People tend to fall into two camps when picking a wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner. There are those who fret over every detail of precisely which wine will pair best with each course. And then there are those who just throw up their hands and go with whatever wines they like best.
Far be it from me to tell you not to drink what you like. (Though I’m not sure of the wisdom of drinking, say, sauvignon blanc with such a hearty, complex meal.) Luckily, one of my favorite reds – and I think a red really goes best with turkey – is also a good match for Thanksgiving: pinot noir. (Equally appropriate: red wines made from Rhône varieties such as syrah and grenache.)
No matter what wine you choose, there are some helpful principles to keep in mind. Nothing too delicate. The traditional feast is likely to overwhelm that expensive, aged Burgundy you might be tempted to serve. I like to drink something assertive – but not too tannic or alcoholic – with ample fruit and acidity.
Of course, if you’re feeding a crowd, you could simply ask everyone to bring bottles to share. Let everyone else fret about the wine.
But back to pinot noir. I’ll happily drink imported wines almost any day of the year, but for this American holiday, I stick to American wines. In this case, pinot noirs from California and Oregon. (Note to those who aren’t so rigid about the American theme: Beaujolais of all types, even nouveau, is a good, affordable choice.)
So let’s start our pinot tour in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, which is famous for that grape. One well-priced choice is the 2020 Balletto Pinot Noir ($34), which is spicy and pure, with raspberry and crushed strawberry, a hint of what the French call sous bois (which sounds so much more charming than “forest floor”) and supple tannins.
Another good Russian River choice is the 2018 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55), which is dark and structured, with lively raspberry and nice purity. The structure should stand up to heartier food. The non-single-vineyard 2020 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir ($45) doesn’t have quite the personality and heft of the Hallberg, but it’s still very good and should be easier to find.
Moving to California’s Central Coast, the 2019 Cru Winery Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50), from the Santa Maria Valley, displays the bright strawberry and raspberry fruit that region is known for, along with that forest floor thing. The wine has nice tension and a velvety texture.
The 2020 Siduri Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($30) is spicy, dark and woodsy, with raspberry fruit and fine tannins. And the 2021 Sostener Monterey County Pinot Noir ($20) offers lively red cherry with hints of vanilla and baking spice, as well as a sneaky tannic edge that should be tamed by the meal. It’s also a great buy.
The 2019 Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir ($27) mixes Sonoma and Monterey counties for a wine with fresh, dark raspberry and cranberry, a woodsy note and a long finish. Plenty of flavor for a good price.
Moving on to Oregon, I loved the 2019 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75) from Eola-Amity Hills. It’s spicy and structured, with raspberry fruit, a leafy note and a lot of energy. It’s also pricey, so you could consider Cristom’s Mt. Jefferson Cuvée, which is also very good and, at $45, more affordable.
More affordable still (and reasonably easy to find) is the 2021 Acrobat Pinot Noir ($19), a spicy wine with red cherry and raspberry, accented by a slight peppery/leafy note, and finishing with smooth tannins.