10 wines that’ll impress your holiday guests

As we close in on the mother of all feasts, the last thing on your mind is probably wine. Most likely, you are more focused on where everyone will sit or how you’re going to come up with a menu that satisfies free guests – gluten-free, allergy-free, meat-free.

Relax. Breathe. Grab a glass of wine. We got you covered.

The least of your worries is wine because it is hard to go wrong with whatever you choose. The traditonal turkey is a neutral meat that marries well with many reds and whites. The trimmings are so varied – tart cranberry, sweet yams, creamy gravy – that no one particular wine works. So, it doesn’t matter much – give your guests choices.

Having said the sky is the limit, we can tell you about some wines that won’t break the bank when bought in the quantity you’ll need to keep your guests sated. For instance, one of the most overlooked Thanksgiving Day wines is the simple Beaujolais made from gamay grapes. The spirited and flashy nouveau arrives on our shores about this time of the year and sells for under $15, but there are better Beaujolais crus – Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent and more – that may cost more but will deliver more substance.

Dry roses – also inexpensive – are a great bridge between white and red drinkers, plus they have the acidity and fruit to match just about everything on the traditional holiday table.

On our table will be pinot noir, a grape variety that offers a lot of fruit character but also complexity. Unfortunately, pinot noirs from Burgundy, Oregon and California are not cheap. It may not be the practical choice if you are serving a large crowd.

As for the white wines, we are still fans of chardonnay because it complements gravy, potatoes and turkey – the centerpiece of most plates. Chardonnay can be buttery and oaked, but if this is too much for your palate, look for chardonnay with less oak aging and less malolatic fermentation.

If turkey isn’t on the menu, the options are clearer. Lamb and beef, for instance, call for complex cabernet sauvignons or even barolos and Rhone wines. Ham, unfortunately, is a difficult match suited to the likes of a spicy gewurztraminer.

Two other pieces of advice: make sure you have enough wine and consider offering champagne or sparkling wine as a festive aperitif. At a minimum, count on each moderate wine drinker consuming a half bottle of wine, but make it a bottle for serious wine drinkers who will be with you for most of the day. Of course, encourage guests to drink in moderation because nothing good happens when a drunk guest starts an impeachment discussion around the table.

Here are 10 wines that will impress your guests:

 Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2017 ($44). This great Sonoma property has been owned by Washington-based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates since 2016, but the focus on quality, single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir remains strong. Dutton Ranch fruit is reliable and always top-notch. This version is complex with generous aromas of spice, pears and cloves. The smooth texture and flavors add tangerine and caramel.

 Ramey Wine Cellars Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($65). No one does chardonnay better than winemaker Dave Ramey. He is a firm believer of letting each of his single-vineyard chardonnays evolve with little of his intervention. Natural yeasts, sur lies aging, malolactic fermentation combine to create a luxurious, fruit-driven chardonnay with enormous depth and character.

 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay 2017 ($32). The buttery richness of this chardonnay would do well with turkey, gravy and potatoes. Tropical fruit, citrus and spice highlight its profile.

 J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay 2018 ($14). This producer uses nine different clones from the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey to produce a flashy, buttery chardonnay with stone fruit flavors and a hint of citrus and vanilla.

 Harken Chardonnay 2018 ($15). Reasonably priced, this chardonnay is simple yet rich in an oaky, creamy style with tropical fruit and pear notes.

 Maggy Hawk Jolie Pinot Noir 2017 ($65). Tony Rynders has a series of expressive pinot noirs from Anderson Valley that we recently discovered. This one is elegant, much like a burgundy, but expressive with black cherry fruit flavors.

 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2017 ($48). Floral aromas and rich cherry and plum flavors with a hint of cedar. Full bodied.

 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blanc 2014 ($55). We first had this sparkling wine at the property several years ago and immediately fell in love with it. The wine rests on its lees for three years and was disgorged earlier this year. The complexity and attention to detail that goes into it accounts for the price, but it’s well worth it as an all-American wine to serve on a special, all-American holiday. Your guests will be impressed.

 Chateau de Berne Inspiration Rosé 2018 ($22). Provence is the epi-center for rosé and this one in a beautiful bottle would grace any Thanksgiving table. A classic blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah, it shows off bright acidity to match an eclectic choice of food and provides fresh strawberry favors.

 Raeburn Russian River Vallley Rosé 2018 ($20). This unique rosé is a blend of zinfandel, pinot noir and grenache. Generous raspberry and citrus notes.

Wine picks

 Storypoint Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($20). This is a good value in the California cabernet sauvignon market.  Blended with some petit sirah, cabernet franc and other red varietals, it has layered fruit with a bit of residual sugar to give it roundness.  Dark fruit character with a dash of mint. 

 B.R. Cohn Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($15). This steady sauvignon blanc from Sonoma County is a very good value. Citrus, melon and tropical fruit notes abound in a beautiful package. 

 J. L. Chave Mon Coueur Cotes-du-Rhone 2016 ($28). Chave is known as one of the best producers of Northern Rhone Valley wines, so it comes as no surprise that he puts as much effort into his simple Cotes-du-Rhone. This is an outstanding wine worthy of the price. Loaded with ripe plum and blackberry fruit with hints of olives.  It is a great wine that would do well with grilled meat – even a steak.


Generic photos are selected by ThePhillyFiles and don’t indicate any preference.

Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.

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