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What are the best wines to pair with a Thanksgiving meal?

From Executive Chef and Winemaker Greg Masset
When pairing wines with meals you have a couple options- Complement or Contrast. Generally, if you choose to contrast you are probably going to be focused mostly on the wine and your meal may be overpowered which you don't want for your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

In this article I will offer a few suggestions to complement your dishes, which makes for a more complete dining experience. Thanksgiving dinner can be a challenging meal to recommend wines to pair with, until you know what the main components will be.

A traditional dinner featuring roast turkey and baked ham require a medium bodied wine. Merlot, Syrah, and Lemberger in addition to well balanced blended Red Wines are excellent choices. For white wines, again moderation is called for- Riesling, Viognier and lighter style Chardonnays are quite appropriate.  Rosés  are also a good choice.

For bolder entree choices, such as Prime Rib or leg of Lamb a more powerful red wine is best; something with firmer tannins such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Malbec. Reserve Style Red Wines and bolder style Syrahs are excellent wines for these meals too. Certain side dishes frequently served with Thanksgiving dinner are additional challenges for pairing- tart cranberry compote and citrus relishes come to mind.

Dessert is a great place to match wines with dishes. The best plan is to choose a wine that is slightly sweeter than the dessert. Pumpkin pie with late harvest Riesling or Chenin Blanc are ideal. For a sweeter Pecan pie, an Ice Wine or Botrytised late harvest should be sufficiently sweet to make a perfect match. 

If you have any questions on food and wine pairings during the holidays please email your questions to: and one of our winemakers will answer your question!

What makes some Chardonnay have a buttery finish?

Malolactic fermentation is largely associated with Chardonnay and is the main reason that Chardonnay can exhibit a buttery component on the nose and palate. It is the process of taking the harsher malic acid in a wine and converting it to a softer lactic acid. Malic acid is the tart acid found in a Granny Smith apple, while lactic acid is the more subtle acid found in milk, butter, cheese and yogurt (and it is the diacetyl derivative of the lactic acid, that shows up as "buttery" in a Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation). By converting malic acid to lactic acid via Lactobacillus bacteria, you end up with a wine that is more approachable and less abrasive on the palate.

Is it OK to bring children with you when wine tasting?

Yes kids are welcome to join you when you are wine tasting in wineries throughout the Yakima Valley. Just keep an eye on them as many Yakima wine tasting rooms have glasses, large wine bottle displays and gifts that can be fragile.

What does AVA mean?

AVA stands for American Viticultural Areas that have been designated official wine growing regions. Here are some important ideas that will help you understand what the meaning is of these wine growing regions. AVAs are designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). When an AVA is designated on the wine bottle’s label, 85% of that wine must come from the AVA. AVAs are geographic locations that have the same climate, soil, and elevation and similar properties that give the wine a certain characteristic. The Rattlesnake Hills has been an AVA for five years and is located in the larger Yakima Valley AVA and the Columbia AVA. Just because a wine comes from a specific AVA does not indicate anything about the quality of the wine. An AVA is considered a type of Appellation. The term appellation is often used instead of AVA. However, not all appellations are designated an AVA by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Learn more about the Rattlesnake Hills AVA

Someone told me that Washington's wine country is on the same latitude as Bordeaux, France. Does that mean Washington produces the same type of high quality Cabernet/Merlot blends?

Vineyards in Washington, the state just above Oregon, are at the same 46 degrees north latitude as Bordeaux, France. They cover the entire Columbia River basin in the dry, sagebrush-covered hills of the eastern part of the state. Because it is not rainy like the western side of the state which is on the Pacific Ocean, the Yakima vineyards are precisely irrigated, the growing season is extra long and the grapevines get two more hours of sunshine during the day than Napa Valley, California. The ideal of warm, dry days (for ripe fruit qualities) and cool nights (for good acidity) is achieved in almost every vintage. Even the deep, nutrient-poor, sandy loam soils are comparable to important parts of Bordeaux including St. Emilion, which is why the red Bordeaux ! varietals do as well in Washington. Other microclimates are great for every white grape variety including for the production of Dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminer. Consumers can find virtually every grape they could possibly desire in Washington. But to my mind, and as evidenced by their huge popularity in the marketplace, Washington Merlots are their very best wines-not just best red wine, but best wine, period.

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