Thanksgiving Pairing Guide Round-Up

Thanksgiving is nearly here!

I really love Thanksgiving. Feasting, food, family and friends . . . and of course wine. Wine tends to play a significant role in our Thanksgivings. We typically spend this holiday with Greg’s family, which is quite big and has many wine lovers. In fact, I think one of my most significant epiphany wine moments came over a Thanksgiving weekend when my brother-in-law Dave poured us a Châteauneuf-du-Pape which ultimately helped propel me down the path of wine geekdom.

This is what a recent Thanksgiving looked like a few years ago.
We used to occasionally do family wine tasting trips the day after Thanksgiving. However, it's a big family, and as more young family members crossed the 21+ line, the ranks swelled to the point that we’d easily overrun any tasting room with even a fraction of the total. 

Full disclosure, this post includes media samples that were sent to me. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Nonetheless, the feast day is usually a bit of a show and tell of bottles. Everyone brings a few things and there is always something new to try.

My contributions to a recent Thanksgiving. The Decoy Merlot (also featured in this post) and the Vignobles des Roches Morgon were both samples, but really enjoyed both with the Thanksgiving feast.

 For me, this part of the day is only topped by my sister-in-law’s pies.

Last year there was a break in our usual family plans, and go figure, we ended up spending the day with wine friends, so another fun and fantastic line up!

When winegeeks get together for Thanksgiving.

Holiday feasts like Thanksgiving are notoriously hard to pair because you have so many different flavors side by side on the table running the full gamut from savory to pretty sweet. Over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two about pairing this meal with wine and thought I’d share some pointers and bottles we've enjoyed.

First of all, I think it’s tough to find just one wine to match the whole meal given all the flavors. There’s also likely to be quite a few people at the table, all with their own palates and preferences.  Moreover, you’ll almost definitely need several bottles over the course of the meal anyways, so you might as well get a variety. As I mentioned, I also just find it fun to try different things and compare notes.

The general idea is to find wines that are versatile and go with lots of different categories of flavors.  I’d recommend going with some bubbles or rosé, a white wine, and a fruity, light to medium-bodied red. Now let’s dig a little deeper. 

Bring on the Bubbles!

It’s so lovely to greet guests with a glass of bubbly–or to be welcomed with a glass if you’re the guest.  We all know that bubbles set a festive mood and they make perfect aperitifs. Beyond that though, bubblies are among the most versatile pairing wines out there. They’re refreshing, cleanse the palate, keeping you ready to go for another bite.

Of course, Champagne is great when you can swing it or if there’s a smaller group, but if you’re buying for a large group, you’ll probably want something a little more affordable. Crémants are a great option for good bubbly on a budget. Here are a few more sparklers that’ve been a part of our holidays in the recent past.

I will say that if your holiday table involves a lot of dishes that tend towards the sweeter side, I’d suggest a bubbly with fruitier profile or even a little residual sugar otherwise the wine will become sour when you drink it with the sweeter food. It doesn’t have to be sweet, but an off-dry wine will match the food more easily.

Top: Champagne for when you feel like going all out, here Paul Bara Grand Brut Rosé Champagne NV;  Schramsberg Querencia Carneros Brut Rosé 2014 is a great California alternative;  Sektkellerei Fitz Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken NV was a pretty, aromatic, and food friendly alternative. 
Bottom: Bodegas As Laxas Sensum Rias Baixas Albarino Brut NV had a great mix of minerality and crisp, sunshiny fruit; this Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir from Poe Wines was brut, but ripe and fruity enough to work with lightly sweet food; for a offbeat choice, this Eden Imperial 11° Rosé cider of apples and red currants, would be fun and food friendly.

Not pictured, but and Extra-dry Prosecco Superiore DOCG is another great choice. Lambrusco is another fun option you might not have considered. They tend to mix fruity and savory notes, and the chill is refreshing.

Riesling, Especially Off-Dry

 When pressed to pick a favorite white grape, Riesling is my pick. A big part of that is because it’s super versatile. With bright, effusive aromatics and naturally fresh acidity, there’s a Riesling to match pretty much anything. There is a common misconception that all Rieslings are sweet, but they actually run the full gamut from extremely dry to dessert styles. In this case, much like with the bubblies above, a little bit of residual sugar is your friend if you have a lot of sweet dishes on the table like candied sweet potatoes. If you prefer a dry wine, ask for a fruitier version.

Peter Laure Barrel X Saar Riesling has just a hint of residual sweetness, so it’s bright and balanced, and pairs easily with lots of foods. It's also reasonably priced at close to $20. Rieslings also age really well and you can often find them at reasonable prices, like this Bollig-Lehnert Dhroner Hofberger Mosel Riesling Spatlese 2003 and Stephan Ehlen Erdener Treppchen Mosel Riesling Auslese Trocken 1993.
Gewurztraminer and riper Pinot Gris can fill similar roles on the table as well.


Full, Round White Wines

Since the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table is usually either turkey or ham, both of which straddle the white/red line, and many sides that are often on the heavier side. Full bodied can straddle that line well. Chardonnay is a classic option. Ripe and/or oaked versions also tend to work with roasted flavors, and as well as with many autumn vegetables that often have a bit of sweetness. 

Alma de Cattleya Chardonnay Sonoma County 2015 is a delicious option with balanced oak. Here it's paired with this Spaghetti Squash Carbonara I recently shared.

However, if you’re not a Chard fan, there are plenty of other options like Pinot Bianco and Grenache Blanc. Viognier is another good choice, particularly if you want something that combines fuller body with effusive aromatics.

Here are a few more ideas.

Top: Maison Nicolas Perrin Condrieu 2010 — Viognier for when you’re feeling fancy. Raft Wines Jonquille Viognier 2017 is ripe, delicious California version, that also happens to be considerably less pricey. Bottom: Davis Family is a family favorite, and their Cuvée Luke is a crowd pleasing Rhône White Blend out of Russian River Valley. I love Jaimee Motley's rich, textured Chenin Blanc. I recently shared this Pinot Bianco from Peter Zemmer  (which was a sample), but I think it would be a great Thanksgiving option as well.

Fresh Whites

Bright white wines at the other end of the spectrum have a role to play as well. First of all, they’re great aperitifs, of course. As well, they can be a nice counterbalance to heavy foods.
If your table features more savory dishes and lots of green veggies, then wines in this camp with herbal components would be right at home.

Sauvignon Blanc comes right to mind, but there are many, many other options in this camp as well. I think this a great category to be adventurous in, because you can find really beautiful, crisp, refreshing whites from lots of unexpected places around the world. 

Toreta Pošip Special from Croatia is crisp with sea-breeze minerality, but it with a little more texture and medium body. A delicious choice if you want to try something new!

Wines That Blur the Color Lines: Rosé and Orange Wines

Like I’ve mentioned before, with so many types of dishes on the table, you want wines that can easily move from purpose to the next. Rosés and orange wines, can do that almost by definition. Both are indeed very versatile and work with the light meats and lots of sides. 

Truett-Hurst is another family favorite and their Salmon Run Zinfandel Rose from Dry Creek Valley has made several appearances at Thanksgiving over the years. Domaine de Fontsainte Corbieres Gris de Gris Rosé is a little lighter in style, with good minerality. Inconnu's Pinot Gris Carneros 2013 had just enough skin contact to give it texture, but wasn't over-the-top orange. I liked it best with savory dishes.

Lively, Medium-bodied Reds

Light to medium bodied red with moderate tannins are culinary go-to’s. At home we probably have this group of wines more than almost any other precisely because they work easily with so many different foods: veggies, meat, poultry, even certain types of fish like salmon. Bonus, because they’re not overpowering in body, you can make it through a long meal without feeling knocked out or weighed down by the wine.

Thanksgiving is not a meal where I personally want a full, deep, dark wine. You’ve already got tryptophan to contend with – you don’t need anything else trying to put you to sleep.

If your holiday table has lots of sweet components like glazed ham, sweet potatoes, and sweet cranberry sauce, pick wines that are on the fruitier end of the spectrum. If your table tends towards the savory end, pick versions with some earthy or herbal notes. There are even wines that are fruity and earthy.

Pinot Noir is a classic on the Thanksgiving table for all of these reasons, and it certainly makes it way to ours.

So many Pinots! Versions at all different price points from Onward, Etude, Paul Hobbs, Picket Fence, Ayoub, Roar, Memories also from Ayoub, and Domaine Eden.

Beaujolais Crus are also getting to be Thanksgiving classics for their great mix of fruit and herb notes. Tempranillo-based wines, like those from Rioja, also mix these notes nicely.  Medium bodied versions of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Grenache (or Grenache dominant blends like these) are all great options too. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are loads of great options!
Lots of light to medium body reds from recent years. Top: Zichichi Old Vine Zin, Horse & Plow Grenache Napa Valley, Vignobles des Roches Morgon, and Franz Haas Lagrein Schweizer 2016 from Alto Adige was a sample, but was a favorite for me last year and very reasonable at $20ish. Bottom: Lagier Meredith Mondeuse Mount Veeder 2014; Jean-Yves Peron Cote Pelee is another Mondeuse, but from the Savoie region of France; Glatzer Carnuntum Blaufränkisch and Berger Zweigelt are both from Austria and both great matches for autumn foods.

I know a lot of people really love a deep, dark red and will want that regardless of the pairing. For those, I recommend asking for versions with moderate, ripe, smooth tannins.

At the end of the day, the holiday is all about enjoying your time with family and friends, so have what you love. Cheers!

And if you’re looking for ideas for how to use up leftovers, here are a few ideas:
Mushroom, Kale, and Ham Quiche
Turkey Enchiladas
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Post Turkey Day Leftover Makeover Trio 

Or put a bunch of leftovers on a pizza!

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!