As the days draw closer to Thanksgiving, every wine lover in America is going to start to think about wine pairing with turkey.
It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan or a devotee of red meat, on this one day of the year, you will probably sit down at a table that features a roasted, or perhaps deep-fried, turkey.
What is the best wine for Thanksgiving dinner?
Selecting a wine to serve with what many Americans feel is the most important meal of the year, Thanksgiving, might seem hard to you.
If the thought of picking a bottle to take along to a shared Thanksgiving table gives you anxiety, get over it!
Although some prominent members of the wine industry might not love my saying this, if the food is good and the company is good and the wine has alcohol in it, you’ve chosen the right wine.
If you find a gathering with your relatives stressful, you might want to check out my column on serving high-alcohol wines at family gatherings. After all, more important than how well the wine will pair with turkey is how much the wine improves the general mood at the table.
As you can probably tell, this article is not about the best wine with turkey but about learning to feel empowered to choose the wine that’s right for you.
Instead of worrying about wine pairing, choose the wine that’s right for you
Don’t let yourself get all wrapped up in choosing the best wines for a Thanksgiving feast. (That’s pretty much any wine you enjoy.) Or what pairs with cranberry sauce, (very little).
Now, I’m not going to leave you without a few hints. After all, this article is all about turkey pairing!
BUT I’m not going to tell you any single wine style or grape variety is right for Thanksgiving. There are a few real world, fact-based reasons for that:
- Not all wines made in the same style or from the same grape are the same. I generally like Zinfandel with my Thanksgiving feast but not all Zinfandels are the same. Some are much higher alcohol than others. (You might want to take note, if you really don’t enjoy sitting down to a Holiday dinner with your relatives.)
- I can suggest one particular wine I want to drink with Thanksgiving dinner but if you don’t like that particular wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or sparkling wine, you shouldn’t drink it.
Now, going back to the Zinfandel example, I could tell you Zinfandel is the absolute perfect wine for a Holiday meal. Many historians consider Zinfandel to be America’s grape. And the flavor profile of your average Zinfandel is not only tasty with turkey, but it also won’t make sweet and tangy cranberry sauce taste horrible.
This is all true. But if you only like to drink sweet, white wines, you are never going to enjoy Zinfandel with your turkey dinner.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when trying to buy wines to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
Let’s look more closely at a few.
What is the best wine with turkey?
Is there really a wine style or a few wine styles that taste better than others with turkey? The truth is, if you’re serving a seasoned and well-cooked bird, any wine you might want to serve is going to be just fine with roast or even fried turkey.
Why is that? Turkey is white meat. When cooked properly, it is deliciously moist but even when it’s generously seasoned or brined, it’s still pretty bland. Some experts will argue that, because roast turkey is low-fat meat, serving a tannic red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah with turkey will emphasize the wine’s tannins. That may be true. But at a dinner table full of friends not to mention as many as a dozen side dishes, what’s the likelihood that anyone will notice whether the turkey makes your Sangiovese seem tannic?
Pairing your turkey dinner wine with side dishes
If you’re not going to pair your wine with the bird, you may be wondering if you should concentrate on pairing your wine with the Thanksgiving dinner trimmings. But here’s the problem with trying to do this, we all have different flavors and traditions for what foods go on our Thanksgiving table.
At a Southern or Pennsylvania Dutch table, there tend to be wide contrasts of super sweet and somewhat bitter elements, whereas a traditional New England table or a Midwestern meal might offer simpler flavors. Or they might serve a smoked turkey instead of roasted.
Additionally, some families celebrate multiple cultures at the Thanksgiving table. To suggest that the same wine is going to pair “perfectly” at one family’s table with turkey and kimchi and another with cornbread stuffing and ambrosia salad is absurd.
Wine pairing for a vegan Thanksgiving
And then there’s the vegan Thanksgiving. Although the same wine may be a wonderful match with turkey and tofu, I really have no idea what a vegan Thanksgiving meal means to you. So how could I possibly recommend a single wine or wine style that will “pair” with this feast?
Why American wine makes the best wine for Thanksgiving
Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, (even if it might be one with questionable origins), my best recommendation for narrowing down the Thanksgiving wine choice is to choose an American wine.
In truth, this narrows down the choice only marginally. After all, wine is made in all 50 of the United States.
Consider serving several wines with your holiday meal
Of course, you don’t have to choose just one wine for your “turkey pairing.”
In fact, the best choice, if your Thanksgiving celebration is a large gathering, is to offer two or three different wines. They don’t have to be expensive. You can find many nice, food-friendly wines in the $10-$30 range. And concentrate more on picking a variety of wines that should please the taste preferences of your guests more than worrying about pairing wine.
My “best wine for Thanksgiving dinner” recommendations
Below, you’ll find recommendations of some of my favorite American wines to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
At our house, you’ll typically find two or three of these wines open throughout the day of cooking and feasting with family and friends.
Start your holiday dinner with an American sparkling wine
Although these are the wines I recommend for the Thanksgiving dinner table, I also like to greet my guests with a Brut-style, American sparkling wine. There are great choices for sparkling wines being made in many parts of the U.S.
Here are great, American sparkling wine producers:
- From California: Iron Horse, J Wine Company, Domaine Carneros, Breathless, Schramsburg
- From Oregon: Argyle, Sokol Blosser
- From New Mexico: Gruet
- From Michigan: Mawby
- From New York: Lamoreaux Landing, Sparkling Pointe
- From Massachusettes: Westport Rivers
White wines to pair with turkey dinner
This floral, faintly citrusy wine is made in an off-dry style. (Yes, this is the wine for those of us who enjoy a little sweetness paired with our Thanksgiving dinner.) It is pretty, approachable and widely distributed. And it has the acidity to cut through the richness of all those butter-laden side dishes. Best of all, since it’s relatively low in alcohol, it almost guarantees that there will be no drunken turkey carving injuries in your kitchen.
America is full of Chardonnay lovers. And if Chardonnay is your wine, you should pair it with your turkey dinner. This Long Island Chardonnay is a great example of East Coast wine. Although it is made in Bridgehampton–that’s right, this wine is from The Hamptons–the grapes come from both the North and South forks of Long Island. A clean, bright wine, it is fermented in stainless steel to really let the fruit’s flavors shine.
Rosé wines to pair with turkey dinner
A surprising (and wildly unusual) blend of red and white wines, Province is absolutely one of my top picks for Thanksgiving wines. It’s a fairly big-bodied wine with notes of cranberry and quince, stone fruits and baking spices. In other words, it tastes like the best of summer and fall all in one bottle. Although some call it a full-bodied rosé, it’s really more of a blend of the most fun elements of red and white wine. Serve it chilled for the best tasting experience.
If you prefer a more traditional style of Rosé, here’s an American wine you can stand behind to serve at Thanksgiving or any good meal. And no, you don’t have to wait for summer to drink rosé. If you enjoy a crisp rosé, there’s no reason not to serve this elegant, Californian wine with great minerality alongside your November feast.
Red wines to pair with turkey dinner
This might be my new favorite answer to the question, “What should you drink with Thanksgiving dinner?” This sparkling red wine’s flavors will surprise and challenge the palate–but in a good way! It’s a Pinot Noir, made in the méthode champenoise with only 1% residual sugar. A wine designed to serve with food, this is not your normal aperitif sparkling wine. In fact, I encourage you not to pop the cork before dinner. But save this slightly savory, full-bodied sparkling wine to pair with your turkey dinner.
If what you crave with your traditional, turkey feast is a California Pinot Noir, then I recommend you try this one. An under-the-radar Pinot worth discovering, it has substance, thanks in part to 30% new French oak aging. But what I like is the texture. It has brightness from good acidity and fine grain tannins. Its flavor is of black cherry with just a touch of spice.
I feel lucky to have discovered this Livermore Valley red just in time for Thanksgiving. One sip and you will swear Karl Wente bottled the “best of” this holiday tradition. The wine offers notes of cranberries, raspberries, pepper and plums. And there’s a hint of sage toward the back of the palate. To me, it echos the flavor of great turkey, cranberries and dressing. It’s a well-balanced red with mild tannins, making it a welcome choice for the holiday meal or, frankly, any meal.
More tips for finding the best Thanksgiving wine
There are thousands of other reasonably-priced American wines you could choose to grace your Thanksgiving table. And as we’ve already established, there is no “best” wine for turkey.
If none of my recommendations strike your fancy, just take a stroll through your favorite wine shop for a treasure trove of wines for Thanksgiving. If you want to offer your guests variety, settle on a price range and buy 1-3 bottles of each wine. Try looking for a sweet white, a dry white or rosé and a red wine like a Pinot Noir or, if your guests like more bold reds, a Zinfandel.
And as long as you choose the right company to join you at your table, any one of them will be just the right wine. Cheers!
Photo of woman drinking rosé by Peter Heeling.
Amy Reiley is an internationally published wine writer as well as a leading authority on aphrodisiac foods. Got a question about wine, food or sexual health? She probably has the answer!
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