While my personal preference is for Beaujolais on Thanksgiving, there is something about Pinot Noir that just seems seasonally appropriate. Perhaps it's the hint of mushrooms and cranberries, the herbal flavors that can sneak in, perhaps it's just tradition. I grew up in Oregon and so my parents' Thanksgiving table (and, to be honest, any-time-of-year-table) often included a local Pinot. But whatever the reason, you're likely looking for a few good bottles this time of year.
The key is to find wines that don't feel overshadowed by sweet oak or hot alcohol, wines that can complement your food without stealing center stage. Here are a few bottles I've been loving lately, all from Oregon and California.
Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010 ($32) This bright ruby wine is definitely a leaner style of pinot noir, not for those who are looking for heavy blueberry fruit. Instead it's bright and lively, with a little black pepper and little sarsaparilla spice, and a scent full of leaves and loamy forest floor. It's full of bright sour cherries and a little dry cocoa dust. Fresh wine, able to keep a meal from feeling leaden.
Lioco 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($33) This pinot is earthy and mushroomy but not at all heavy; it has a vein of minerals and a pomegranate tang that calls out for food. Be sure to decant (decanters look festive anyway!) because it really benefits from a bit of air, and feels constricted and taut right out of the bottle. There's some mulling spice and orange zest flavor in this wine, which is just the right accent for the crispy skin of your Thanksgiving bird (and the crisp edges of your stuffing.) The juice (from mostly older vines) was fermented with wild yeast (with 30% of the clusters left whole.)
Montinore Estate 2010 Estate Reserve ($28) This wine has an inviting scent that evokes blackberry preserves, and the wine is silky, with cherry-like fruit and a sour-cranberry acidity that lingers in the finish, making your mouth water. This wine is more peppery and graphite-y than fruity, and it calls out for food. It really shines with a plate of turkey and stuffing. This biodynamic estate's 2009 Parsons' Ridge Pinot Noir is a delicious upgrade for 12 dollars more. Though it's from a warmer vintage, this wine's still lithe and bright with acid. It's a bit denser than the Reserve, with a hint of earth along with tart raspberry fruit and cinnamon. It's nice with mashed potatoes and awesome with turkey. But do you need to spend the extra dough if you're serving it with the Thanksgiving meal? Not really.
J.K. Carriere 2010 Vespidae Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($42) The grapes for this bottling come from four different vineyards, with vines ranging from 8 to 31 years of age. The wine's wild-yeast fermented in stainless and aged for 18th months in barrel. It's a smooth, silky wine, full of deep purple fruit and earth, with a hint of star anise and cocoa that complements the herbs and earthy flavors of a Thanksgiving meal.
Raptor Ridge 2010 Olenik Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir ($35) This earthy scented wine offers a bright flavor spiced with pine needles and cinnamon red-hots. It's fresh and lean but has a nice layer of earthiness that will latch right into the mushrooms in your gravy or stuffing.
Chehalem 2010 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) This wine from the Dundee Hills of Oregon has a deep earthy aroma, but each sip is bright and fresh. The mushroom flavors are all there, and the tart top note means this wine could stand in for cranberry sauce at your table. There's a slight juniper/herbal character here, plus a hint of violets.
Belle Pente 2009 Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir ($35) While a lot of the 2009s we tasted were meaty, trending toward sun-dried tomato-y, this one, while a bit fleshier than the 2010s, retains a lovely floral side, like lavender, licorice, chamomile, and white pepper, laced around the fruit.
I know, I know, pinot is super pricey. It's really hard to find a good budget bottling if you're married to the idea of pouring this grape (We've tried.) But you can add Heron California Pinot to your decent-under-$15 list. It's nowhere near as lovely as the bottles above, but fruity and juicy and certainly fine for a less-discerning crowd. If you're doing Thanksgiving wine on a budget, we recommend that you get a little more creative so you can get more bang for your buck.
Are you a lover of Pinot Noir? Which bottles will you be pouring this Thanksgiving?
All wines except the Heron provided as samples for review consideration.