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Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Guide

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Guide

 

Your Thanksgiving Celebration Wine Roadmap

The last three months of the year may lack sunshine, but they are abundant in gatherings of all shapes and sizes. Thanksgiving used to be a time to celebrate the abundance of the harvest. These days, Thanksgiving is less about the harvest and more about drinking, eating, and honoring our traditions with our closest family and friends. We all gather together to enjoy turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and apple pie. All of which would be nothing without a carefully selected bottle of wine.

As the end of November approaches and your Thanksgiving ideas turn into solid plans, your thoughts will probably turn to which wine you should bring. Red, white, or rose (or a mixture of all three) make a welcome addition to any celebration. But which is the best wine for Thanksgiving?

When choosing a wine, you will want to consider several factors. The perfect bottle will depend on the type of celebration and, of course, the food. Keep reading to learn which fall wines you should choose to enhance your Thanksgiving party this year.

Pairing Wine With The Courses

First of all, you are probably asking yourself which wine goes with turkey? Turkey and Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand, and any wine you choose should taste good with the central protein. But turkey isn’t for everyone, even though it’s often the primary protein on the table. This section explores the perfect wine for each of the three typical Thanksgiving courses.

When pairing wine with food, you traditionally begin with sparkling wine, light- or medium-bodied white wine, or rose wine before proceeding to full-bodied whites and reds. 

This strategy is practical because sparkling, white, and rose wine tend to have more delicate flavors and fewer tannins that pair well with your typical appetizer foods like veggie platters and cheeses. Light-bodied reds that pair well with chicken, fish, and vegetable courses are consumed before heavy reds to keep from overwhelming your palate. Full-bodied reds pair best with roasted meats, as well as smoky and charred flavors. You should save any sweet wines for the end of the meal.

The type of glass and temperature of your wine also influence the subtle flavors and aromas of the wine. Learn how to properly taste wine ahead of time to impress your friends and family. 

Each course of your upcoming Thanksgiving feast has an ideal wine pairing. Check out a few of our recommendations below.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Appetizers

Riesling, Chardonnay, and Rose are classic appetizer pairings. Their bright acidity and fresh fruit flavors cleanse the palate before the main course. However, if your appetizer includes a charcuterie board, a light-bodied red might be a better choice.

A few typical wine and food pairings include Vermentino with fruit and vegetable platters, Pinot Gris with olives and pickles, and Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz with an herbed cheese ball. If the cheese ball is smoky or your table has a lot of cured meats, a Malbec is your best bet.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Main Entrees

The main course staples can be found on most American tables and include turkey, potatoes, cranberries, and fall vegetables. 

The best wine with turkey is either a rich Chardonnay or bright Pinot Noir.

Chardonnay

When choosing a Chardonnay, look for one that is full-bodied from either California or Burgundy in France. Full-bodied Chardonnays are generally oaky and rich from malolactic fermentation which brings a creaminess to even the driest piece of turkey. Chardonnay’s acidity helps balance any fats and enhances all of the flavors on the table. 

Pinot Noir

Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir do well with almost everything on the table which makes them our vote for the best wine for Thanksgiving. Pinot Noir has plenty of acidity which balances fat and sweet foods like cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. It also tends to have bright, red fruit flavors and subtle warming spices that will complement fall vegetable sides and pair well with turkey.

Some of the bottles from the appetizer course will transition well into dinner.  Chardonnay pairs well with mashed potatoes, dry Riesling with candied yams and stuffing, Voignier with green bean casserole.

Other Red Suggestions

If you prefer red wine with dinner but want to try something a bit different, Gamay, Coteaux Bourguignons, Merlot, Grenache, and Tempranillo would all pair well with a turkey dinner.

Gamay, Coteaux Bourguignons, and Grenache are all light-bodied reds with plenty of fruit flavors, floral aromas, and light tannins. 

Merlot and Tempranillo are both medium-bodied red wines that tend to have more robust flavors and textures. Merlot is a round-bodied red with flavors of dark fruits and moderate acidity- a true crowd-pleaser. Tempranillo is a Spanish grape with medium acidity to cut through fat-heavy mashed potatoes and a long finish that pairs particularly well with cranberry sauce.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Dessert

It wouldn’t be a proper Thanksgiving without some form of dessert. Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies, bread pudding, cookies, cakes, and other sweets are staples of most fall celebrations. A few classic wine and dessert pairings include apple pie with dry Riesling, dark chocolate bourbon pecan pie with Souzao or Merlot, cranberry bread pudding with Tempranillo, and pumpkin pie with Zinfandel. 

Wine and cheese are classic dessert food pairings. Although many families put out the cheese plate as an appetizer, cheese makes a delicious, savory dessert. You can pair it with fruit, chocolate, honey, jam, and sweet crackers to boost the sweetness. Creamy brie, soft goat cheese, and aged cheddars are particularly delicious on a dessert cheese plate.


If you aren’t a huge fan of the traditional Thanksgiving bird, choose your wine to match your favorite course. Some of us eat so many appetizers that we are full by the time the turkey is ready. Others save themselves for the main course because what is Thanksgiving without turkey and mashed potatoes? And there will always be those who save plenty of room for the dessert table where apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies await. Whatever your preference, the perfect bottle of wine will only enhance and improve your dining experience.

Your Thanksgiving Party

The most common type of Thanksgiving celebration includes three things: a perfectly cooked turkey, a football game, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. However, we all have our traditions that we celebrate year after year and each demands a different bottle of wine.

Friendsgiving

Friendsgiving is a twist on the traditional party in which friends come together instead of family. Friends are the family that we choose. They often live closer and share similar interests. But the perfect bottle of wine for your Friendsgiving will probably depend on your friends’ skills in the kitchen. 

The typical Friendsgiving is a potluck, a hodgepodge of dishes from broccoli casserole to peanut butter cookies. An easy choice for this type of party would be Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. These bottles go with pretty much any of the classic Thanksgiving dishes and they are crowd-pleasers. You could also make a big batch of sangria with some cheaper bottles of wine or a magnum of any light-bodied red or full-bodied white so that everyone can have a glass.

Thanksgiving Day Game

Family & Football is a classic combination. Families both large and small, gather together at the largest family house to celebrate and give thanks together. Appetizers are set out right after breakfast, dinner is ready at 3 pm, and then everyone gathers around the television to watch a football game as they digest before dessert. 

Chances are, if you are old enough to drink, you will probably have a glass of something or other in your hand from 11 am to 7 pm when the tryptophan in the turkey finally sends you yawning into your bedroom. The best option for day drinking is something with low alcohol by volume. 

Certain Italian reds (Chianti for example) are a great option because they were made to be consumed in large volumes and typically have a low ABV (alcohol by volume) level of 11.5 to 13.5%. Other options include roses, Pinot Noirs, and Rieslings. Riesling is well-known for its low ABV, usually somewhere between 9% and 11%, and the acidity of dry Rieslings will cut through all of the fat and salt in typical Thanksgiving dishes.

Smaller Gatherings

Intimate Thanksgiving celebrations have become more prevalent in the time after the pandemic. The size of your celebration shouldn’t matter. Cozy gatherings of two to ten people can be just as fun as large, multi-generational parties. Intimate parties are the perfect time to break out a few nicer bottles of wine. A mid-range Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, or Grenache would work well with most Thanksgiving dishes and can be found in varying ranges of quality.

Mix It Up: A Twist on the Traditional

While a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir will please many of your guests, relatives, and friends, sometimes you want to mix it up. More and more turkey is becoming a second choice to more flavorful and easy to cook meats such as duck, chicken, and ham. And who could ever forget that strange Thanksgiving creation, the turducken?  

If you are looking to try one of these less traditional proteins, you will need to adjust your wine purchases accordingly. A fat, crispy roasted duck will pair well with the previously mentioned Pinot Noir and Gamay, but would also stand up to a medium- to full-bodied red like Barbera, Sangiovese, or a Bordeaux blend. Chicken usually pairs best with white wine. The aforementioned full-bodied Chardonnay would work, as would a grassy, citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or the lime, pear, and honey of a French Pinot Grigio.

Pumpkin Spice

It was probably inevitable but the fall trend of pumpkin spice has finally made it into the wine world. While good examples of pumpkin spice wine and pumpkin wine probably exist, the greatest result of this trend is a delicious new type of sangria. Try it for yourself! 

Pumpkin Spice Sangria Recipe using Dry White Wine, Bourbon, apple cider, brown sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin spice, applies and pears. Mix it all together for the perfect Thanksgiving cocktail.

Drinking Wine with the Seasons

Although many wine lovers would tell you differently, seasonal wines are a serious consideration. That isn’t to say that rose doesn’t taste good in the middle of winter, or that you can’t enjoy a heavy red in the height of summer, but typically certain wines are best enjoyed at certain times of the year. Rose tastes even better when paired with fresh fruit as your feet dangle into the refreshing water of a pool. Heavy red wines warm you from the inside out when snow falls thick and fast outside. 

When the leaves start to turn and the air is cool and crisp, white and rose both take a back seat while red wine makes a comeback. Fall wines include anything from a light-bodied Grenache to a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Elevate your Thanksgiving celebration this year by bringing a variety of wines to taste. Sometimes, experimenting is the only way to find your favorite flavor combinations!

 

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