One of the hallmarks of Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners and other gatherings is the coming together of family and friends. As you consider what wines to serve with your holiday meals, why not continue the theme by pairing Chardonnay for the white and Pinot Noir for the red? Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most common grape varieties in Burgundy and two of the most popular grapes worldwide. The two have long been thought to be related, what with growing in the same region for centuries and their vines having almost identical leaves.


But, though some have labeled the white grape “pinot chardonnay”, there never was conclusive evidence of familial connection. And chardonnay is not usually included in descriptions of the “pinot family of grapes” – pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot meunier. These are the same variety but different clones expressing mutations that have occurred over centuries. Now, DNA fingerprinting suggests that chardonnay is the result of a cross between pinot noir and gouais blanc (a Croatian grape the Romans are thought to have brought to France). Turns out pinot noir is actually one of chardonnay’s parents.


Pinot Noir typically produces lighter-bodied red wines with low to moderate tannins, notable for aromas and flavors of cherries and brown spices. Chardonnay produces white wines known for their aromas of white and yellow fruit, flowers and minerals. Consider sharing the following wine families with your family this Thanksgiving.


Cambria. Based in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, Cambria is a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist owned by Jackson Family Estates (creators of Kendall-Jackson wines). These are sustainably farmed, estate grown wines named after the founding family’s daughters: 2015 Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard ($22) ripe, stone fruit, creamy, toasty and 2015 Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard ($25) full flavored red dark and fruits, spice.


Cuvaison. Established in the Napa Valley in 1969, Cuvaison was an early pioneer of the Carneros region. Benefitting from the cooling effects of San Pablo Bay and sustainable farming practices, these estate bottled wines are distinguished by vibrant, balanced character: 2016 Pinot Noir ($42) light-bodied wine of red fruits and black tea with velvety tannins and 2016 Chardonnay ($26) redolent of stone fruits, with nice vanilla, crips acidity, and a plush texture.


Davis Bynum. A pioneer of chardonnay and pinot noir in the Russian River Valley, which is now one of California’s most acclaimed regions for those varieties, Davis Bynum also has claim the first single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from a vineyard planted in 1973. Today, it is owned by the family that owns Rodney Strong Vineyards. The 2016 Pinot Noir Jane’s Vineyard ($35) reveals generous bright red berries in a fruity style with forest and brown spice notes, somewhat tough tannins leading to a firm finish; the 2015 Chardonnay River West Vineyard ($25) offers nice apple, pineapple, and creamy notes in a fresh, lush texture.


Dutton Ranch. This one’s actually a vineyard source, not a winery. Six generations of Duttons have farmed in Sonoma County. But this story begins when Warren and Gail Dutton founded Dutton Ranch in 1964. Today, sons Joe and Steve co-own Dutton Ranch with their mother Gail and farm 1200 acres of certified sustainable grapes and 200 acres of certified organic apples, all within the Green Valley-Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Upwards of six dozen wineries produce wines from Dutton Ranch grapes. Joe and Steve also co-own their own wineries.


Dutton Estate. Joe and Tracy Dutton established their winery nearby in 1994 and produce wines from Dutton Ranch fruit. Their Sister’s Collection blends fruit from several Dutton Ranch vineyards. The brisk, fruitful, succulent 2015 Chardonnay Kyndall’s Reserve ($42) pleases with pretty lemon and a touch of mineral. The 2015 Pinot Noir “Karmen Isabella” ($46) charms with sweet red fruits and floral notes, complimented with a touch of forest elements. It is elegant, fresh, and earthy.


Dutton-Goldfield. Steve and Theresa Dutton founded Dutton-Goldfield winery in 1998 with winemaker Dan Goldfield. Their Dutton Ranch wines are distinguished by lively fruit and luscious textures: The 2016 Pinot Noir ($44) is supple with full plum and black and an impressive earthy character. The 2015 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch ($38) showed lovely pear and apple fruit in a luscious, elegant palate, with hints of mineral.


Frank Family. Hollywood executive Rich Frank founded this winery in 1992 near Calistoga after purchasing the historic Larkmead winery (established 1884) property. Frank Family has become highly awarded for its Cabernets and I’ve also enjoyed their Zinfandel and sparkling wine. But the winery also now produces fine Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs primarily from the family owned Lewis Vineyard in Carneros and other prime Carneros vineyards. The 2016 Pinot Noir ($38) opens with pretty cherry accented with earthy, woodsy elements. It drinks lushly textured and spicy. The 2016 Chardonnay ($35) is invigorating, with juicy citrus; it drinks lively and richly textured.


La Crema. Another Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist from the Jackson family, this time producing wines from multiple appellations and even Oregon. The Russian River Valley wines are stars. The Monterey and Sonoma Coast wines are especially good values.


Russian River Valley: 2015 Pinot Noir ($40) distinguished by strong earthy qualities, loaded with red berries proffered in an elegant but slightly chewy finish; 2016 Chardonnay ($30) fine citrus, pear and tropical fruits are enhanced with a sense richness

Sonoma Coast: 2016 Pinot Noir ($25) bright cherry, and lightly spicy notes compliment an oaky, velvety finish; 2016 Chardonnay ($23) light touches of apple, pear and cinnamon glide along a brisk frame

Monterey: 2016 Pinot Noir ($23) slight minty note leads into nice cherry and a silky, fresh texture; 2016 Chardonnay ($20) citrus and gingerbread, lush, creamy texture


Ladera. Ladera Estate is a twenty-year-old winery established by Midwesterners who traded in ranching for vineyards on Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain. Today, the owners continue to focus on fruit from high elevation vineyards. But they also added the Pillow Road Vineyard in the southwest Russian River Valley ten years ago for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are distinguished by vibrant and velvety textures. 2015 Ladera Pinot Noir RRV Pillow Road Vineyard ($50) herbs, smoked black cherry and blackberry black cherries, mulberries warm plums hints of underbrush and stewed tea full-bodied savory flavors firm, high-toned, chewy texture, velvety smooth and concentrated it finishes on an herbal note cardamom black tea; 2015 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pillow Road Vineyard ($50) intense, exuberant, creamy up-front acidity freshness floral velvety and exotic nutmeg and cardamom, oak and acidity integrated well.


Scheid. From one of Monterey’s largest growers (having farmed the Salinas Valley since 1972) and their cool-climate, certified sustainable, estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands: 2016 Pinot Noir Doctor’s Vineyard ($75) red fruits with herbal and spice, and a zesty finish; and 2016 Chardonnay Escolle Vineyard ($45) nice lemon, orange and pineapple with a mineral note and a light but lively texture.


Sea Slopes. From Fort Ross Vineyards & Winery, these wines are are excellent values for the price intended as more approachable and elegant expressions of Sonoma Coast fruit than their Fort Ross flagship wines. The 2016 Pinot Noir ($35) lively, red berries and plum, hints of spice, smooth texture; the 2016 Chardonnay ($30) opens with brown butter, citrus and spice, and follows with a firm, lively palate.


Sea Smoke. This twenty-year-old winery’s vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, which benefit from cooling Pacific Ocean fog (the ‘sea smoke’), also are farmed organic and biodynamic. Sea Smoke is known for its rich, complex, full-bodied but elegant wines. The 2015 Pinot Noir “Southing” ($60) – Southing refers to the south-facing hillside bluffs on the Sea Smoke estate vineyard – presents copious amounts of dramatic cherry and red fruits, with savory, smoky,  licorice, a firm structure, and a powerful, seamless palate.  The 2015 Pinot Noir “Ten” ($82), a selection of ten clones from the estate vineyard, is complex, yet harmonious, with bright red fruits and black cherry, spicy clove, anise and earthy notes. The 2015  Chardonnay ($60) dramatic pear and peach fruit meld with citrus and vanilla oak all head together with a bracing structure.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.