Trying to figure out what wines to serve with Thanksgiving Dinner this year?
You’re not alone. Below is a fool-proof guide to finding great wines in all budgets for your holiday meal.
I haven’t written a “what to pair with Thanksgiving dinner” post in yeeaaarrrsss! This is because I am a traditionalist when it comes to this meal, and my advice has remained the same year after year. The most important piece of advice I offer –> don’t stress about it!
But this year we were invited to go on AM Northwest to share one of our go-to Thanksgiving recipes, and also discuss the infamous, “What wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner” question. So I thought I’d refresh a bit and share my philosophy (of over 10 years) on the subject.
So here you go….
Thanksgiving Wine Pairing & Buying Guide
Originally published November, 2009. Edited and updated November, 2018.
Right around this time of year many people begin to stress about what wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone. It can be daunting when thinking about what to pair with all of the many dishes that go into this celebratory meal. Why is this?
When it comes to your standard traditional Thanksgiving dinner you have a lot going on (spice, richness, fruit, salty, sweet, savory) and you’re typically not eating each dish in individual courses, but instead loading it all up on one plate, so it is not necessary to bother finding a wine for each individual dish. It’s a smorgasbord of flavors. Really good, comforting flavors. And the star of the day is really the company you’re with, not any particular wine you might open.
“But what about the turkey,” they ask. Again, there’s no need to burden yourself with the question, “What wine should you pair with the bird?” My answer to that is to not worry about the turkey, for it’s honestly not the star of the meal (and contains somewhat neutral flavors compared to all the side dishes, unless you’re making this smoked turkey. In that case, yes, yes it is the star of the show!).
Think about Thanksgiving as an ensemble performance with an all-star eclectic cast. Focus more on the flavors that dominate the entire meal (cranberries, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing) and finding wines to simply help balance out those flavors.
I’ve been asked to speak at a few events and news programs throughout the years on pairing wines with holiday food, and preparing for my first engagement allowed me to sit down and really think about ways to keep things simple, straightforward, and stress free. Most of my events have been in Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, so I tend to focus mostly local and value-driven options for the upcoming holidays.
So for Thanksgiving I offer a few standard recommendations to have at your dinner. They are by no means your only options, but intended as solid and carefree recommendations that should pair nicely with your dinner without taking away from the multitude of flavors of the day.
For myself, I like to keep it local (or at least domestic) for this American holiday. But if that is not accessible or desirable for you I offer some widely available alternatives that should be available wherever you are, at any budget.
Wines that would compliment the wide range of flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
I always begin any dinner or event (whether Thanksgiving, a holiday party, friendly get together, brunch, or just a Friday night) with sparkling wine. It is festive and goes with everything, especially appetizers and salty foods, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on it. You can find some really good bubbly between $10 – $20.
For great values seek out Cava from Spain, or if you want something elegant and amazing for a great value seek Prosecco Superiore DOCG (this isn’t the same as something labeled just Prosecco). Seek the ones that specifically say “Prosecco Superiore” and have the initials DOCG after it. You should find great options in the $15-$25 range. You won’t be disappointed.
If it’s something domestic you want, Gruet Blanc de Noirs is one of my favorite budget-friendly sparkling, at around $14, or splurge with Soter Brut Rosé from the Willamette Valley priced at around $60. A few others to consider:
- NV Nino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco Superiore (Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Italy) ~ $18
- NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico) ~ $14
- 2015 Argyle Vintage Brut (Willamette Valley, Oregon) ~ $25
Can be dry or sweet, spicy, fruity, and fragrant. Think comfort flavors (honey, apple pie, baking spices/nutmeg/cinnamon) and look for a dry to semi-sweet Riesling. If you are buying a German Riesling look for a Kabinett or Spätlese (because these are drier options). It is a great wine for folks who are new to wine and would be fun to offer. It will pair well with the sweetness of the potatoes, richness of gravy, and has enough acidity to stand up to stuffing, turkey, etc.
Great Rieslings can be found domestically in Oregon and Washington as well as the Finger Lakes region of New York.
- 2016 Brooks Willamette Valley Riesling (Willamette Valley, Oregon) ~ $20
- 2016 Stoller Family Estate Single Acre Riesling (Dundee Hills, Oregon) ~ $25
- 2011 Weingut Martin Tesch ‘Unplugged’ Riesling Trocken (Nahe, Germany) ~ $12
For starters, Chardonnay is crowd pleaser. So it won’t be too hard to make people happy with this choice. The grape is a blank canvas that can take on where it gets fermented. They can be steely, bright, light and clean, or rich and buttery. They can be fruity and they can be spicy. Unoaked versions will have a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit of a kick to them, and the richer, oaked styles will go great with those mashed potatoes and the turkey. You can’t go wrong with Chablis, from France, for something fresh and mineral. Or go domestic for a more fruity style or those with that oak backbone.
- 2017 Erath Oregon Chardonnay (Oregon) ~ $18
- 2016 Etude Chardonnay, Grace Benoist Rance (Carneros, California) ~ $28
- 2016 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California) ~ $28
Rosé is known for being a summer wine, but I enjoy dry rosé year round. Rosé everyday, my friends! This is the wine for all seasons. Light, refreshing, and fruity most rosé’s are amazingly food friendly and will pair well with almost everything you are likely to have on your table this Thanksgiving. True story.
Rosé availability will vary from state to state as many are consumed throughout the summer months and sell out by fall. That being said, you can still find some great rosé wines that your favorite wine store may have stocked up on!
A traditional favorite for Thanksgiving and if you’re in Oregon, like me, then there is no shortage of great Pinot Noir around these parts. Pinot Noir is a solid option because they typically have bright fruit (think cherries, cranberries, raspberries) and earth (think mushrooms) so they are perfect for the fruity, earthy, and spicy foods of Thanksgiving. This wine will compliment, without overpowering, almost all of the flavors of the day. Gotta go Oregon for this!
- 2016 Montinore Pinot Noir “Red Cap” (Willamette Valley, Oregon) ~ $20
- 2017 Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills (Dundee Hills, Oregon) ~ $30
- 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills, Oregon) ~ $55
A red wine that is bigger and bolder than Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional dishes. Zinfandels can be rich, but not very tannic, with great fruit and spice characteristics and still compliment richer flavors of the day (like sweet potatoes, gravy, and roasted vegetables). This would be a great option for your guests who may be looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.
- 2016 Berryessa Gap Zinfandel (Yolo County, California) ~ $20
- 2016 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel (Sonoma County, California) ~ $20
- 2015 Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley, California) ~ $40
Look for Ports, Cream Sherries, Rieslings, and even more Sparkling Wine.
Important Tips for Pairing Wine and Thanksgiving Dinner
- Have at least three wine options: sparkling, a white, and a red. Don’t worry about having too much. There are plenty of things to do with leftover wine (should you have any), like making this mulled red wine!
- Magnums are great for larger crowds (6-10 people).
- Sparkling wine goes with everything (it’s true). EVERYTHING! #bubbles4eva
- Don’t stress about finding the perfect wine for every dish. There’s no such thing… well, except for sparkling 😉
- You don’t need to spend a lot of money on Thanksgiving wine. The flavors of the food and the company of your family and friends are the focus of this day. You can find good wines in *any* budget!
- Most importantly, have a fantastic time enjoying good food, good wine, family and friends…. After all, that’s what this day is about, giving thanks for the good in your life (and hopefully that includes the awesome people you choose to surround yourself with… or those you’re forced to be with… they’ve got redeeming qualities too!).
… even your 4-legged friends
What are your Thanksgiving wine tips?
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone. I’m ridiculously thankful you’re here, and still reading this post!