More often than not, the Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of diversity – the diversity of the different dishes covering the holiday table and the diversity of the different palates of your guests sitting around it. And while it may seem simple to pair wines with a specific dish or wine preference, it can prove a bit challenging to find wines that match such a wide array of different flavors, textures and personal tastes. For example, while white wine may pair better with the turkey itself, a red wine may go better with some of the side dishes. Some of your guests may prefer white, while others may only drink red. To help you select the best wines for Thanksgiving dinner this year, we have put together a guide of our favorite Thanksgiving wines and the dishes with which to enjoy them.
Made from grapes that tend to be harvested quite early, sparkling wine are naturally very high in acidity. This acidity successfully cuts through salty and fatty food preparations, allowing sparkling wines to pair with a very wide range of dishes. Meanwhile, the effervescence of these wines serves as a natural palate cleanser, refreshing the mouth after even the heartiest bites of food.
There is a common misconception that sparkling wines pair well only with the most luxurious delicacies, like oysters, caviar and white truffles. In fact, these wines can pair brilliantly with the humblest dishes, like a fluffy ham and cheese omelet or mushroom risotto. The versatility of sparkling wine makes this style the perfect choice for a Thanksgiving meal, which tends to be a rollercoaster ride of different flavors and textures. To make things truly easy, choose a bottle or two of Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or Vouvray to enjoy all the way through the meal, from welcome toast to dessert.
Another easy Thanksgiving wine is rosé, whose bright acidity, minerality and fresh red fruit flavors allow it to pair perfectly with a myriad of turkey preparations and side dishes. For something more subtle, choose a classic onion-skin pink rosé wine from Cotes de Provence. Or, for something a bit fuller in body, choose a darker pink rosé from Tavel, the perfect pairing with barbecued turkey or grilled vegetables, for example.
While Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are classic white wines recommended with turkey, Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to try an alternative white wine pairing, a white with personality to pair with the bold flavors and textures of your menu. The opulent, fleshy, slightly “oily” texture and rich stone fruit flavors of a Viognier from Condrieu, for example, will go beautifully with more delicate dishes, like roasted turkey breast or buttermilk mashed potatoes. An herbaceous and mineral Bordeaux white wines, which blends Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc, will go nicely with herby roasted root vegetables or a turkey cooked with garlic and lemon.
Or, try a Chenin Blanc from South Africa or the Loire Valley. A dry Chenin with its bright floral fragrances will go very nicely with sautéed brussels sprouts, while an off-dry or sweet Chenin with some age on it will pair well with your marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole or chocolate pie at Thanksgiving.
Due partly to its high natural acidity, Riesling is widely recognized as one of the most food-friendly grape varieties on the planet, ranging in style from bone-dry to sweet. The deep minerality and hint of spice on a dry Riesling from Alsace will allow it to hold its ground against the richest dishes, like a fried turkey or bacon-wrapped asparagus. And do not be afraid to try an off-dry or semi-sweet Riesling from Germany. While some wine lovers insists that they do not like slightly sweet whites, these actually go very well with food, especially spicier dishes like a turkey seasoned with Cajun spices or jalapeno cornbread. Give your guests the experience of discovering something new by opening two or three different styles of Riesling, some dry and some sweet, some from the Old World and some from the New World.
Because of the versatile nature of a classic Thanksgiving dinner, the easiest red wines to pair tend to be lighter in body with fresh flavors of red fruit and smooth, easy-going tannins. For example, the bright fruit and slight green notes of a Cabernet Franc from Chinon or the smooth tannins of a Gamay from a Beaujolais Cru (Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent or Saint-Amour, for example) will go nicely with your entire Thanksgiving spread and even the Thanksgiving leftover sandwich the next day. From Bordeaux, try a Merlot-based Pomerol wine, whose juicy black fruit flavors, earthy nuances and soft tannins will pair very nicely with a classic roasted turkey and a variety of side dishes.
Full-flavored, slightly peppery dishes like the dark meat of a roasted turkey or green beans cooked with garlic and chilis will pair nicely with a fuller-bodied red wine with hints of garrigue on the nose. Try a Rhone Valley red blend like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a spicy, earthy old-vine Zinfandel from California. And of course, an aged red Burgundy or Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley is guaranteed to add a special touch to any Thanksgiving meal.
While most of the dishes that form part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal tend to savory and delicate to pair with dessert wine, these sweet wines definitely have their place on the Thanksgiving table. For a unique aperitif, serve your guests a glass of Sauternes “on the rocks” with a touch of citrus zest. Sweet wines like Tawny Port, Madeira or a late-harvest Riesling will be delicious with a caramel-flavored dessert, like caramel pecan pie or apple pie flavored with cinnamon. And for those with a more modest sweet tooth, choose a few sips of Tokaji Aszu or Sauternes to end the meal. The luscious apricot, nut and honey flavors of these wines will make them the perfect dessert in and of themselves.
If you are seeking the perfect Thanksgiving wine, we recommend choosing either a sparkling wine or rosé that pairs equally well with everything on the table or choosing a handful of different styles for your guests to mix and match as they please. For example, offer both a dry and off-dry Riesling for your guests to enjoy with various dishes. Choose a lighter red wine, followed by a fuller-bodied red, or perhaps a Pinot Noir from two regions to compare. Do not be afraid to try something new. Afterall, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity for wine lovers to try different food pairings in the company of family and friends.