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Pour decisions

Wines to drink this Thanksgiving

Matthiasson vineyard in Napa, CA

There’s a new kind of winemaker in California. Instead of the big, heavy, jammy reds and buttery Chardonnays the state is known for, they’re making food-friendly wines so light they almost disobey the laws of gravity. They’re bright, fresh, lively, and made from grapes not sprayed with toxic chemicals.

A few things are going on here. First and most exciting: A strong wave of winemakers and grape-growers are farming with fewer or no toxic chemicals. In the winemaking process, grapes aren’t washed before the juice is pressed out, so any toxic pesticides (like Roundup) from the vineyard can make it into the wine. Yikes! Second: American winemakers are increasingly making wine with acidity in mind—this is a good thing.

When I say “acidity” I don’t mean mouth-puckering sourness; I mean sunshine in a bottle. I’m talking about how when you drink a wine with good acidity it makes your mouth water and you want another sip. Wines higher in acidity pair well with fatty foods, cutting through the richness
and refreshing your palate for another bite.

In other words, they’re perfect for Thanksgiving.

Winemakers are also working with more unusual grapes (beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir). This is exciting because, generally speaking, an average bottle of wine made from an obscure grape will be cheaper than a bottle of Cali Cabernet of the same quality, simply because a grape like Sangiovese doesn’t have name recognition. By using less-known grapes, winemakers are preserving history and adding complexity to the world of booze—providing us with variety and a chance to learn and taste something new.

Find a wine shop you trust and try wines made from grapes you’ve never heard of; usually the results are good. Below I’ve compiled a list of wines I love that are perfect for Thanksgiving, but keep an eye out for other wines from these producers, too.


Michael Cruse makes wines from a grape called Valdiguié (val-d-gay)—and his Nouveau is perfect for Thanksgiving. The name is a riff on Beaujolais Nouveau, but Cruse’s is a little more serious than its French namesake. Valdiguié isn’t a household name in the grape world, but it’s got history in California, where it used to be known as Napa Gamay. The grape originated in Southern France but came to California around the time of Prohibition. It is grown in high quantity, of good quality, and unusually resistant to a destructive vineyard mildew. Cruse’s Valdiguié Nouveau is a food-pairing dream: watermelon candy meets flower field. Drink it with turkey or on its own; it’ll be delicious either way. $24


Steve and Jill Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines of Napa aren’t making what most people think of as Napa wine. Their Cabernet is more herby than fruity and doesn’t tip into the burly, boozy style for which Napa is known. Matthiasson has a whole lineup of stellar wines, but the ones I’ll have on Thanksgiving are from their second line, Tendu. They make a red blend and a white blend sold in clear liter bottles with crown caps. For the white, the Matthiassons take unusual grapes (Vermentino! Colombard!) and blend them to make high-quality fresh-n-floral wine with a price in the low-to-mid 20s. The red is juicy and delicious and tastes great at room temperature or with a little time in the fridge. $25


Hobo Wine Company, Banyan Wines, Folk Machine, and Camp Wines are owned by Kenny Likitprakong. All are well-made (and everything sells for under $30), but one of my favorites is Camp. Kenny makes Camp wine with usual suspects like Cab and Chardonnay, but he also makes a Cabernet Franc, which is one of my favorite grapes for Thanksgiving. The Cabernet Franc grape is also from France and is known for its distinctive green bell pepper twang, which pairs well with the other herby or spiced flavors in dishes like stuffing and sweet potatoes. $18


Arnot Roberts’ Trousseau (troo-sew) is one of my all-time favorite wines and is new to Oklahoma. It’s pricy, but if you want to taste something unusual, beautiful, and strange, this is your wine. It’s a red, but it’s light and fresh, and it tastes like cranberries and leather and has a slight smell of a just-lit match. This is the wine I’ll pair with my turkey this year. Who needs cranberry sauce when you’ve got Trousseau? (No offense, Granny.) This wine smells and tastes like fall—but not the pumpkin-spice kind. Snag a bottle if you can find it. $34


I love Bonny Doon for a few reasons. The winemaker, Randall Graham, has been making good wine at an accessible price for a decade, but his was also one of the first wineries to convert to biodynamic agriculture (kind of like organics on steroids) in California. My bonus wine isn’t a wine at all, actually. It’s their apple-pear-quince cider. Crisp, dry, savory, and delicious, it pairs with everything, including dessert. $16

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