Thanksgiving Wines Paired With Your Menu Style

Every year, we get questions on how to pair wine with Thanksgiving dinner; it’s a nice dinner you’ve gone to great lengths to prepare, and you want to drink something nice with it. This is both a hard question to answer and an easy one, because turkey itself is a blank canvas — you can pair it with pretty much every wine in the world and it’ll work pretty well — so it’s never so much about the turkey as it is about the seasonings and sides. The problem here is actually that there’s too much choice.




Photo by: Nikada



We’ve narrowed your Thanksgiving tables down to a few prominent palate profiles, and we are providing a red and a white for each. Because it’s difficult to know what each individual person’s wine store stocks, we’ve included flavor guidelines, so if you have a helpful wine store nearby, you can bring those to the staff and get some guidance. Each bottle of wine is five glasses. Assume each guest will drink three glasses or so, more or less depending on who is attending — you know your friends better than we do. Same goes for price. If you’re willing to spend $15 to $20 per bottle, you can definitely walk away with better wine than if you’re willing to spend $5, but at some point marginal utility does kick in, and you’re not going to get appreciably better wine for your money with $30 than you would with $25.

We’re sticking with all-American wines here, because it’s Thanksgiving and because they’re generally easier to find. Regions are recommendations only — if you have favorite local wines, go for them!

The Classic: Straightforward roast turkey with richer, sweeter sides (green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows). For this menu, go with big wines from warm places: Oaky California Chardonnays or jammy Zinfandels are your best bets. These are also fairly safe go-tos if you’re going to someone’s house and don’t know what’s on the table.

The Spicy: Roast turkey with a chili rub, sweet potatoes with cumin, Brussels sprouts with kimchi, stuffing with chorizo. Here you’ll want to go with a sweeter, cold-climate white, a New York state or Oregon Riesling, and a delicate medium-bodied red, like a California Pinot Noir.

The Southern: Deep-fried turkey with cornbread stuffing and cheesy casseroles: It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best pairs for a super-rich, cheesy meal like this is sparkling wine, white or rosé. Look for affordable sparklers from California or New Mexico, or try a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a fruity Merlot.

The Italian: If your classic turkey side is lasagna, this one’s for you. Go with something herby and tannic: Sangiovese or Cabernet Franc from California if you can find it, or a crisp Pinot Gris from Oregon or Washington.

The Northwestern: If your stuffing is packed with wild mushrooms and hazelnuts, and there’s a side of smoked salmon next to your turkey, this is an easy one. The best pairs for Northwestern food are Northwestern wines, say a Gewürztraminer or a Pinot Noir from Oregon or Washington.

The Neotraditional: For your classic menu with a tiny twist, say spatchcocked turkey with the stuffing on the side, blanched green beans, roasted sweet potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce, skip the wine and go with bourbon cocktails. Whip up something like this Bourbon Bog, made in a pitcher and served over ice.

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