Whether you're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner or attending as a guest, a great wine is always a nice addition to the meal. But the diversity and volume of the dishes on the typical Thanksgiving table means that the simple pairing rules most people know and follow just don't hold up well for this meal (for example, steak and a Cabernet Sauvignon or fish and a bright white wine.) I have found over the years that some wines work better than others on Thanksgiving. Here is what I've learned.
There are many, many wines that will compliment the meal nicely. As a rule I avoid very heavy wines that can easily overwhelm your traditional Thanksgiving meal. Sill others won't offend but probably won't improve the meal. Below you will find a number of my suggestions which are in the sweet spot between too heavy and too bland. Most of these wines are widely available but I've provided links to Wine.com for easy purchase. I chose Wine.com only because they can ship to nearly every state that allows the sale of alcohol online and you can easily replace with your favorite online source. Or go to your favorite wine shop and simply say "I'm looking for something like this..." while showing them the picture of any one of these wines. A good wine shop employee will find that wine or an alternative pretty quickly.
What to look for:
Acidity - Food friendly wines typically have high acid levels. The acid wakes up your palate and helps produce more saliva which helps with any marathon Thanksgiving meal.
Lower alcohol levels - I look for wines with 14% alcohol or lower. Don't get me wrong, I love a BIG wine but the higher alcohol typically weighs you down. And there are enough things weighing you down at this meal. All wine sold in the US must detail the percentage of alcohol in the bottle, so with a little searching you will find it.
Character - You are celebrating the things and people you are thankful for and one of those things should be a unique wine. I realize one person's character may be another's nightmare. I've pulled together the list below as a starting point. I hope you find something you love that adds to your meal.
Scharffenberger Brut Excellence
Available on Wine.com
Sparkling wines are a really great compliment to Thanksgiving dinner. The bubbles stimulate the palate, and the acidity brightens up the meal. The Scharffenberger is an excellent compliment to the meal and offers tremendous value.
Pol Roger Vintage Brut 2004
If your budget allows, Champagne provides that special touch to the meal. I love Pol Roger, which has a really complex flavor profile and lots of crisp acid.
Gruet Grand Rose 2007
White or red for Thanksgiving? Go pink! And not just pink, but Sparkling Rose. I love Gruet's entire lineup of sparkling wines, but the Grand Rose is my favorite. This will compliment almost any dish. Bonus fun fact: this wine is grown and made in New Mexico.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay Arthur 2013
Price: Under $40
Chardonnays offer a nice balance of body and crispness. There are many, many really good Chardonnays on the market, but I like the Drouhin for its balance of fruitiness and acidity. Many Chardonnay's get a bit heavy when the alcohol or oak levels get too high. The Drouhin does a nice job keeping everything in control while being delicious. This vineyard also makes great Pinot Noirs (~$50.) Look for unoaked Chardonnays with a meal like Thanksgiving and, again, look for lower alcohol levels (below 14% and ideally 13% or less.)
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014
People either love or hate New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Generally, if you love grapefruit you will love a good Sav Blanc. And Cloudy Bay's Sauvignon Blancs are consistently strong examples of New Zealands most prevalent style of wine. The high acid and low alcohol level makes for a great white wine option. This also might be the easiest wine to find on this list, as it was among the first Sauv Blancs from New Zealand to conquer the USA.
Vietti Roero Arneis 2014
This may be more difficult to find, but it is well worth the search. Arneis is a fruity and crisp grape grown primarily in Northern Italy. This style of wine is a bit more restrained than the Cloudy Bay and is a great white for a meal as varied as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Many wine retailers won't carry more than one Arneis, but if by chance you find a retailer that has several, the Vietti label is consistently excellent.
Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir 2011
Price: Under $60
Pinot Noir is an excellent choice for Thanksgiving dinner. The lighter body and (typically) more restrained flavor profile allow for great pairing with everything from the turkey to the veggies and stuffing. Adelsheim produces many, many wonderful Pinot Noirs, and the Elizabeth Reserve is the top of their lineup in my opinion. Many modern Pinot Noirs are made with higher alcohol levels. Some taste and feel more like a Cabernet Sauvignon than a Pinot. This Pinot Noir has a 13% ABV (Alcohol by Volume) and is extremely food friendly.
Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent Domaine des Rosiers 2011
I love French Beaujolais, and this wine is an excellent example of the style. Like Pinot Noir, this is a lighter red wine which won't overwhelm the Thanksgiving dinner. It is also an excellent value, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case if you are expecting a lot of people (and leftover bottles keep just fine!) If possible, look for a Beaujolais sourced from a specific region (in this instance, Moulin-a-Vent, but there are eight regions in Beaujolais and they are all wonderful.)
Frog's Leap Zinfandel 2013
Price: Under $35
Some prefer bolder, bigger red wines. For them, Zinfandel is a great choice at your Thanksgiving table. I especially like the Frog's Leap Zinfandel as an bolder red option. Many Zinfandels overpower your taste buds and would overwhelm much of your meal. This isn't the case with the Frog's Leap, which has managed to keep all of the positive traits of a good Zinfandel while keeping the flavors and alcohol in balance.
Matane Primitivo Di Manduria Il Matane 2012
Price: Under $25
Il Matane comes from Puglia in Southern Italy and if you love Zinfandel, you will likely love Primitivo as the Primitivo and Zinfandel grapes are virtually identical (both descend from a common grape originally from Croatia.) Like Zinfandel, Primitivo can get big and feel hot (caused by the high alcohol levels.) This Primitivo does a nice job keeping things in check. This and many other Primitivos represent great value for your Thanksgiving table. Also great with pizza, pasta, and chicken.
Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010
Price: Under $60
This red is about as food-friendly as a wine can get. The spicy flavors linger in your mouth for a very long time, and it pairs well with virtually any food. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a subregion in France's Rhone valley. If you can't find this wine, there are many other lovely Chateauneuf-du-Papes and many equally delicious wines come from the nearby regions of Gigondas, St. Joseph, Vacqueyras, Cornas, Hermitage, and Lirac. For less money, you can find really good Cote de Rhone wines that aren't typically as dynamic but are much more friendly on the pocketbook and wonderful additions to your Thanksgiving table.
BONUS! A Good Hard Cider
Price: Typically less than $10 a bottle
What is more autumnal than apples? I'm not nearly as experienced in the varieties and producers of hard ciders as I am with wine, but a good cider would really add something to your Thanksgiving meal. I prefer a dry cider (often called Brut) with a meal, but you may wish to try an off-dry or even sweet cider. (Technically, all ciders are alcoholic even though we Americans often call apple juice cider.) I will have a bottle on my Thanksgiving table.
Have a great Thanksgiving
You can try these wines on Thanksgiving — or with a nice bowl of pasta. There is something for virtually everyone on this list. Regardless of whether you serve a $100 Champagne or the $20 Beaujolais, these wines will make a special meal even more special.
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