Thanksgiving in California Wine Country

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Wine is a big deal at our family’s Thanksgivings.

We spend Thanksgivings with Greg’s family (my fam gets X-mas) and every other year we head out to Santa Rosa for Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law's house. This is always a big, festive event, which in my mind is set apart from other Thanksgiving celebrations by two factors in particular: pie and wine.

Don’t get me wrong, like with most Turkey Day parties, the food is a big deal. All the more in this case because my brother-in-law has a large garden in the backyard and the bounty makes its way to the table – of particularly delicious note this year was a homemade jalapeño relish.  There were also not one, but two turkeys – one prepared in a traditional manner and one that was smoked in the backyard.

The Spread
A big feast . . .

Not exactly a small clan
 . . . for a big family.

Let’s be honest though, many people can lay claim to large family feasts. Not everyone, however, gets to eat Hilary’s pies. Every year, my sister-in-law bakes up a smorgasbord of pies. It’s very important to save enough room for dessert despite all the savory temptations because it’s impossible to choose just one pie.  I hope someday we’ll arrive in Santa Rosa early enough for me to get some pie baking lessons and gather up some tips to share with you here, but for now I’ll just brag about all the tasty pie I got to eat.

The Sweet Finale

My favorite part
Why choose just one?

The other defining characteristic of one of these Thanksgivings is the wine showcase. Since Hilary and her husband, Rich, live in the middle of wine country, they’ve gotten to know the wineries in the area quite well.  Every year, Rich sets up a bar with an impressive selection of California wines in the entryway to greet you as you walk in the door. My brother-in-law, Dave, is also an oenophile, but his tastes tend toward the European varieties – he loves his Burgundies. He always contributes a few more bottles, usually from a price bracket Greg and I don’t normally get to purchase. My father-in-law typically throws in a few more bottles. It’s a wine tasting playground with a lot of show and tell. Usually Greg and I fly in from wherever we're living, which gives us the excuse of not being able to travel with the wine. This means we have gotten to reap the benefits without having to compete in the showdown, and I always feel a little guilty. I think the time may be coming where we'll have to throw of hat in the ring, but I have to admit I find the idea a little intimidating.

Two of the many wines sampled
Two of Dave's picks.

This year we added a new component to the weekend’s festivities. While others hit the stores, we spent our Black Friday winery hopping.  Once we all woke up from our tryptophan induced food comas, those of us who are of age  headed out to Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma.  The Dry Creek area is known for its Zinfandels, so it’s a good bet it if you enjoy these big California reds.

Family Wine Tasting

Here’s where we went:

Amista Vineyards

Our first stop of the day was Amista Vineyards. From the slate provided I most enjoyed the 2008 Amista Saini Farms Gene’s Block Zinfandel (2008 isn’t yet available on the site, just the 2007.)  This Zin had nice spice flavors, and while it begins jammy and fruit forward, it is balanced out by some acidity which I think is likely to make it more food friendly than a lot of Zins.  I also enjoyed their Illusión, a port style wine that made me think of a juicy black forest cake.  Interestingly, while I didn’t really care for the 2010 Morningsong Vineyards Rosé of Syrah, Rich served the sparkling version of this wine as an opener for the Thanksgiving festivities, which I really enjoyed. It’s too bad that one seems to have been a limited release and is not available on their site.

This was cool a stop.  Bella has beautiful wine caves that are open for touring and a nice picnic area where you can stop and snack between tastings. On this particular day both features were being made full use of for a special Thanksgiving Celebration with a special tasting complete with food pairings for $15.  In addition, music acts were set up for entertainment along the tasting route.  Very Festive.

Bella Vineyards -the Caves

I enjoyed quite a few of the wines sampled. The 2008 Ten Acre DuNah Vineyard Pinot Noir had nice earthy notes along with cherry, spice, and a tiny bit of chocolate.  I really liked the 2009 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel. This was definitely a big red, but had a good amount of acid to balance things out.  This wine also has a little bit of Syrah in the blend, which gave it a peppery note. For a sweet treat, the 2010 Late Harvest Zinfandel was really delicious.  There were raisins and cranberries on the nose, which continued on the palate along with chocolate and a nice brightness to lift all the flavors. This wine was paired with a salted chocolate and that was a very happy match.  It seemed perfect for the holidays, so we got ourselves a bottle.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery

Our final stop was my favorite of the day.  It’s a very pretty spot with lovely gardens and biodynamic vineyards. According to my sister-in-law, they’ve improved considerably over the last few years and our whole crew was raving when we left.

I enjoyed pretty much the entire slate, but two favorites were Flight and Elusive.  The 2009 Flight is an interesting blend of Zinfandel and Viognier.  The Viogner lends aromatic floral notes to the berry and vanilla notes of the Zinfandel.  The 2008 Elusive is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with flavors of baking spices and a little strawberry jam up front, but it is all balanced by hints of earthy flavors and bright acidity.  They also had some nice things in the world of whites and we particularly enjoyed the 2010 Viognier - Sauvignon Blanc, which had all the beautiful aromas of the Viognier, combined with the zesty citrus flavors of the Sauv Blanc.

Sadly, three wineries was all we had time for, but wine tasting was much more fun than waiting in checkout lines in packed stores. I'm hoping this becomes a regular part of our Thanksgiving celebration.

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If you enjoyed this post , you might also like:
The Bay Area - Friends, Food, and Wine  (Includes a previous trip to Dry Creek)

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