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Talking Turkey, Wine with the Cork Dork

The holiday season is stressful enough as it is. Here's a handy guide to make your Thanksgiving dinner a little less stressful.

Enjoying fine wine can inspire memories. In some cases, drinkers imbibe to forget, but that’s a story for another day (if I forget, please remind me). With the holidays upon us it’s time to create holiday memories with friends and family, beginning with Thanksgiving dinner.

The flavors and textures of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner vary in every direction, making it a challenge but a joy in pairing wines. The Thanksgiving feast presents salty, spicy, rich, fruity and sweet flavors.

Oi! Where to begin!

First of all, ideally, you will be surrounded with many friends and family during Thanksgiving dinner. Plan for a bottle a person. This will allow you to pair each course with a different wine, if necessary.

If Thanksgiving dinner is with a smaller group, open a red wine, say Syrah, and a white wine, Riesling for its versatility. Alternatively, if you choose to serve just one wine, the versatility and universal appeal of sparkling wine is unmatched (yet matches with food). Whatever you do, drink responsibly.

Here are some wine recommendations, including value options, to consider as you prepare your Thanksgiving feast or are shopping to bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party.

2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley

is the largest Riesling producer in the world. The Chateau produces up to seven different Rieslings each vintage; the workhorse Columbia Valley Riesling; the single vineyard Cold Creek; a dry Riesling; the collaboration with German winemaker Ernst Loosen called Eroica; the limited release Waussie Riesling; the dessert wine Harvest Select Riesling; and during special vintages, the Single Berry Select Riesling ice wine. For the purposes of a big group dinner the value-driven and large production Columbia Valley version will do the trick. Stone fruit flavors of juicy white peach, pears, apricots and honey dominate the nose and palate. Pleasant minerality and an off-dry finish make this a versatile food wine, pairing with every dish in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Snap a corner of the salty and crispy turkey skin and savor it with this Riesling. The wine is available at most grocery stores for around $10.

2010 Matthews Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley

Winemaker Aryn Morell models this wine after the white wines of the Loire Valley in France, more specifically Sancerre, where Sauvignon Blanc thrives. The 2010 vintage was cooler than most years across the state, lending brighter acidity to this Sauvignon Blanc. Morell strikes the balance between fruit and acidity. Terroir-driven stony minerality completes this wine. The bouquet of honeydew melons, green apples and lime are the foreplay to the juicy mid-palate of Meyer lemons, pink grapefruit, lime zest and herbs. Lip-smacking citrus echoes on the lengthy finish. The citrus cuts through the gravy and buttery turkey. The mineral and herb notes in the wine dovetail with the similar flavors in an herb-driven stuffing. The wine is available for $18 at or online.

2009 Lachini Pinot Noir S, Chehalem Mountains

The traditional fall-like qualities of fresh tilled earth and mushrooms in Pinot Noir make it an ideal pairing for the fall Thanksgiving celebration. Those qualities marry seamlessly with turkey, both dark and white meat, and herb stuffing. It is the fruitiness of Oregon Pinot Noir and its inherent acidity that differentiates it from its counterpart in Burgundy or even California. The Lachini Pinot Noir S is a pure expression of ripe Oregon Pinot Noir. The seductive nose of spice, smoke, black cherries, blackberries, rose petals and mushrooms are merely the initial layers to this complex wine. A palate of black cherries and more blackberries and relatively dense texture for Pinot Noir define this wine. Velvety tannins and lithe acidity are the exclamation marks on this classic Oregon Pinot Noir from the challenging 2009 vintage. The 2009 Lachini Pinot Noir S is available at the Lachini tasting room in Woodinville

2009 Amavi Syrah, Walla Walla Valley

The Amavi Syrah is 100 percent Syrah from three outstanding Syrah vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills. Swiss-born, French-trained winemaker Jean Francois Pellet crafts an elegant and balanced Syrah, eschewing the overripe qualities in Syrah that have maligned many Washington producers. French oak barrels (only 16 percent new) lend some of the elegance as well as spice to this lovely wine. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and violets dance in synchronicity against supple and elegant tannins. Baking spices, white pepper and orange zest are the seasoning to the berry cornucopia. This Syrah brings out the flavors in turkey, dark meat in particular. The berry qualities also make it a nice pairing for traditional Thanksgiving cranberry dishes. The 2009 vintage is available at the Pepper Bridge/Amavi tasting room or online. A limited stock of the 2008 vintage is also available. An extra year of aging marries the fruit and spice qualities of this wine.

2010 Efeste Babbitt Rosé, Yakima Valley

Efeste winemaker Brennon Leighton came on the Washington wine scene as the white winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle. It was under his guidance that Ste. Michelle grew to become the largest Riesling producer in the world. Since becoming the winemaker at Efeste, Leighton has also been recognized for his red wines. Can we agree to diplomatically meet in the middle and give props to Leighton for this Rosé? It’s a blend of 90 percent Syrah and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose of ripe strawberries sends me to summer strawberry season. The strawberry fruitiness translates to the palate before the clean crisp finish redeems it. That finish makes this the ideal wine for every course in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The wine is available at the in Woodinville or online.

Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut

If all other pairings fail, go with the versatile and utilitarian sparkling wine. It’s especially utilitarian considering it’s about $12 and available at most grocery stores. The nose of green apples, lemons and pink grapefruit are inviting. More citrus and a touch of toast on the palate elicit a gentle sigh. This sparkling wine is a lovely pairing with salty briny turkey or a rich and creamy pumpkin soup. 

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