restaurants around town. After giving it a try (and figuring out how to pronounce it), it’s become a favorite. Definitely the heartiest of the group (bigger tannins, bigger body, bigger everything), Amethystos (around $20) would probably be more appropriate if you’re serving lamb or beef on the big day. But still, even with turkey, it’s a wine that’s so juicy and delicious, you probably won’t mind the powerful pairing too much!

What about you? Do you have a favorite wine or spirit to drink with holiday meals? Share it in the comments!

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