Right around this time of the 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.
When it comes to your standard traditional Thanksgiving dinner you have a lot going on (spice, richness, fruit, salty, sweet) 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 think about finding a wine for each individual dish.
But then, what about the turkey? 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 not the star of the meal (and contains somewhat neutral flavors compared to all the side dishes). Think about Thanksgiving as an ensemble performance with an all star cast. Focus more on the flavors that dominate the entire meal (cranberries, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing) and finding wines to help balance out those flavors?
I was asked to speak at an event over the weekend on pairing wines with holiday food, and preparing for it allowed me to sit down and really think about ways to keep things simple, straightforward, and stress free. The event was also one focusing on women and was located near the heart of the Willamette Valley wine country so one of my goals was to keep the discussion to both local and value driven options for the upcoming holidays. Plus, since the audience was comprised of all women, I wanted to highlight some women winemaker options as well. Gotta spread the girl power, right?!
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. When at all possible I like to keep it local (or at least domestic) for this American holiday. But if that is not easy for you I offer some widely available alternatives as well.
Thanksgiving Wine Guide
Wines that would compliment the wide range of flavors of Thanksgiving dinner.
Sparkling Wine: I always begin any dinner or event (whether Thanksgiving, a holiday party, or brunch) 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. Some of my favorite go-to bubbles are between $10 – $20.
Riesling: 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 good to have one 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.
Gewürztraminer: Another white wine that may present itself dry or sweet, depending on the style. Look for dry to semi-sweet. These wines are aromatic, floral, and spicy with a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit more kick to them. May also be a good dessert option (mmmm pumpkin pie).
Pinot Noir: A traditional favorite for Thanksgiving and if you’re in Oregon, like me, then there is no shortage of Pinot Noir around here. This is a great option because it typically has bright fruit (think cherries, cranberries, raspberries) and earth (think mushrooms) so it is perfect for the fruity, earthy, and spicy foods of Thanksgiving. This wine will compliment, without overpowering, almost all of the flavors of the day.
Zinfandel: 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 and gravy). This would be a great option for your guests who may be looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.
Dessert Wines: Look for Ports, Cream Sherries, Rieslings, and even Sparkling Wine.
I put this list together for the event I did last weekend, focusing primarily on both local wines and female winemakers. This was an all women’s event and wanted to promote some of the women winemakers in Oregon while also putting an emphasis on value driven wines. They are also widely available locally.
Value: Cristalino Brut Cava, $7.99 (great for mimosas and champagne cocktails)
Value: Gruet Blanc de Noirs, $12.99 (from New Mexico)
Local/Splurge: 2007 Argyle Brut Rosé, $45
Local: 2008 Phelps Creek Oak Ridge Gewürztraminer Columbia Gorge, $17
* Local: 2008 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Riesling, $18
Dry Rosé Wines
Value: Southern French Rosés ( in the $8-$15 range), like 2008 Château Guiot Rosé, $11
Local: 2008 Anne Amie Cuvée A Midnight Saignée Rosé, $15
Value: 2008 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, $24 (producer of some of my favorite Zins)
* Local/Value: 2007 Stoller JV Estate Pinot Noir, $25
* Local/Splurge: 2006 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Laurène, $65
* Denotes local wines made by women winemakers
- Have at least three wine options: sparkling, a white, and a red. Don’t worry about having too much. Look for my upcoming post on what to do with leftover wines during the holidays.
- Magnums are great for larger crowds (6-10 people).
- Sparkling wine goes with everything (it’s true).
- 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.
- Most importantly, have a fantastic time enjoying good food, good wine, family and friends.