Sonoma County Wine
Where there’s smoke
More times than not it’s the toast on the barrel and, occasionally, the varietal of the grape that produces a smokey quality. In 2008 Northern California as well as Central & Southern California experienced numerous fires and depending on where the vineyard was located, there may or may not have been smoke damage. Grape growers, vineyard managers and winemakers jointly worked to identify the vineyards that were smoke damaged, however, the proof is in the wine – ie, after fermentation, some winemakers found smoke damage to be too pervasive for bottling and decided to bulk-sell the wine (ie their grapes will be blended with other wines and sometime other varietals to create an inexpensive every day wine). In some cases, smoke actually enhanced the flavor of the wine depending on how neutral the barrels used were and how the grapegrower, vineyard manager and winemaker worked with the vineyard to produce the final wine. Let’s revisit this subject next year, however, I have found 2008 to be actually quite elegant, oftentimes the smoke has been beneficial, creating another layer and element to the wine that I find to be quite enjoyable. Let your palate be the judge.
Riesling and pinot noir are two varietals that are really complimentary to a Thanksgiving Dinner. Riesling, with a light demi-sec or slight residual sugar provides a subtle sweetness that pairs well with squash or carrot soup and even dessert, such as pumpkin pie. Pinot Noir, being so versatile, carefully selected, will work with everything from turkey to goose and lamb. This year’s Riesling release from Ventana (the 2008), retailing at $12, has much less mineral finish than the previous vintage and is a great complement to turkey.
A great value Pinot Noir is the River Road Reserve 2008 (retailing at $18) – with sharp red fruit, and generous spice on the palate, this is a great complement, once again, to a Thanksgiving Dinner – turkey, goose, and possibly ham, however I wouldn’t pair this up with lamb. Another Russian River Pinot Noir that is perfect for Thanksgiving is the Davenport 2005. 100% Dijon 115 clone. Retailing at $35, this pinot noir will work across palates from turkey to lamb – the perfect pairing, though this is a small production and not much around.
With the cooler weather, rosés have suddenly fallen out of favor, however Rosé D’Anjou (France) is a lovely sipping rosé of pinot noir and works very well with Thanksgiving Dinner, retailing at only $10 it’s a great value. For the chardonnay lover, - Balletto’s Teresa’s 2008 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is 100% stainless steel and 100% inoculated which provides that “buttery quality” that some people like and a nice racy acidity that will complement most rich turkey dinners (retailing $15).
For those who like to celebrate the holidays with Champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Premier now retails under $50 and has nice cracked wheat, easy flavors, baked apple - an elegant edition to any dinner, birthday, and upcoming holidays.
Carol Shelton’s 2008 “Sweet Caroline” made from the organic Fanucchi vineyard on Wood Road in the Russian River Valley is a late harvest trousseau gris and a terrific pairing for desserts such as apple tatin, apple pie, and, my favorite, aged goats milk cheese. It will also work very well with a starting course of butternut squash soup. The wine has a slight effervescence (infused by the winemaker). There are delicious stone fruit flavors of nectarine and white peach, also a demi-sec (retail $15, 375ml).
Those of us who are looking towards having gamey or red meats and would like to look at great value red wines – here are just a few, exceptionally good in their price point – PKNT Carmenere, Chile, dry and spicy ($7), Tierra Brisa Malbec 2008, Argentina ($7), will work really well with red meats or gamey cuisine. Puerto Viejo Malbec 2008, Argentina: dark, rich and uncharacteristic of a 100% malbec. Although big on the palate, very smooth; an exceptionally good sipping wine and outstanding with roast vegetables, roast turkey, roast meats - at $9 one of the best value malbecs I’ve tasted in a decade.
Wishing you all a Happy and safe Thanksgiving!
John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays. www.sophiescellars.com