News & Press Releases > Pinot and Rhone-style whites for Thanksgiving dinner
DATE: 11/20/2011

Pinot and Rhone-style whites for Thanksgiving dinner

From San Francisco Chronicle

There's nothing wrong with drinking the new and exotic for Thanksgiving - why, of course you can uncork Trousseau from the Jura - but there's nothing wrong with the familiar, either.

As we looked to homegrown options for the holiday table, I thought we might enjoy a dose of both. And so: a dual set of Chronicle Recommends selections this week - one more traditional, one more new and shiny.

On the familiar (and red) side, we turned to Santa Barbara and its bounty of Pinot Noir. With perfect Pinot provenance afoot and a splendid 2009 vintage to consider, the odds were in our favor. And we did indeed find a healthy crop of standouts, just right to serve with your Thanksgiving feast.

But there was less enthusiasm than I expected for our lineup of some 35 wines. Too many were a bit leaden, despite the many exhortations I heard this year on the Central Coast that vintners were deliberately picking earlier and pursuing more subtlety.

Some are, for sure, and at the top end, the wines from Santa Barbara are better than ever - including several from alumni of the dual academy of Qupé and Au Bon Climat, situated as it is in the heart of Bien Nacido vineyard.

The Sta. Rita Hills in particular is witness to this split in philosophy. There's undoubtedly great excitement coming out of the Lompoc wine ghetto, along with wines that are gaining a lighter step and more nuance. (Not just Lompoc; witness Adam Tolmach's subtle style revisions at the Ojai Vineyard.) Yet there still is a proliferation of the big, ripe wines that were the core of Sta. Rita's popularity several years ago.

Look at the trajectory of winemaking on the far Sonoma Coast toward lower alcohol levels and ever more marginality. I see hints that Sta. Rita is on a similar path, but perhaps it's slightly earlier on the curve.

Now to the newer side, and our tasting of American Rhone-style whites. Not all these efforts are new, but the American push beyond Viognier to the full spectrum of native Rhone grapes is flourishing like never before.

This has been the year of Grenache Blanc, a perfect choice for California's warmer spots and a grape that offers all the plushness to appeal to Chardonnay fans and all the lively herbal notes to win over the Sauvignon Blanc crowd. It appears both solo and in blends, and its blip of popularity is a welcome sign.

There is good reason for excitement about these wines. Whether on the Central Coast or the Sierra foothills, or even southern Oregon's remote Applegate Valley, vintners are uncovering spots perfectly tailored to varieties like Marsanne and Roussanne.

Perhaps taking a cue from the shortfalls of Viognier, which fell prey to being overfarmed, overripe and overoaked as winemakers molded it in Chardonnay's image, these are wines full of both energy and fruit-driven nuance.

That might be why they speak perfectly to the flavors of fall. With their ripe texture, and tree-fruit and nut-oil flavors, they have a fullness that matches the softer, richer flavors of autumn.

With Thanksgiving coming up, there couldn't be a better time to enjoy them.