What To Drink Now: Toasting California Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

Sant Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Portions of this story appeared in “West Hawaii Today” on November 19, 2019

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, bringing family and friends together, enjoying favorite traditional dishes paired with delicious wine. This holiday I am thankful to the men and women who tirelessly farm the vineyards of the world. Notably, I give thanks to the vintners and winemakers of California who recently fought a series of devastating fires throughout the state. Luckily, the fires occurred at the end of harvest for most, ensuring smoke in the air did not taint the fruit. But, thousands of acres burned, destroying structures, homes, and a few wineries. As you raise a glass this holiday, consider toasting with California wine. For the hearty Thanksgiving meal, you will want lower alcohol wines with vibrancy and texture, like my go-to holiday choices, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

From high atop Spring Mountain, Newton Winery captures lively acidity in their luscious Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay filled with golden apple, toasted oak, and spice. Rich and round, this is a wine that will always warm you from the inside out, pairing beautifully with any roasted turkey or chicken. From 100% organically grown fruit throughout California, ZD Winery Chardonnay ($42) displays sophistication and restraint, with pear, lemon blossom, and vanilla. Grgich Hills Napa Valley Chardonnay ($43) is fresh, bright, and lovely, with lemon zest, blanched almond, and melon.
One of Napa’s beloved producers in the hills of Atlas Peak, Pahlmeyer Chardonnay ($80) reveals fresh white flower, citrus blossom, lemon curd, and marzipan notes in their lush yet crisp wine. There is big news this week for the winery. Earlier this week E. & J. Gallo Winery announced the purchase of the winery from Jayson Pahlmeyer and his daughter, President of Pahlmeyer, Cleo Phalmeyer. Congrats to all!


The rolling hillsides of Carneros benefit from cooling breezes off the San Francisco Bay, producing alluring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40) is fruity, and fresh, revealing strawberry and rhubarb pie with well-integrated tannins, for an easy-drinking wine. Slightly more brooding, Cuvaison Spire Pinot Noir ($55) is structured, and chic, with black cherry and toasted nutmeg. Full-bodied, yet soft and plush, Frank Family Carneros Pinot Noir ($40) opens with aromas of lilacs and lavender, followed by ripe red plum and baking spice. Robert Mondavi Winery Carneros Pinot Noir ($28) delivers a finessed wine layering red cherry, ripe plum, and floral lilacs. Concentrated, structured, and exceptional, Duckhorn Vineyards Huichica Hills Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay ($58) reveals crushed stone, white peach, and honeysuckle.

Sonoma Chardonnay

I believe every glass is an adventure, as each will transport you to another place in time. San Francisco’s Sosie Winery agrees. Each bottle of their small production wine transports you to the place and time of harvest, as shown in Sosie Spring Hill Pinot Noir ( $43) from Sonoma Coast. Slightly warming, the wine reveals black tea, ripe berry, and plum. Sitting on the edge of the Ocean, Ramey Fort Ross -Seaview Chardonnay ($42) highlights the gifts the ocean brings, layering orchard fruit with briny, mineral-rich earthiness. Dutcher Crossing Terra De Promissio Vineyard Pinot Noir ($52) from the Sonoma Coast is complex and structured with crushed leaves, toasted nutmeg, and black tea. Premium quality, with a fantastic price, Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir ($25) layers toasted oak, baked cherry cobbler, and licorice.

Winds off Sonoma’s Russian River blows cooling breezes through vineyards throughout the evening, ensuring the region’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, even Zinfandel have a bright elegance.

Toasted brioche and lemon cream aromas lift from the glass of “Panthera” Chardonnay ($45) from Hess Collection. Rich and round, while maintaining freshness, the wine is ideal with roasted chicken and turkey. Emeritus Hallberg Ranch Estate Pinot Noir ( $44) is pure and pretty, melding purple flowers, toasted hazelnut, and cranberry. Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot Noir ($45) highlights pomegranate, raspberry, and crushed clove. Approachable and balanced, Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir ($25) brings earthy mushroom and truffle to a boysenberry-filled silky wine.

Up the coast, in Anderson Valley, FEL Savoy Estate Chardonnay ($48) shines with pedigree and style, with creme brulee, bosc pear, and green apple. Goldeneye Gowan Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir ($86) shines with freshness, highlighting cherry, raspberry, and strawberry in a luscious, textured wine. Like the racehorses that are the inspiration for the winery, Maggy Hawk “Stormin” Pinot Noir ($80) wraps power with polish, revealing a complex wine with energy. Aged 15 months in partially new French oak, Siduri Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($40) melds toasted baking spice with woody mushroom and ripe black plum.

Down the coast, Monterey County Chardonnay shows more tropical notes, thanks to warmer temperatures and a long growing season, with pineapple, mango, and Meyer lemon, as displayed in La Crema Monterey Chardonnay ($20), Testarossa Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($42), and Hahn SLH Chardonnay ($20). Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($30) melds stewed cranberry, raspberry, and balsamic. From fruit grown throughout the area. Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir opens with red berry, followed by dried floral and white pepper. Delivering what the name promises, Cherry Pie Tri-County Pinot Noir ($23) red cherry, brioche, and spice.