Thanksgiving Wine Pairings From Wine Country’s Top Chefs and Sommeliers


As you make final plans for your great Thanksgiving Day feast and ponder which wines to serve, get some inspiration from a few of wine country’s best chefs, sommeliers and winemakers for these classic, and sometimes surprising, food and wine pairings.

Sumptious Starters

On a cold Fall day, Dry Creek Kitchen Executive Chef Dustin Valette says you’ll find him cozying up at home “sipping on a glass of Sonoma County zinfandel I made from my uncle’s vineyard, stirring risotto and listening to the sound of rain hitting the roof.”

Photo: Charlie Palmer Group

On Thanksgiving Day, Chef Valette shares this welcoming dish with guests, elevated for the holiday with sweet Maine Lobster and bits of ‘burnt’ orange, tarragon puree and black pepper crème fraiche. Sommelier Drew Munro likes to pair this dish with the long-aged Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee 2000 sparkling because its creamy texture and flavors complement the risotto while the crisp acidity cuts through the richness.

Warming fall soups are favorite Thanksgiving starters and at Solbar in Calistoga, where Executive Chef Brandon Sharp creates two memorable dishes starting with Chestnut Bisque topped with Fuji Apple Matignon and Armagnac-flavored sweet whipped cream. Sommelier and Beverage Manager Scott Turnbull pairs this velvety bisque with the Failla Edna Valley Viognier 2010 because the earthy richness of the chestnuts is balanced by the almost waxy stone fruit and floral tones first encountered in the nose, while the wine’s hints of quince and apricot fit nicely with the apple matignon.

Photo: Solage Calistoga

Chef Brandon also tempts guests with an anise-scented veloute of oyster stew “a la Louisiane”. Turnbull pairs this with the Chardonnay-focused sparkling wine J. Schram 2005, its elegant mousse, bright acidity and complexity making it “a perfect foil for the luxurious richness of the dish.”

A medley of mains

Turkey is the pièce de résistance for Thanksgiving and at Dry Creek Kitchen, Chef Valette serves up a thyme-studded roast Willie Bird turkey breast, with the succulent legs and thighs luxuriously confit in luscious duck fat for three hours. Munro pairs this dish with an aromatic white, the Balletto Russian River Valley Estate Gewurztraminer 2009, because in his opinion, most reds are too aggressive for turkey. Munro likes the delicacy of Balletto’s un-oaked white, which has a touch of sweetness balanced with juicy acidity, saying it’s perfect for turkey’s lean meat.

With Chef Brandon Sharp’s Southern background, Thanksgiving at Solbar wouldn’t be complete without Roasted Diestel Farms Turkey Breast with red wine sage turkey sausage and all the fixins. For this, Turnbull prefers the August Briggs Old Vines Napa Valley Zinfandel 2010, which he says is “perfect for the big flavors of the centerpiece of the meal with bright bramble berry fruit, subtle spiciness redolent of black pepper and star anise and a touch of tamarind.” The Zinfandel is not too big and aggressive so as to play nicely with the richness of the dark meat while respecting the white, not to mention being spot on with the stuffing and cranberry sauce.

If you’re looking for a change of pace, lamb makes a festive statement, especially with the bold flavors in this savory Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks from Executive Chef Brad Farmerie of The Thomas Restaurant in Napa. Chef Farmerie loves to make this at home for parties because it’s so easy to make and filled with warm holiday spices like cinnamon and cardamom. The savory dish is long stewed with whole olives, dried apricots and preserved lemons, and topped with a fresh mint gremolata. Sommelier Phil Abram pairs this dish with School House Mescolanza Syrah Blend, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley 2009 because its classic Syrah notes of olive, herb and black pepper complement the flavors in the dish. “It’s nice, lush, easy to drink but still structured with balanced acid and tannins due to mountain fruit,” he says.

Photo: Erin Gleeson

Lamb goes beautifully with fruit, but if you like the clean flavors of a simple pan-seared lamb with mint pesto like vintner Jeff Smith of Hourglass Wines, then pair the dish with an extra fruity wine. Jeff’s Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Merlot, Napa Valley, 2010 has intense flavors of dried cranberry and cherry borne in the rocky soils of the eastern watersheds of Dutch Henry Canyon in Calistoga. A great home cook, Jeff adds richness to the plate with a sage-scented risotto made with veal and beer stock, kicked-up a few notches with prosciutto and creamy California Teleme cheese.

Sweet finish

Dry Creek Kitchen’s Warm Spice Cake served with poached pears, candied pecans, caramel sauce and rum and golden raising ice cream is a holiday in your mouth with the moist, golden cake flavored with ground almonds and a cornucopia of warm spices. Munro pairs this with a Novy Russian River Valley Late Harvest Viognier 2011 because “its richness, boldness stands up to warm and exotic spice flavors such as clove, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper, subsequently coating your mouth with a honey-like flavor.”

Check out the websites for the full Thanksgiving menus at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and Solbar in Calistoga. 

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