Top 10 Thanksgiving Wine Types–And Why they Pair So Well

The range of flavors on the Thanksgiving table is tailor-made for the core pairing principles of complement and contrast, so why not open several wines and put them to the test? Below are my best-bet wines, and what to look for when pairing them.

The best wines to pair with the Thanksgiving feast are the ones somebody else is paying for, right? OK, jokes aside, to choose wine pairings for the classic Thanksgiving meal of turkey and trimmings, you should focus on the trimmings because simply put, any wine pairs beautifully with a roasted bird. Here are the core pairing principles at work:

Complement – Fuller-bodied reds and whites highlight pairing by complement – in this case with the body of the dish on a par with the body of the wine.

Contrast – But a lighter white or red with lively acidity works just as well as a contrasting pairing, with the acidity of the wine cutting through the roasted bird richness as deftly as your carving knife. As my friend Aline Baly from Chateau Coutet in Sauternes notes, sweet wines work well too, especially if your turkey’s been seasoned with some spice, whether just black pepper or your family’s signature dry rub.

With this in mind, here are my Top 10 Thanksgiving Wine Types, and what you’ll taste (and learn) when pairing them with your Thanksgiving feast.

Wente Riva Ranch Pinot Noir, Monterey, California

Wente Riva Ranch Pinot Noir, Monterey, California

American Pinot Noir – from cool climate areas like Monterey, Russian River, Santa Barbara and Oregon’s Willamette Valley,  provide great acidity for contrast, with earthiness to complement stuffings, potatoes, turnips, etc. Another great pick is Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir. From Oregon I love Sokol-Blosser Dundee Hills.

Spanish Tempranillo – Spain’s signature grape works in all its guises. This joven (young and fresh) Cair Cuvee from the Ribera del Duero region, or a Reserva or Gran Reserva such as Faustino from the Rioja region, bring a complement of lusty spiciness to the bird, as well as spicy side dishes like stuffing.

Maurice Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru, Burgundy, France

Maurice Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru, Burgundy, France

French red Burgundy – The truffly earthiness of red Burgundy beautifully complements earthy sides like mashed potatoes, wild rice, roasted mushrroms, root veggies; while its sleek Pinot Noir acidity cuts through the richness of turkey and gravy. For a value bottling look for Louis Jadot Bourgogne.

American Chardonnay – Hedonists can go rich and barrel fermented such as the glorious Dutton-Goldfield Walker Hill Vineyard, to complement the rich turkey and buttery or rich sides like mashed potatoes. But a lower-oak style such as this Au Bon Climat allows for contrast, with bright acidity and juicy fruit that will play nice with just about every dish and every diner at the table.

Domaine Talmard Macon-Chardonnay, Burgundy, France

Domaine Talmard Macon-Chardonnay, Burgundy, France

French White Burgundy – The home region for Chardonnay offers benchmark barrel-fermented styles that are delicious but pricey and to me, worthy of the meal being tailored to them–think lobster or mushroom risotto. For Thanksgiving fare, the racier, no- or low-oak styles from Maconnais (Macon, Pouilly-Fuisse, Saint-Veran), Cote Chalonnaise (Rully or Montagny), or Chablis are my pick for their food versatility.

Sauvignon Blanc – For its lively-zingy-juiciness, you must have at least one wine from the Sauvignon Blanc grape on your Thanksgiving table. Try a varietally labeled new world version such as Honig from Napa, Brancott from New Zealand, Phelps Creek from Oregon, or Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Hills from Washington. Or, go with a French classic from the Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume), or Bordeaux (Pessac-Leognon) regions.

Riesling – Having a Riesling on your Thanksgiving table is as critical as having a turkey. Once you try it you will see why I say that but if you have read this far you already know – it’s the acidity!  Dry styles such as Trimbach from Alsace, Robert Weil from Germany or Ste. Michelle from Washington, will weave a web of deliciousness through the entire menu. Slightly sweet styles from Germany (I love Loosen and Selbach-Oster) will do the happy dance with every dish–even the candied yams.

Villa Antinori Rosso Super Tuscan, Toscana, Italy

Villa Antinori, Toscana, Italy

Tuscan Sangiovese – Yes, the wine that sings with olive oil and oregano is just as comfy on the Thanksgiving table because of its…wait for it: acidity (contrast). But, there’s such abundant savor and spice in the flavor profile that we’re also talking complement. So this is a pairing you really must try. Look for Chianti Classico, Brunello for a splurge, or blends like this Antinori Super-Tuscan. Bravo!

Zuccardi Torrontes, Salta, Argentina

Zuccardi Torrontes Serie A, Salta, Argentina

Aromatic Whites – This category–aromatic white grapes like Torrontes from Argentina, Gewurztraminer, or dry Muscat from Alsace, may surprise you but give it a try. Their juicy acidity does its contrast duty, while their floral/spicy notes make for flavor fireworks with the turkey, spicy stuffings, sweet potatoes, and more.

Deutz Brut Classic, Champagne, France

Champagne Deutz Brut Classic, France

Bubbles – Great acidity and scrubbing bubbles?  That’s food match-making made in heaven so DO NOT just toast. This wine type is dying to trot with your turkey and I guarantee you’ll love their synchronicity. For me, splurging on real French Champagne is worth it for the amazing complexity, but great sparkling values abound in Italian Proseccos such as Mionetto, Spanish Cavas such as Segura Viudas, and American sparkling wines like Chandon.

Sweet wines (part 1) – What a fun thing to try, right? Late harvested, honeyed (by botrytis mold), or ice wine from frozen grapes, all sport a lush marmalade quality that would be a delicious contrast to spicy dishes, and a wonderful flavor complement to sweeter fare from candied yams to roasted, caramelized vegetables, to fruited stuffings, to apple and pumpkin pies. Delish!

Calem 10-Year-Old Tawny Porto, Portugal

Calem 10-Year-Old-Tawny Port, Portugal

Sweet wines (part 2) – Long cask aging for wine styles like 10-Year-Old Tawny Port and Pedro Ximenez Sherry, creates bewitching caramelized, nutty, spicy flavors that would make a marvelous complement to nut-spiked stuffings or yam dishes, caramelized onions and squashes, and at dessert, pumpkin and pecan pies.  And you can re-stopper the bottle and plan on enjoying any leftovers throughout the rest of the year, with holiday cookies and pastries. Yum!

These specific picks are inspired by my Delta wine program, but if you can’t find them, ask your wine shop for a similar-style selection. I hope you’ll try several! Why? Because it’s fun, festive, and a great way to commemorate the day America’s founders set aside to be thankful for our country, with tastes representing the melting pot of cultures that makes us who we are. Cheers to that! For more about these pairings, watch my Facebook live post:

Remembering Koerner Rombauer

We mourn the passing on May 10, 2018 of Napa Valley wine icon Koerner Rombauer, founder of Rombauer Vineyards, and also celebrate a life steeped in family, philanthropy, mentoring others, and the joy of wine and food. My husband John and I first met Koerner while he was doing something he did a lot: raising money for worthy causes.

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Among the pulled corks of special bottles lining the path to our traditional Christmas dinner pairing of red Burgundy and duck breast, is always a decadent barrel-fermented Chardonnay to accompany one of my favorite date-night dishes: John’s Lobster Pasta with Vanilla Bean Beurre Blanc. Tonight’s the night! Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be dreaming of this white Christmas pairing any time you have access to lobster.

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If a dish is a labor of love does that qualify it as date-night food? In my book, yes–and my husband John’s lovingly flavor-layered black beans are exactly that. And of course tenderloin is just plain sexy in both name, and in nummy-ness, when he prepares it this way:

A perfect wine and cheese pairing for holiday gifting.

Whether there’s a wine and cheese lover on your gift list, a gourmand, a boss for whom you never know what to buy, or you’re invited and want to show up with something thoughtful and festive for the host, I have the perfect pairing for you–Pinot Noir and Comte cheese.

My Napa: Visit some of my favorite wine country stops this holiday season.

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As a Napa Valley local, I am always proud to show off our beautiful home to visitors. Any time is a great time to be here, but this season is especially nice because the valley is beautiful, wineries have decked the walls with festive lights and greenery, and many are donating tasting room fees to fire recovery–a way for you to help!

2 replies
  1. Patricia Lewis
    Patricia Lewis says:

    Hi Andrea

    I wish I had read this earlier.

    I bought your glasses at Macy’s years ago and they (along with my Petit Sommelier wine glasses from Paris and Sky Club wine glasses from atop the Pan Am Building) are my three top favorite wine glasses.

    I bought several copies of Kevin Zraly’s updated Windows on the World wine course book for Christmas presents for the wine lovers in my family.. It brought back so many fond memories of special occasions at Cellar’s in the Sky – and you and Kevin. It really was Spectacular and I can’t even find the words to express how out- of- this- world. special the place was.

    Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2017!

    Patricia A. Lewis
    Purser – NYC

    PS
    Is there a deadline to complete the wine quiz to become a certified junior sommelier in the sky?

    Reply
    • Andrea
      Andrea says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words! January 31 for this year’s first “class” of Sky Sommeliers. I hope to meet you at the recognition luncheon!

      Reply

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