A traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a feast of flavors: dark and white meat, tart cranberries, super-sweet yams, savory stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, and spicy pumpkin pie - so choosing the right wine can be a real challenge.
But rather than worrying about trying to pair each dish with its own wine, it’s best to let the food be the star of the show and select simple, easy-drinking wines that are light and refreshing. It's best to have wines that complement the food rather than compete with it.
Specifically, look for higher acid and lower-alcohol wines that are dry to off-dry. Stay away from big tannic or overly oaked wines.
Here are some recommendations that will help you find the perfect match for your Turkey Day celebrations:
A festive flute of bubbles is a great way to start your Thanksgiving feast. Be it a Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or Franciacorta, a sparkling wine is one of the most versatile of food wines, and will complement a wide range of appetizers, as well as entrées. If you’re serving a sparkling wine with dinner, make sure it’s a dry wine labeled brut, and not a sweet sparkler such as Italy’s Asti Spumante.
Rosés, like sparkling wines, are very food-friendly. Crisp, light and fruity, this high-acid wine will cut through the fat of a hefty meal, plus it'll add a splash of color to your table. Opt for a dry Rosé and be sure to serve it chilled.
Riesling is a real crowd pleaser at Thanksgiving. Its crisp acidity, plus a touch of sweetness, helps balance the entire dinner. Traditionally from Germany, good American examples of Riesling can be found in Washington State, Oregon and New York’s Finger Lakes.
Many people associate Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau, the Gamay-based wine released every year on the third Thursday of November. But there is more to this wine than those celebratory new wines that are fermented quickly and rushed off to market. A Beaujolais Cru, for example, is fermented longer and aged in oak, along with lees stirring, which brings out the complexity of the grape. The result is a refreshing, fruity, easy-drinking wine that complements the entire range of Thanksgiving dishes.
For many, Pinot Noir is the go-to wine for Thanksgiving. This lighter-style wine, with soft and fruity tannins, is perfect for a big meal. With a good balance of generous fruit, acidity and spices, it goes well with the different flavors of the Thanksgiving feast.
“I am a traditionalist and like my turkey roasted. Nothing goes better with roasted turkey than an elegant, velvety Pinot Noir with gentle tannins," said Karin Singley, Chairman of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ Wine Events Committee. "The vibrant red cherry and black fruits, along with the bright acidity complement not only the turkey, but also the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. Think California or Oregon Pinot Noirs that are not overly extracted.”
Zinfandel has long been considered the all-American grape, given that it was once the most planted variety in California. More full-bodied than a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel offers fruity berry notes with undertones of cinnamon and nutmeg, two spices that are quite common in Thanksgiving dishes. This wine will go with about every dish you serve.
When we think of Thanksgiving desserts, pumpkin pie and pecan pie come to mind. And so do fortified wines. An aged Tawny Port, with its spicy, toasted and candied-nut flavors, seems to be made for Thanksgiving dinner. For a dense, nutty flavor with an earthy quality that creates an intensity of sweetness, try a cream Sherry or a Pedro Ximinez. A non-fortified wine, such as a Moscato d' Asti, is also a great match, as is a late-harvest Riesling. Other good choices include Madeira, French Banyuls, an Italian Vin Santo or, if you really want to splurge, a luscious Sauternes from France.
This list of Thanksgiving wines is by no means meant to be inclusive. Many wine experts recommend Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Albarino or Viognier for white wine varieties, and Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Rhone-style blends for reds. It has been said that Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon, not a sprint. Go slowly, pace yourself and let the food be the star. The wine there to complement food…to swirl, sip and savor.
Need some inspiration for your Thanksgiving wine needs? Our winners from the 2020 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition will be announced Friday, Nov. 22, 2019.