Thanksgiving wine picksWe asked our local vintners from the Central Coast to share some of their favorite wine pairings, or a favorite Thanksgiving memory or an oddball pairing they didn’t think would work, but did. Here’s what they told us.

Therese Martin of Martin Ranch, who makes wine with her husband, Dan, on an idyllic property in the southern corner of Santa Cruz Mountains, offered this suggestion:

“With all the richness of the Thanksgiving meal, we at Martin Ranch Winery have found that we LOVE the Nebbiolo. The perfect amount of tannin and acid just gives the palate that perfect break in-between bits:))) YUMMMY!”

Like Therese, Jeff Emery, himself quite the master of that earthy and ageworthy Burgundian style of Pinot Noir, chooses something off the beaten grape path. He goes for Touriga:

“We are featuring an unusual variety that we think goes great with Thanksgiving food, our 2011 Quinta Cruz Touriga. It is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, very important varieties in Portugal for table wine and Port. It is an amazingly aromatic red, very floral, but also with a lot of savory elements.”

Anne Moulton of Burrell School Vineyards and Winery, says the secret to making excellent turkey gravy is a splash of Chardonnay. She’s hosting 23 people in the old schoolhouse this year, something she hasn’t done in ages. We’re sure there’s plenty of Principal’s Choice Pinot at the ready.

Martin Hoellrigl, GM of Byington Winery, a certified sommelier and trained chef, says that since his kids won’t eat turkey (they watched a movie that predispositioned them), he’s been forced to improvise. He recommends Zinfandel hot chocolate, served with sugar cookies, and prefers pumpkin pie with sparkling Pinot Noir or Saignee.

Master winemaker for Hobo, Kenny Likitprakong, says,

“Not all that creative, but Champagne, more Champagne, and then some Champagne. Valdiguié and Riesling work too!”

We cannot help but agree with the suggestion of Champagne at every turn. It should be the new default GPS navigation.

Says John Bargetto of Bargetto Winery,

“The other white wine, seldom enjoyed in this country, Gewurztraminer, with its juicy and fruity flavors can make a nice accompaniment for Thanksgiving table.  Even if the pilgrims may not have delighted in it, we can!”

I heartily concur, as Gewurz has been a tradition at my house for Thanksgiving since we shared a bottle of Wells Shoemaker’s excellent version of this nearly 30 years ago. It was a magnum, and it barely made it from appetizers to dinner!

Julie Scopazzi of Testarossa has an appetizer idea to share. She says,

“I did this one at my birthday and liked it so much I recreated it for my family on Thanksgiving for the salad course. Seared day boat scallop atop chopped kale salad w/julienne Fuyu persimmon, chopped almonds and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, paired with Marimar Estate Albarino/Chardonnay blend. The Meyer lemon really complimented the perfumy Albarino!”

Laura Lee of Scheid Vineyards shared,

“From our perspective, there is no more perfect wine for Thanksgiving than Pinot Noir.  The bright, aromatic and lively qualities that make this variety one of my favorites year-round, also make it ideal for accompanying the wide range of foods and palates that make up most Thanksgiving celebrations.  For our family gathering this year, I’m bringing five different Monterey Pinots.  We’ll start with Ranch 32, District 7, Ryder Estate and Metz Road, which span a wide range of styles from the diverse regions that make up this wonderful area.  Once everyone has tucked into their plates and settled on a favorite, I’m planning to open a Scheid Reserve Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands, to show how very thankful I really am this year!”

Julie Thiebaut, wine lover and volunteer at Soquel Vineyards, has this memory to share:

“My mother was decorating for Thanksgiving and wanted to display a beautiful cut crystal decanter that she had received as a gift. She took a swatch of brown velvet to the liquor store and asked the clerk to find a liquor that would match the dining room chairs. Amontillado sherry was displayed for its color, but a family friend  drank it and it was served at Thanksgiving for years after that!”

Frank Cates, who retired earlier this year from Cinnabar Winery, has this amusing anecdote, which is only funny in retrospect.

“Back in 1981, I found myself at Thanksgiving dinner with my new in-laws in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was working as a Som in Boulder at the time and sought to impress my hosts with some extraordinary wine. I lovingly decanted a 61 Chateau Petrus and looked forward explaining its ethereal flavors, historic vintage, world prominence and extraordinary price.

As I returned to the dining room after taking on carving responsibilities in the kitchen, I witnessed my dear, sweet mother-in-law taking a slug off a water glass filled to the rim with Petrus and ice. Then she took a bottle of Perrier water and topped it off. Probably the first (and hopefully last!) Petrus spritzer.

Half way through the meal she said, ’Frank? You’ve barely touched your food. Are you feeling alright?’ Needless to say………. the marriage didn’t last!”

Let this be a lesson to those wishing to share a priceless wine with an audience of dubious wine knowledge and experience!

However you plan to spend Thanksgiving, remember the most important part of the holiday is to be thankful for the people you have in your life. They may not always be worthy of the wines you are aging in your cellar, but they are certainly worth spending time with now. In the words of Jim Morrison,“The future is uncertain and the end is always near.”

Which translates to: drink the good stuff now, as you just never know.


Laura NessLaura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at



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