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Thanksgiving: US wineries share their top wine tips

With more than a dozen top American wine producers showcasing their wines at Decanter’s Fine Wine Encounter in November, Tina Gellie took the opportunity to ask them what they will be serving friends and family this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a great time to open a special bottle to share with family and friends, but what will you be drinking and what does the wine world do? We asked some winemakers, sommeliers and writers. Eduardo Dingler has also provided his top 10 wine recommendations for the big day...

Thanksgiving is a great time to open a special bottle to share with family and friends, but what will you be drinking and what does the wine world do? We asked 12 US wineries to share their recommendations for the big day…

Stone Tower
Recommended wine: Stone Tower, Viognier, Virginia 2016

Hospitality and sales director Jeremy Zimmerman says:Viognier was an early commercial success in Virginia. It’s a real food wine: a medium- to full-bodied white that can handle the complexity of the Thanksgiving dinner: roast bird, stuffing, sweet potatoes, roasted root veg – so there’s a good deal of sweetness there too. Viognier has a waxy, oily texture, weighty almost tannic structure, real aromatic complexity and usually some barrel ageing so it is a great compromise wine to serve both red and white wine drinkers. Chardonnay has those attributes too, but Viognier is a nice alternative that I think works better at Thanksgiving.’

Recommended wine: Cain, Cuvee NV12, Napa Valley

Winegrower and general manager Chris Howell says: ‘For me, Thanksgiving is the one holiday I traditionally do not associate with family. It’s not the one to invite the aunts and uncles and all the cousins, it’s the holiday where my wife and I look forward to welcoming a stranger to our table – or be the strangers at someone else’s table, as my wife and I were in London last year. It might be a friend, or someone who you’ve just met, where you can all appreciate sitting around a table together and enjoying the bounty of the land. It’s not an insular holiday, Thanksgiving is expansive. I’d serve our Cain Cuvee NV12 – it’s light but complex with great acidity – or a really good Beaujolais, like one from Marcel Lapierre.’

Recommended wine: Daou, Soul of a Lion, Paso Robles 2016

President Neb Lukic says: ‘I grew up in Serbia, so Thanksgiving is not a tradition I’m used to, but when I arrived in the US in 1997, I quickly realised that this holiday was a big deal. I really only started celebrating it in 2006 when I married my wife Jennifer, who is from New Jersey – it’s her favourite holiday. Turkey is not my favourite meat – it can be so dry – but I have learned to love it as she makes it so delicious (the secret is brining it for 36 hours before, when even the dark meat, which I love, is juicy). I love the ritual of it all – watching her prepare it and seeing how much it means to her to have the family all around makes me happy.’

Diamond Creek
Recommended wine: Diamond Creek, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley 1972

Owner Phil Ross says: ‘Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. It’s uniquely American and it’s all about food and family – and wine, of course. It’s the one time of year that everyone, from wherever they are spread across the country comes together for a wonderful celebration. We are very traditional and have turkey with all the trimmings. You have to have turkey as no-one eats it any other time of year! And we usually have pumpkin pie, though I’m more of a pecan pie kind of guy myself. For the wine, we don’t tend to think ahead, match flavours or try and pick out a vintage, we just open what inspires us. But usually we take the opportunity to taste through a few older vintages. Three years ago we opened the first vintage of our Red Rock Terrace – 1972. I wasn’t expecting much as the fill level wasn’t where I wanted it to be but we chanced it and it was one of the best 72s I’ve ever tasted: a great bouquet, very expressive and still youthful for its age. If I could guarantee the next 1972 I opened would be like that, then that’s what I’d serve.’

Recommended wine: Gallica, Rossi Ranch Grenache, Sonoma Valley 2017

Sales director Alex French says: ‘I know that Rosemary Cakebread agrees with me and doesn’t like turkey at Thanksgiving – it’s so dry and boring. We both have families in the Pacific North West, so love to serve a whole baked salmon, with accompaniments like asparagus and mashed potato. Salmon goes really well with the soft, sweet fruited notes of our Gallica Rossi Ranch Grenache.’

Long Meadow Ranch
Recommended wine: Long Meadow Ranch, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 2016

Vice-president of brand development Jeff Meisel says: ‘We raise organic free-range heritage turkeys which we lottery off to employees every Thanksgiving and also enjoy eating as a family. The key is dry-brining them, where you rub salt and spices and herbs into the bird and let it rest overnight before cooking. We like serving it with spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, potatoes – all of the traditional trimmings but making sure we focus on local, fresh ingredients. And our Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a perfect match.’

Trefethen Family Vineyards
Recommended wine: Trefethen Family Vineyards, Dry Riesling, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley 2018

Vice-president of sales Joe Cusimano says: ‘You might not expect it, but our Dry Riesling, which we have made since the 1970s, is a perfect wine to serve with the Thanksgiving feast, as there are both complex sweet and savoury flavours in the huge variety of dishes served, which often makes a traditional Cabernet or Chardonnay a hard match. Plus the acidity of the Riesling cuts through all that richness. The 2018 is our current vintage, but if you can find any, the 2017 has more texture and complexity thanks to the extra age.’

Rombauer Vineyards
Recommended wine: Rombauer Vineyards, Zinfandel, Napa Valley 2017

Sales manager John Egan says: ‘Choosing the right wine really depends on how you cook your turkey. If you wrap it in bacon and roast it, I might choose our Merlot or Cabernet, but I really like to brine it overnight and then deep-fry it. And for that I’d serve Chardonnay for those people who don’t want red, but the best match is Zinfandel, which gives that sweet, juicy berry fruit for the turkey.’

Luna Vineyards
Recommended wine: Luna Vineyards, Winemaker’s Reserve Sangiovese, Napa Valley 2017

Brand ambassador Will Aguilar says: ‘We are farmers in an agricultural town, at a winery whose founders have an Italian heritage, so eating, drinking and family are very important, and Thanksgiving embodies that act of sharing your feast with the ones you love. We like serving the traditional turkey with all the trimmings, and at Luna the unique specialities are the Italian varietals of Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese.’

Before you go… check out last year’s Thanksgiving tips too from a handful of top winemakers and writers

Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker at Gallica Wines
Speaking at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2017

‘We’ll be spending this Thanksgiving with our new grandchild, born a few months ago – so I haven’t thought much about the wine yet! We normally like to pick something out from the cellar, and share the bottle with friends. Thanksgiving is a great time for opening your special wines – but as we’ll be in Washington State with family, we’re excited to try some of the local ones too.’

Ray Signorello Jr, winemaker at Signorello Estate
Speaking at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2017

‘Though we make Cabernet Sauvignon, I find that Pinot Noir is a slightly better match for turkey. We do a traditional turkey dinner, so I make a bit of Pinot Noir, just for fun, for our house – so we’ll open up a few bottles of that. We’ll have it with the traditional turkey, the usuals – mashed potatoes, yams, the stuffing and the cranberry sauce.’

Carole Meredith, winemaker at Lagier Meredith
Speaking at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2017

‘Our Thanksgiving dinner is more a family event than a wine event – most of the family is not particularly interested in wine. But if I were to choose a special wine for Thanksgiving, it would probably be a well-aged Syrah, either one of our own or a Chave Hermitage.’

Eduardo Dingler, wine and sake writer
Speaking to Decanter.com in November 2018

‘Following our annual Thanksgiving tradition we’ll host a number of friends throughout the day with a bounty of favourite dishes. Our only rule is that guests are not allowed to bring wine – instead we let them choose some wines from our cellar. Being that said, I have a couple of wines that will be certainly enjoyed this Thanksgiving, including Wilson Foreigner’s Valdiguié from Napa Valley, and Raen 2013 Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast. I will probably serve Monticelli’s Bussia Riserva Barolo 2012 alongside a proper dose of Napa Valley Cabernet and some older Bordeaux. No doubt this holiday is one of my favourites for combining friends, family, food and wine.’

What are you opening this Thanksgiving?

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