Thatcher Baker-Briggs has learned more about wine in the last few years than most of us will in a lifetime.
At just 30 years old, the Canadian-born chef-turned-sommelier has worked in some of the most revered kitchens and dining rooms in San Francisco—think Saison, Coi and Angler—and around the world.
Since 2019, Baker-Briggs has been master of his own domain(e), selecting and savoring wines for an international clientele that includes NBA athletes, venture capitalists, and tech founders. But his firm, Thatcher's Wine Consulting, doesn't just serve the one percent. The certified sommelier is passionate about educating and elevating the experience of anyone with a curiosity for wine.
"When you open a bottle of wine, it's more than just what's in the glass," Baker-Briggs explains. "It's who you're drinking it with, what you're eating it with, what Hall and Oates song is playing. You can open 12 bottles of wine from the same case and that's 12 different experiences you'll have. It's what makes wine something special."
While Baker-Briggs is especially drawn to wines from Germany and French Burgundy, Champagne, and Bordeaux where vintners have been producing their elixirs for generations, he sees their stories at the core of the wineries of Northern California, too. "They're really doing something that's drawn on the inspiration of Old World wine making," he says.
We asked Baker-Briggs to share his expertise to help guide our wine choices this holiday season. His best quick and dirty tips? First off, don't ignore Champagne.
"It has this reputation as a sweet, sparkly thing but if you change your mindset, you'll find so many surprises," he says. White wines, too, deserve a place at the table. "They're so delicate but so complex. The more I drink, the more my preference goes to whites," he explains.
And when it comes to making your own wine choices, a little knowledge goes a long way.
"When you start to understand a little bit—like in cooler climates, generally speaking, the acidity is a little bit higher than in warmer climates—it will give you a bit of perspective," says Baker-Briggs.
For a fun, easy, read you can drink right along with, he recommends checking out The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil.
Here's how to pair your holiday gatherings with the perfect wine, Baker-Briggs style.
The Traditional Thanksgiving
"Syrah is certainly your friend," says Baker-Briggs. "While Syrah has a lot of different styles, the wines from Pierre Gonon in Saint Joseph are perfect for the occasion. Don't think jammy, think more cranberry and savory qualities like rosemary. For Thanksgiving, it's a match made in heaven."
The SF-Style Holiday Meal
"Dungeness crab is pretty sensational with a lot of different wines, but if you are going all in and making cioppino (it's a lot of work) go with something that isn't a lot of work to drink," says Baker-Briggs. "The chardonnay from Heitz in recent vintages is pristine. They've really made a beautiful example of what can be done in California."
The Plant-Based Thanksgiving
"The best part of eating vegetables is that pairing wine is even more fun and such an adventure. Steak and red wine...got it, easy...but roasted squash and a gorgeous riesling from the Rheingau are even more fun," explains Baker-Briggs. "Eva Fricke, especially with her last few vintages, has been creating wines that not only excite in the glass but have such balance and elegance that they work wonderfully with so many great foods. I'd really recommend the wines from her Krone Vineyard. They're hard to find, and they are magical!"
The Meat-Lover's Holiday Meal
"Bordeaux and steak, too easy," says Baker-Briggs. "How about you switch things up and go for a wine from Cathy Corison? She has been making some of the most exciting wines in California for quite some time and, shockingly, is still slightly under the radar. Rather than heavy purple bramble fruit, think more of red berries, roses, and spices. They are lovely and work perfectly to cut through the richness of many types of meat."
"There are few things that go better with everything than Champagne," says Baker-Briggs. "It is one of the most universal wines that exist and it's beyond fun to pop bottles during Thanksgiving. Rosé bubbles are perfect for everything from turkey to beef wellington or whatever your dinner may be. Keep an eye out for Egly-Ouriet who is a rockstar and making a rosé that can challenge the complexity of red wines. If you are looking for a bottle at a more approachable price point, Dehours Rose is gorgeous."
The Family Gathering
"Spending time with family is so important, so opening up something that makes them smile is equally important," says Baker-Briggs. "The wines from the Loire Valley tend to always make the fam smile. Chenin blanc and cabernet Franc work beautifully side by side. Check out the real up-and-coming Domaine de la Reniere, who is able to make both grapes so well. The rosé is pretty magical too!"
The Elegant Gathering
Old Napa cabernet sauvignon wines with vintages between the 1960s and 1980s are some of the most exciting bottles to drink today," says Baker-Briggs. "I recently opened a bottle of 1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill and it was one of the most exciting wines I've had, not only from California but from anywhere. What better time to open than a day to be thankful. You'll be thankful you have a bottle of this wine, that's for sure."
The Sweet Gathering
"If there is really anything better than an old bottle of Madeira and pecan pie, I'm really not sure," says Baker-Briggs. "It's perhaps not the most typical wine to drink with pie, but recently I had a butter tart (the Canadian pecan pie) and a bottle of Terrentaz from the '70s and it was a transcending experience. The Madeira has such bright acidity that when you are on your second slice of pie, it makes the third all that easier."