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WINE BANTER by John Haggard - November 2014


WINE BANTER by John Haggard - November 2014

by John Haggard

The cold weather of fall and winter offer up a lot of opportunities for those of us who enjoy red meats, lamb, beef, and venison and the darker, bigger varietals of Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot, malbec. And with the holidays coming up, this is a time to bring out those traditional recipes from your grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, family and friends and the foods they used to prepare. If you’re more than six persons, ask your guests to participate.

What’s on your holiday menu? What’s for Thanksgiving Dinner? – is it Ham is it turkey, is it Prime Rib, or, perhaps, are you serving a vegan holiday menu?

The Toast

It’s always nice to start a holiday meal with a toast. Proseccos (Italian sparkling wine) are popular as you can get good quality at a great price. Many will tend to be demi-sec (lightly sweet) though there are some good dry proseccos.  Brut sparkling and brut champagne are the driest and demi-sec begins to get sweeter. Many local wineries do offer some special sparklings for the holidays. Most of our local Sonoma wineries produce dryer sparklings. If you’re pairing the sparkling with a course, perhaps the salad course, consider erring on the side of a dryer sparkling wine.

The Salad

You may choose to serve your sparkling and pair it with a salad course. A salad course will also pair well with a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris.

Pork or Ham

Roast pork or hams and pinot noir are a great pairing, however, a buttery chardonnay may work depending on your palate. Some cuts of pork are fattier than others and a more acidic white varietal such as a stainless steel chardonnay might be better.


If you’re considering the traditional turkey, it’s always good to still consider pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris or a nice dry rose. The stainless steel fermented roses are typically the best!

Rack of Lamb / Prime Rib

When it comes to foods like rack of lamb and prime rib, it’s a very good idea to start transitioning to darker and richer flavors. If it’s a pinot noir it needs to be a dijon clone 115 or pinot with a blend of pommard 4 and or 5 – in other words, a pinot noir with a little red fruit and  a very dark rich earthy forest floor finish with the ability to stand up to red meat. And, of course, there’s always cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc and petite verdot. Every producer has a different idea of what combination of Bordeaux clones, type of oak, toast on the barrel, the inoculation and the aging time in barrels, all important as these also influence the flavors and characteristics. Call a local winery and ask what they would recommend to pair with your upcoming dinner. Plan ahead, and you can buy local.

Vegan Entrée

If you’re erring on a spicy vegan dish, consider a gewurztramner or riesling, a demi-sec (lightly sweet wine), often with floral notes and a little more residual sugar to pair with spices.


To finish a holiday meal there’s always late harvest and port wines, best with a dark rich coffee, espresso cappuccino or flourless chocolate cake. Sonoma County produces many great late harvest zinfandels that are a perfect complement for that chocolate dessert.

Winter Wineland

Mark your calendars and book your rooms to come to the Russian River for Winter Wineland! This year is the 23rd Annual Winter WINEland and a great opportunity to discover the new wine releases from Sonoma County. There are many great deals to be had and you will get the chance to meet many winemakers. There are some wineries offering food pairings. I recommend calling participating wineries ahead of time. The ticket price includes wine tasting at the participating wineries for the weekend. For more information, visit Tickets go on sale November 4.


John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).