Once there was a well-known wine columnist who thought it amusing to write about which wines went with every American holiday or celebratory moment — a tactic that reached absurd depths the day Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president.
His column was all about which wines worked best with roasted peanuts. I did not make this up.
That was the day I stopped writing about which wines to serve on such exalted occasions as St. Swithin’s Day, Ruby Tuesday or National Toasted Marshmallow Day (for which I apologize; it was this past Aug. 30 and I said nothing about which wines go best.)
If you are a real wine lover, you know that regardless of which day of the year you choose, on any day any wine is better than the alternative — which is no wine.
And so it is with great trepidation that I approach Thanksgiving annually, knowing that editors everywhere are asking their wine columnists to conjure up which wines go best with this most traditional of family gatherings.
It has been nearly 30 years since an editor, cringing and wincing, asked me to tackle this absurd topic since she knew that the only thing traditional about Thanksgiving dinner is that turkey is de rigueur, and everything else on the groaning board is there for only one purpose: To conspire to make virtually any wine you choose taste weird.
Cranberry sauce, candied yams, raisin-flecked dressing? Too sweet for anything but a German Auslese.
German Auslese? Too sweet for roast turkey with savory gravy, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
I once had a standing order to attend a family bird-day by a woman who loved preparing onion relish with enough vinegar to make sauerkraut taste like dessert. It was treated like a family heirloom. And it ruined every wine I tried.
So what to serve on Thanksgiving? Anything you like as long as others in the room will tolerate it. Here are some additional random thoughts:
— If there are sweet and savory dishes, a bottle of slightly off-dry rosé works wonders. It’s compatible with both kinds of foods. (It’s especially good with ham.)
— If the meal is served in stages (appetizers/salad followed by a break, rest of the meal later), vary the initial offerings so lighter wines go first. Italian white wines, chenin blanc, pinot gris, dry Riesling, and Gewürztraminer are all nice accompaniments to first courses.
— If the turkey dressing is made with nuts, have a bottle of dry or medium sherry on the table because a teaspoon of the sherry drizzled on the dressing will make it better. And it can be a lovely aperitif as well.
— If there are red wine lovers afoot, there are many proper choices, so it’s hard to pick just three or four. However, if the turkey is prepared with sage, a classic accompaniment is an older cabernet sauvignon since sage is frequently used as a descriptor in such wines. If the cabernet is young, decant the wine for an hour before serving.
Otherwise, zinfandel or pinot noir are good bets — young, fresh, fruity and with a slight chilling they’ll work perfectly to marry the flavors that are so divergent on the “traditional” T-day table.
Lake Ilsanjo Loop at Annadel State Park
Hiking distance: 6.2 miles
Hiking time: 3.5 hours
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Difficulty: moderate to slightly strenuous
Exposure: mix of shaded forest and open meadows
Dogs: not allowed
Maps: USGS Santa Rosa and Kenwood / Annadel State Park map
In the 1930s, Joe Coney bought the land that is now Annadel State Park. In the 1950s, he built Lake Ilsanjo on Spring Creek and named it after himself and his wife, Ilse. Joe used the 26-acre lake as a hunting and fishing retreat for his friends. Lake Ilsanjo is now the highlight of the park, popular with picnickers, mountain bikers, joggers, equestrians, hikers, and anglers hoping to catch bluegill and bass. The lake is surrounded by meadows filled with wildflowers.
This hike leads to Lake Ilsanjo from midway along Channel Drive. The trail circles the lakeshore and returns via the Richardson Trail, making a large loop through the center of the park. The Richardson Trail is an old ranch road shaded by redwoods and mixed oak woodlands.
To the trailhead
6201 Channel Drive, Santa Rosa
From Highway 101 and Highway 12 in Santa Rosa, drive 1.5 miles west on Highway 12 to Farmers Lane. Turn left and drive 0.8 miles to Montgomery Drive, following the Highway 12 signs. Turn right and continue 2.7 miles to Channel Drive. Turn right and go 1.5 miles to the posted North Burma Trail and Channel Trail. Park along the right side of the road. A parking fee is required.
From the town of Kenwood, drive 5.5 miles north on Highway 12 (Sonoma Highway) to Los Alamos Road. Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to Melita Road. Turn right and immediately veer left onto Montgomery Drive. Drive a half mile to Channel Drive and turn left. Continue 1.5 miles to the posted North Burma Trail and Channel Trail. Park along the right side of the road. A parking fee is required.
Head up the forested slope on the North Burma Trail. Follow the west side of a stream, originating from False Lake Meadow. Rock-hop over the creek and climb two switchbacks. Pass a 15-foot cataract, reaching a posted trail split on a flat at 0.7 miles. The North Burma Trail goes left. Stay straight on the Live Oak Trail and traverse the hillside, skirting the east side of grassy False Lake Meadow. At the summit, pass the site of an old quarry on the left. Gradually descend and cross a small bridge, emerging from the shady oak forest into False Lake Meadow. Cross the tree-rimmed grasslands to a junction with the Rough Go Trail at 1.6 miles. Follow the Rough Go Trail straight ahead through the rocky grassland. At just over 2 miles, the Rough Go Trail ends at a junction with the Lake Trail on the west side of Lake Ilsanjo. Both directions circle the lake.
For this hike, curve right, crossing the dam and spillway. Loop around the south and east sides of the picturesque lake. Cross two of the lake’s feeder streams and a picnic area with a side loop on the left. At the north end of the lake is a four-way junction at 3 miles. The left fork loops back to the Rough Go Trail. The Louis Trail continues straight ahead for a shorter 5.1-mile hike.
For this hike, bear right on the W.P. Richardson Trail, an old ranch road. Head up the dirt road, staying left past a junction with the South Burma Trail. Traverse the hill, passing the North Burma Trail. Begin an easy descent through a forest of redwoods, Douglas fir and coast live oak, passing Steve’s “S” Trail at 3.9 miles. (The “S” Trail is a steep, hiking-only trail.) Pass a picnic area, water tank and wood steps to a quarry site, all on the right. At 4.6 miles, pass the Two Quarry Trail on the left and continue down to the parking lot at the east end of Channel Drive at 5.5 miles. Head left and walk 0.7 miles on forested Channel Drive, or take the Channel Trail (parallel to the road) back to the trailhead.
Source: "Day Hikes Around Sonoma County 2nd Edition, by Robert Stone (Day Hike Books, March 2016)