Of all holidays, I look forward to Thanksgiving the most – because really, it’s all about the wine pairing! Around September I start setting aside interesting bottles in anticipation. With its complexity of warm flavors, there’s a world of wine options to make your turkey (and each of those glorious sides) become truly delectable bites.
This year, I decided not to post my specific wine selections, but instead to share my outlook on pairing and the roadmap I instinctually follow.
So don’t fret about finding an exact pairing. There are many beautiful roads to take. Follow a few of my broad guidelines and then have fun on your own pairing adventure!
My Crush Course Thanksgiving Wine Tips
- It’s a long day and a heavy meal. So, go with lighter, low alcohol wines. You want to last the day, all the way to that big slice of pie.
- This is a rich meal (potatoes, stuffing, creamy green beans, hello!). Opt for bright high acid wines and even bubbles. Theycleanse your palate, refreshing it for the next bite after that rich food.
- With potato-stuffing-gravy bites so heavy and rich, I recommend a medium-bodied wine. With whites, this means you can choose some a little rounder if you’d like, such as a Chardonnay aged on the lees, a Lugana DOC, or a Vermentino di Gallura DOCG. If you choose a wine that’s too light, it may get lost in the meal. But stick with wines with nice levels of acidity, not wines that are ripe and rich or full-bodied. Think wines that will lift, quench, relieve and spark the palate.
- Think of wine as a relish or condiment. What completes that bite of turkey, gravy, stuffing? Cranberry! Wines with a tart red fruit profile (cranberry, raspberry) or apple-pear flavors complement the Thanksgiving plate. Think cool climate Pinot Noir or Cab Franc, Gamay, Frappato. If you prefer roasted apples or pears, find these classic flavors and a kiss of toasted oak in Chardonnay or a Fume’ Blanc from the Russian River or a beautiful Beaune White Burgundy.
- Similarly, fruit-driven wines contrast nicely to the savory-herbal meaty flavors. Think of the fresh fruit basket of a crisp Mosel Riesling. Thanksgiving is also a great meal for inviting wines with sweetness. A medium-dry Riesling or Prosecco are delicious companions to candied sweet potatoes or as a foil to herbs.
- Delicate Flavors with light herbs, spice. With food pairing, we match flavor intensity between wine and food. It may be surprising to realize that though the weight and mouthfeel of Thanksgiving are full, rich and heavy, the actual flavorscan be rather bland (mashed potatoes, turkey, peas) or lifted with the lighter sweet baking spices. Don’t clobber the nutmeg on your yams or the sage in the apple-sweet-sausage stuffing with your biggest jammy spicy Zin. Let their aromatics shine through the wine by opting for wines on the lighter side of flavor intensity.
- Avoid tannins. Even the moistest turkey is still lands “dry” on the palate; add un-buttered mashed potatoes and your mouth is pleading for help. Tannins just up the ante. Choose low tannin wines (un-oaked whites and thin-skinned reds with high acid that make you salivate): Gamay, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, Carignane, Cinsault, Lambrusco, to name a few.
I like to have 3-4 options open and a couple glasses each so my guests can sample, play and find their own preferred pairings!
Which wines to choose for Thanksgiving will highlight those savory-sweet flavors without weighing you or your palate down?
In Sum, Here’s my Crush Course advice …
Choose medium-bodied wines with palate-cleansing acid, flavors of fresh fruit with light herbs or floral notes, and bottles with low alcohol and low-tannins.
Image Credit: Photography: Joe Holdsworth ; Food Styling: Charlotte Omnès ; Prop Stylist: Paola Andrea
How to know these wines? They’re usually sourced from cool climate regions (such as coastal United states, Italy, France, regions near the colder poles, and at cool, high elevation). Save the bold, rich, high alcohol, high tannin, jam-like wines for your December feasts!
*NB – See the bright nearly translucent red color of the red wines in the photo above? That’s the ideal color and body style of reds I love to pour for Thanksgiving (yes, the color of cranberry juice). It’s a clue to anticipating bright juicy flavors with mouthwatering acidity. Yum.
My Favorite Go-To Wines for Thanksgiving:
BUBBLES: - Any! Prosecco, Franciacorta, Trento DOC, Champagne, your favorite producer’s bubbles, a bubbly rose’. Fun note: Many pair perfectly across the day - from shucked oysters to the turkey-gravy main. Sweet versions are perfect for dessert too. Can we parse differences that pair better to oysters vs richer meals, well of course, but rule of thumb here is don’t sweat it. They’re bubbles! ROSE’: - Almost any rose’ will do. If it has bright acidity to back its fruit, you have another beautiful pairing to take you from appetizers to turkey. WHITES: - Chablis - Riesling: o Dry – Mosel, Alsace; “Dry” o Moderate – German Spatlese; Med-Dry o Sweeter – German Auslese; “Med-Sweet” - Alsace(FR) fruity-acid-sweet: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer - Alto Adige(IT) crisp mineral: Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Riesling - Other Italian Whites: Vermentino, Fiano, Etna Bianco, Verdicchio, Friulano - Coastal Chardonnay, White Burgundy - Rhone Varieties or Blends - Richer options: moderate-oaked Chardonnay from Napa/Sonoma, Viognier REDS: - Pinot Noir from cool climates (coastal California, Oregon, Burgundy) - Barbera from Asti, Alba, or cool coastal regions - Gamay/Beaujolais, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault - Lambrusco, Etna, Schiava, Frappato - Cool climate Cabernet Franc, Syrah - Richer options: Russian River Pinots, Malbec, Merlot, Washington Red Blends DESSERT - Don’t forget wine with pumpkin, apple, pecan pies! - Late harvest whites, Moscato, Asti Spumante, Sauterne, Tawny Ports - Chocolate or berry desserts? try Ruby Ports, Late Harvest Reds, Banyuls
Variety is the Spice
Have fun with these seasonal flavors. I recommend gathering a small selection of wines that will take you from the welcome/cook’s palate cleanser (bubbles!) to appetizers (another bubbly and a rose’ will do without another thought), two or three options at the table to play with so everyone has something they’ll enjoy, plus one for dessert. You don’t need quantity, you’ll just enjoy options. Small pours of each.
Enjoy your time with family and friends, delicious food, and log your favorite Thanksgiving wine discoveries this year. Then come February, you can start stocking up ideas and inspiration for your next Thanksgiving pairing feast!
If you’ve been captivated, like I have, by the alluring tableau created in these photos, meet the creators. For me these artistic images evoke some of my favorite memories over long evenings with dear friends and family, good food, and great wine.
Wishing you a Thanksgiving filled with the best of all three!
Talented Artistic Team:
Charlotte Omnès – Food Styling @charlotteomnes www.charlotteomnes.com
Photography: @joeholdsworth www.joeholdsworth.com
Prop Stylist: @paolaandrea_stylist www. paola-andrea.com
Share your favorite or newly discovered Thanksgiving wine pairings in Comments below. We’d love to hear!
Wishing You a Warm and Happy Thanksgiving
~ Mary Beth