A Quick Guide for Selecting the Best Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast
By Stacy Slinkard,
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, there is no better time to start planning your Thanksgiving dinner menu and selecting wines to complement the feast. Historically, the week before Thanksgiving is a great time to buy wine as many wine merchants run specials on preferred wines.
The big question - which wines to go with the variety of tastes, textures and aromas that uniquely present themselves on Thanksgiving Day?
Should you choose one wine to carry you through appetizers to desserts – a tough request, but doable. Or should you choose several wines to accent different components of the meal and cater to a variety of guests’ palates? The choice is entirely up to you, but here are some options to get you started.
From appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, pickled this and peppered that, all the way to pumpkin or pecan pie – is there truly a single wine that can take you seamlessly from start to finish? Enter, sparkling wines - an increasingly popular pairing partner, and not just for the holidays. Sparkling wines bring both elegance and phenomenal food-pairing versatility to virtually any meal, but with Thanksgiving these wines really shine. The art of pairing wines with food is largely a matter of personal preference; however, some safe bets for Thanksgiving wines are Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel for red wine lovers and Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier for those who prefer white wines. With white wines the pairing priority is finding a wine with well-balanced acidity, with reds you are shooting for fairly tame tannins that will yield to and support the flavors of the food.
Best Thanksgiving White Wines
Riesling: A white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, excellent with any dishes that are spicy, salty or sweet. Whether from Alsace, Germany or Washington – Riesling wines are a top pick white wine for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Riesling’s innate flavors of apple, apricot, honey and its clarifying acidity give it a significant pairing edge with the likes of sweet potatoes, turkey meat and spice-laden or herb-filled stuffing.
Gewurztraminer: This white wine tends to have the aromatic gusto and spicy palate appeal that give it a solid standing with turkey and gravy, bringing out the best in both. Gewurztraminer offers a delicious white wine option for Thanksgiving Day.
Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp white wine is known for its citrus-based flavors that can be surrounded by herb or mineral undertones, making it a prime pairing candidate for turkey and mashed potatoes.
Pinot Grigio: Capable of handling garlic and onions, herbs and rich, flavorful, high-fat dishes, this white wine is a natural for the demands of Thanksgiving Day.
Albarino and Viognier, while they may not boast the initial name recognition of say…Chardonnay, these white wine varietals, offer the perfect opportunity to shake up the Thanksgiving table and take your guests on a little wine adventure, while still maintaining perfect pairing power.
Top Red Wine Thanksgiving Options
Pinot Noir: This red wine is a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. Pinot Noir’s subtle earthy undertones and often mushroom inspired flavors surround the fruit features of the wine and tend to show well with the traditional flavors of turkey and stuffing.
Zinfandel: A fuller bodied red wine that ups the intensity from a Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. This would be a great wine pick for those looking for a heartier red wine with the capacity to accommodate spice, bitter and sweet flavor profiles.
Syrah/Shiraz: The Syrah grape can bring a spicy edge or a meaty character to the table often increasing the complexity, while graciously handling the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The prevalent peppery notes of Syrah will partner well with the herb-infused stuffing and both the white and dark turkey meat.
Beaujolais Nouveau: A light, fruity red wine, from the Gamay grape, that goes quite well with turkey and all of the fixings. This wine is released from France on the third Thursday of November, just in time to highlight your Thanksgiving feast!
Rosé and Sherry wines, along with the aforementioned sparkling wine category are also worthy of consideration for Thanksgiving wine pairing potential. They all provide a capable go between for those that are not firmly camped in either the red or white wine trenches. If you are considering a sparkling wine you may choose one labeled as “extra dry” – which will offer a touch more fruit flavor than a "brut." As for rosé wines, a drier selection will be the most versatile for pairing with virtually any part of the Thanksgiving feast. Keep in mind that if you are hosting 5 or 50 guests this Thanksgiving that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to offer a lovely selection of wines. There are many well-received, well-rated value wines that you can obtain for $10 or less.
Pumpkin and Pecan Pie Pairing Recommendations
When it comes to wine and pie pairings - fortified wines come immediately to mind. Pairing port with pies is a pretty straightforward matchup and goes way beyond just pumpkin and pecan pie. If you are a sherry fan then, you will want to take a look at either Pedro Ximénez or a Cream Sherry, to contribute a delicious nutty, sweet spice-filled character to the pumpkine or pecan pie pairing combination. Or count on a late harvest Riesling to bring rich, concentrated flavors of honey to a variety of desserts. Fortified wines and late harvest wines offer the sweetness and the viscosity to support the rich flavors and robust spice of the pumpkin pie as well as the caramelized flavors found in a pecan pie. They are also easy to find especially at this time of year.
When it is all said and done, choosing a Thanksgiving Day wine is truly about what you prefer and what your guests will enjoy. There are no hard and fast turkey pairing rules, just plenty of pairing options to experiment with and see what works best for you and yours. If you are looking for specific wines to find for this Thanksgiving season, then check out our Top Picks for Thanksgiving Wines.