Sarah Wuethrich has to step outside the box on Thanksgiving.
While turkey is the traditional centerpiece of the holiday, the Maggy Hawk winemaker has yet to set a main course.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Wuethrich, when asked what would be on her table. “But my husband has a strong dislike for turkey, so I know we won’t be having that. I was thinking of making empanadas or tamales. Honestly for me, Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes and dessert anyway.”
Whether it’s turkey or something else, let pinot noir play a central role in the meal. It’s a versatile wine with a multitude of approachable flavors and styles. Pinot appeals to a wide audience. It’s an easy wine to pair with food because even at its boldest style, it won’t overpower any food or palate. There’s something for everyone this week with a wide assortment of pinot, and thoughts from their winemakers.
Maggy Hawk Unforgettable Pinot Noir 2018 ($65) was exactly the color pinot should be in the glass, a little ruby on the edge and a darker purple in the bottom of the glass. Cherry cola, eucalyptus and an iron-based minerality unraveled at the finish.
It’s a prime example of wines from Anderson Valley’s Deep End, an area that captures the many mysteries of pinot noir so well.
“The Deep End is no doubt a special place for growing pinot noir, with its close proximity to the Mendocino Coast, which provides the cool climate and diurnal shift essential to slower berry development and preservation of acidity,” Wuethrich said. “Maggy Hawk is a special site within the Deep End. Because of the incredible diversity between the different pinot noir clones – as well as the variation in slope, aspect, elevation and soil type of each block – there’s a lot to work with. Not to mention, these vines are over 20 years old, and I believe they’re just getting started.”
Another gem from Anderson Valley is FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 ($70). Wild fennel and sage aromas really enhanced the cranberry, pomegranate, cherry and tobacco pipe notes that emerged.
When Head High winemaker Britt Richards sets the table next week, there will be an assortment of sparkling wines, Champagne, chardonnay, pinot noir and the chance to “dabble in some cabernet sauvignon.”
But, she was specific about one thing: the Head High Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2019 ($24.99), with its red fruit flavors that were buoyed by the excellent earth, gunmetal, potpourri and iron shaving collection of secondary notes, should be in heavy rotation this holiday season.
A great value that over-delivers for the price, Head High is under the umbrella of Bill Price III. Its Three Sticks label has produced some of the best pinot in Sonoma, and Head High used some of the same vineyards.
“I want everyone across America to put this on their Thanksgiving table,” Richards said.
It only seems like Matt Dees has his hand in every wine coming out of Santa Barbara these days. Which, if that were actually the case, would be quite a treat.
The affable winemaker has another hit with the Hilt Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2019 ($50), a blend of the windswept and, when I passed through on a rainy, cold spring day, forlorn-looking Radian and Bentrock vineyards, which showed how far the edge can be pushed when it comes to cool-climate pinot noir winemaking.
Because Dees captured the acidity so well, there’s a joyous lift with the tart raspberry, cherry and currant flavors. The Sta. Rita Hills familiar spice profile rides in the backseat on this wine, which is fine; it’ll have time to emerge over the years.
In the Russian River Valley, Greg Stach wanted the Landmark Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($85) to be “a little more structured on release so that it could come together over time.”
It’s loaded with potential – the full mouthfeel, tannins, big, bold flavors and a beam of fresh acidity on the fruit that suggest a very long and rewarding life if it spends years in the cellar.
But, the instant gratification is pure hedonism right now. There’s dueling red and black fruit flavors, a touch of cinnamon, clove and a little tilled earth. It’s full-bodied in mouthfeel and flavor. The vineyard offered a variety of options to craft a masterpiece.
“I really think of Hop Kiln as being three vineyards in one,” said Stach. “The section next to the Russian River is about 70 feet in elevation, while the highest part of the vineyard, which is across Westside Road, is about 300 feet in elevation with a completely different soil type. Also, the vineyard has multiple exposures: south-facing, north-facing, east- and west-facing, so we have quite a bit of variety in the wines that we make. We try to … barrel each block on its own. In 2018, we ended up with 23 different lots before blending.”
There’s less of a guilty feeling when opening the Landmark Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($40), but still plenty to get into with cranberry, spice rack and gingerbread flavors, and a mineral note on the finish that is brilliant. Like the green moss on a rock, it slices right through the supple mouthfeel.
Entrenched in the realm of dark fruit flavors like plum and blackberry, the Ram’s Gate Cellar Note Pinot Noir 2018 ($58) also tossed in a mountain scrub, wild feral herbal note.
With a soft texture, the Bennett Valley Cellars Pinot Noir 2018 ($34) had strawberry, cherry and baking-spice aromas on the nose. Red fruit flavors got tied up with some blackberry that vied for attention on the finish.
Unafraid of being green or earthy, Tatomer Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2018 ($25) embraced the thyme, marjoram and sage notes that set up soy and truffle flavors, as well. Very woodsy, earthy, with hints of pomegranate seed.
Frank Family Carneros Pinot Noir 2018 ($38) showed off the best of the AVA as it offered ripe strawberry and cherry flavors, but was able to capture them at their freshest moment while still showing off a bit of spice rack and fall leaves.
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.