With all the effort that goes into planning and preparing a Thanksgiving feast — turkey, stuffing and traditional fixings — wine selection easily can become an afterthought, left to the mercy of supermarket specials or re-gifting from last year's unopened assortment.
Old wine-pairing rules called for serving red wine with red meat and white wine with poultry and fish, but area wine gurus say today's varied cuisine and highly textured or spiced foods, along with an array of local labels, call for more careful consideration of what to present with perhaps the most thought-about dinner of the year.
Pacific Wine Club's Victoria Guantonio suggests an assortment of wines, allowing guests to choose which they prefer. To that end, she and Ashland Food Co-op wine buyer Lucy Sardina, both of whom spend their days assisting customers, have some suggestions for holiday tables with all manner of fare from meats to sweets.
Appetizers or stand-alone
For a nice "opening act" or general crowd pleaser with appetizers or light fare, Guantonio suggests LongSword Vineyard's "Accolade" semisparkling chardonnay. This tasting-room favorite designed for the wedding of the vineyard owner's son has "refreshing acidity" balanced with slightly sweet pineapple and nutty flavors. "Accolade," selling for $19.99, is a "lightly effervescent, fun wine perfect for brunch and festive occasions," says Guantonio.
For a stand-alone wine that's also an easy match with most seasonal fare, Sardina suggests a Willamette Valley wine, Bergstrom 2009 Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir.
"Boasting dark, black-cherry flavors followed by touches of earth and baking spices, smooth and full-bodied," the wine is a virtual "rock star," says Sardina, paired with food or even on its own merit.
For pairing with ham or dishes with woody herbs, such as rosemary and sage, Sardina likes Cowhorn 2008 Syrah 74. Biodynamically farmed in the Applegate Valley, Cowhorn's varietal is rustic, unfiltered and full-bodied with flavors of raspberry and plum accented by notes of tobacco, leather and spicy oak.
Poultry and traditional holiday fare
With duck, turkey and roasted root vegetables, try Troon 2010 Dry Riesling ($15.69 at Ashland Food Co-op). Boasting aromas of tropical fruit, says Sardina, the wine is fresh and crisp with a clean minerality and dry finish.
When it comes to providing white wines for your guests, Guantonio generally suggests opting for refreshing, tangy, medium-weight varietals such as viognier, pinot gris or sauvignon blanc. If you choose chardonnay, avoid those that are heavily oaked.
One of her favorites is Schultz Wines "Homeward" 2010 Chardonnay, a gold-medal winner at this year's Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival ($19.99 at Pacific Wine Club). She describes it as a crisp offering with ripe pear and grapefruit on the nose and an elegant finish.
For fans of red wine, Guantonio suggests medium-bodied reds such as Beaujolais (tangy, ripe, bright), pinot noir (cherry, bright, earthy), syrah (spicy, supple, plum) and zinfandel (jammy, rich, raspberry) for pairing with traditional turkey dinners.
Folin Cellars 2009 Passive Aggressive ($14.99 at Pacific Wine Club) is a blend of petite sirah (27 percent), syrah (34 percent), tempranillo (24 percent) and grenache (15 percent).
For desserts, both women cite a handful of favorites to complement pumpkins, apples, nuts and all the sweets populating the pantry this time of year.
With sweets focused around pumpkin, cranberry or apple, Sardina suggests a spicy fruit blend like Cuckoo's Nest Cellars 2009 Aromatique ($13.99 at Ashland Food Co-op). Guantonio suggests Port or Madeira selections for nutty or chocolate desserts.
With both holiday cuisine and wine offerings far removed from those common a generation or two ago, the first rule of thumb, says Guantonio, is that there are no rules.
"The one 'perfect' food-and-wine pairing does not exist, especially for holiday gatherings, which feature a myriad of foods," she says.
"There are many good choices — few wrong turns — so relax, experiment and be open."