Winemakers Keep It Real on Thanksgiving

Wines on this year’s holiday table will be an eclectic mix, just like the vintners who’ll open them

Winemakers Keep It Real on Thanksgiving
For some winemakers, Thanksgiving wine selections are more about creating memories than a perfect pairing. (iStock)
Nov 22, 2019

Asking winemakers what they’re drinking on Thanksgiving is Wine Writing 101, an enjoyable exercise for the first few years but then it grows stale, as much for the vintners as the writer.

“Hey, what’s the perfect wine for the most idiosyncratic meal of the year?”

Who needs that kind of pressure?

So, of course, I asked them anyway. Since taking over Wine Spectator's Oregon and Washington tasting beats a few years ago, I’ve gotten to know whole communities of winemakers. Their new perspectives are a refreshing complement to what California winemakers bring to the table.

The rules were simple. Keep it chatty and lighthearted, and above all, keep it as real and true as possible. Recommend one bottle, specific vintages preferred, and no fair naming your own wine.

I asked some of my favorite winemakers to play along, and I was impressed by how poignant some of their responses were. Enjoy, and have a great Thanksgiving!

Tegan Passalacqua
Winemaker, Turley Wine Cellars, California

“Historically, we always open a Beaujolais or three during Thanksgiving, although for the last five years we’ve been enjoying the Edmunds St. John Gamay from Eldorado County. We plan to open a 2016. It’s a light and refreshing wine that seems to make friends with everyone at the table. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?”

Tom Rochioli
Winemaker, Rochioli Vineyards, Russian River Valley, California

As you might expect from one of the founding families of California’s Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir is the go-to wine. “My first choice has our name on it: Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Rochioli Vineyard 1987.” He’s also set aside two gems from Burgundy: Domaine Jean Grivot Nuits-St.-Georges Roncière 2015 and Méo-Camuzet Nuits-St.-George Aux Murgers 2013.

Carole Meredith
Winegrower, Lagier Meredith, Napa Valley, California

“I have had many bottles of Truchard Roussanne Napa Valley Carneros 2017 and it remains perhaps my favorite white wine. I’m not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc, and many Chardonnays are too oaky for my liking. Roussanne, on the other hand, can be such a full-flavored and complex wine, not to mention ageworthy. While there will be various red wines on the table for our Thanksgiving, most will be too big and tannic for my taste. I will be sitting quietly at the end of the table with this bottle of Roussanne, reluctant to share it with anyone else.”

Jeff Meader
Founder, Eminent Domaine, Willamette Valley, Oregon

“While it’s still a bit young, I’d like to open a 2015 Guillen Family Adrian Reserve Pinot Noir. The owner and winemaker, Jesus Guillén, passed away in 2018 after a brief battle with cancer. His family and friends continue to carry on his work and passion. Jesus always embraced whole-cluster fermentation and the results are beautiful. What better wine to share on Thanksgiving?”

Bill Easton
Winemaker, Terre Rouge and Easton, Sierra Foothills, California

“We will have a variety of wines and there will be Zinfandel, but I think the Maison L'Envoyé Morgon Côte du Py 2016 will pair nicely with the turkey and other sides. It has great floral aromatics, a pleasant fruitiness with some power that is also mineral-driven. It should be able to hold its own at the table.”

Josh Bergström
Winemaker, Bergström, Willamette Valley, Oregon

“This year I will be opening a magnum of Yvon Métras Fleurie Cuvée l’Ultime 2011. I find that the complex flavors on parade during a Thanksgiving meal call for a lighthearted wine. This Beaujolais has bright floral and fruit-driven flavors and aromas, with great zesty acidity and just the right amount of complexity and earthiness to help the stuffing and the gravy feel involved.”

Christian Sparkman
Founding winemaker, Sparkman, Washington

A former sommelier, Sparkman has a passion for fine Sherry. For this year, he’s opening Emilio Lustau Almacenista Cayetano del Pino y Cía Palo Cortado de Jerez NV. “It’s kinda rare, and over 22 years old. I love Sherry and all of its nutty, earthy, funky goodness. Especially with my main vice: cheese.” At 21 percent alcohol, it’s a sipper, not a guzzler. “You can have a little, feel just fine, and have some tomorrow and the next day … heck, should be great on Thanksgiving!”

Rollin Soles
Winemaker, Roco, Willamette Valley, Oregon

“For many years now I picked a theme for a giant blind tasting with the family at Thanksgiving, and it was really fun trying Bordeaux, Spain and other benchmark reds. One of the funnest was 12 Zinfandels, since we seldom buy them. This year I’ll open a Vilmart Brut Champagne Grand Cellier Rubis 2011 for sure.”

Jake Bilbro
Owner, Limerick Lane, Sonoma County, California

“Thanksgiving is about family and friends, and our table will reflect that sentiment in spades. We tend to put a lot of bottles out and open them all. There’s not a specified course or order. We visit and revisit throughout the evening and go back and forth between red and white. Arista, Mauritson, Reeve, Carlisle, Bedrock and Clarice will be heavily in rotation. Vintage and varietal is less important than the beauty of the evening as we surround ourselves by those we love.”

Mike Etzel
Founding winemaker, Beaux Frères, Willamette Valley, Oregon

“I will have many different wines from the Old World and a few New World wines, as well. A William Fèvre Chablis from 2011 and a fresh 2017 Sancerre is likely, plus a Champagne or two to start our journey into the day, not to mention a good Beaujolais. I have a magnum of 2003 Ponsot Clos de La Roche that would be perfect. As for white Burgundy, it will be Domaine Coche-Dury 2012 Meursault.”

Mike Sullivan
Winemaker, Benovia, Sonoma County, California

“I will be opening up bottles of Champagne and sparkling wine to start, and eventually plan to open a magnum of 2006 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Tempranillo for my guests.”

Ken Wright
Winemaker, Ken Wright Cellars, Willamette Valley, Oregon

“When I think Thanksgiving I think savory. What works with savory? Why, Pinot Noir of course. I will be opening a 2016 Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot. Don and Carole McCrone established McCrone Vineyard in the Yamhill Carlton in 1991 and years later they fell in love with New Zealand.”

John Alban
Winemaker, Alban Vineyards, Edna Valley, California

“I am thinking a 1995 Rayas as one of the wines this year. Jacques Reynaud was a mentor to me, and the 1995 was not only the last vintage he truly shaped at Rayas, it was released while Lorraine and I were on our honeymoon. The first bottles I found were in a wine shop in Belfast. I was looking around with my father-in-law of just a couple weeks, Ted McKillen, when I spied 10 bottles of this precious wine. To Ted’s astonishment, I purchased all the shop had and procured the stock from a sister store in Dublin. Ted couldn’t imagine spending more than a couple pounds on a bottle of wine, let alone 50!"

“I assured him I could triple my money by selling this ‘loot’ back home. I instantly went from possible ne’er-do-well to brilliant in Ted’s eyes. Of course, I never sold a bottle and never intended to, but my father-in-law didn’t need to know that. Ted and I were great chums from that moment and right up until his passing a few weeks ago. I’d like to raise a glass to him, Jacques, and the many special people I am so thankful to have had in my life.”

Holidays / Celebrations Thanksgiving People

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