Be a Wine-Pairing Pro This Thanksgiving: The Best Wines for Turkey Day
By Rai Cornell
Your dining room table is never as eclectic as it is on Thanksgiving - and your Thanksgiving wine pairings ought to match.
Whether you’re putting on your Iron Chef hat and doing all the cooking yourself or your friends and family members are all contributing to a magnificent banquet, Thanksgiving is a time for enjoying a wide variety of bountiful dishes.
Of course, you can’t serve up a perfect Thanksgiving table without a superb sampling of wines.
Wow everyone who comes to your table this Thanksgiving by suggesting only the best wine pairings for every course of the meal. We’ve got your cheat sheet right here.
If you’re like us, you’ll have several bottles of those deep, elegant reds full of body and tannins ready for enjoying this holiday season. As Thanksgiving approaches, we’re sniffing out only the most compatible reds for our feast.
Light Meat Turkey
It’s likely that everyone around your table will be reaching for some of that juicy light meat turkey this holiday, so make sure you have plenty of Zinfandel to go around. Zinfandels are known for their earthy, blueberry-esque flavors and aromas.
With low acidity, Zins form a perfect love triangle between that decadent light meat turkey and rich stuffing. Even better, the red grape Zinfandel is also an ideal match for the heavenly pumpkin pie you’ll be enjoying later in your meal.
For an extra special treat, try Primitivo, an Italian Zinfandel from Salento, Italy, that brings something extra special to the table (literally!).
Dark Meat Turkey
If those thighs and drumsticks are calling your name, you’ll need a perfect Carignan to go with them. Enjoy your dark meat this Thanksgiving with a bottle from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France. While the Carignan’s reputation has stumbled over the years, the vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillon have elevated the variety. For instance, this blend from Corbières is a century-old Carignan with a hearty dollop of Grenache and Mourvèdre perfectly suited for those juicy bites.
While you’re sipping this Languedoc-Roussillon beauty, you’ll enjoy cinnamon and fatty, meaty qualities reminiscent of sausage. This glass will also be a perfect match for any sweet potato dishes on the table.
Southern Country Ham
If you’re the type who likes to break the rules, you may be ditching the traditional turkey for a succulent ham. Curing your ham not only gives it the perfect savory texture, but also makes it an ideal candidate for pairing with light red wines like Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, and Gamay.
Pinot Noir has been around more than 1,000 years longer than its red sibling Cabernet Sauvignon. Over that time, the delicious pinot flavors have been enjoyed by wine makers across Europe, including France, Italy, and Germany. While it’ll take a fair bit of exploration to find your favorite Pinot Noir varieties, any will be an excellent accompaniment to your pork centerpiece this holiday season.
Our favorites are from the birthplace of Pinot noir: Burgundy, France. This Muzard & Fils Santenay Vieilles Vignes is a stunning accompaniment to any Thanksgiving spread.
Pecans are ripe with complex, sweet flavors. Couple them with the caramelized goodness of a decadent Thanksgiving pie and you’ll have a beautiful marriage. The only thing that could make that marvelous dessert better is the perfect wine.
Because cabernet sauvignon is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, it comes with intricate layers of sweet, fruity flavors. Cabernet sauvignon loves to be served alongside fatty and rich dishes. Not only will your favorite Cab pair nicely with pecan pie, but its well-rounded, umami flavors will leave you feeling satisfied as you finish your meal.
Turkey Day is a time for indulging in all your long-awaited dishes. White wines are naturally suited for pairing with many of Thanksgiving’s most traditional dishes, especially those with particularly delicate or, on the other side of the spectrum, particularly strong flavors.
Crab & Lobster
Such rich, delicate fish dishes require careful pairing. You don’t want to overwhelm the sweetness of the prized ingredient with a full-bodied red, but you also don’t want to clash flavors with a white that’s too sweet.
Your best wine pairing for rich shellfish is going to be a moderately dry white wine like an Oaked Chardonnay, Viognier, or Roussanne.
Oaked Chardonnays come with a unique creaminess and the sweetness of stone fruit that pairs beautifully with the natural sweetness of lobster and crab dishes. Viogniers are full-bodied white wines and are low in acidity, while Roussanne wines mimic the herb and pepper flavors that often accompany shellfish dishes. This Cotes de Roussillon Blanc from Domaine Gardiès is a medium-bodied aromatic white that nicely accompanies that spice.
The star of the show can be paired with both red and white wines. This deceivingly simple poultry has a complex flavor profile that marries well with a number of white wines.
If you’ll be serving your turkey with tomatoes or a homemade gravy, opt for a Sangiovese white over a red. Sangiovese is an Italian wine from Tuscany and Umbria. The Sangiovese grape produces flavors similar to cherries, tomatoes, and other high-acidity flavors and accentuates savory seasonings.
Another great turkey pairing is Chardonnay - if you find the right one. Chardonnays are like guitars. It seems like everyone has one, everyone likes them, but they’re not all created equal. You have to find the one that really sings.
Those big, buttery California Chardonnays can be a bit too rich for the main event. This French Chablis from Domaine du Chardonnay, grown on chalky soil, is full of crisp yellow apple, yellow flowers and a whisper of cinnamon and vanilla. It’s a refreshing sip in between mouthfuls of gravy coated white meat, all the way to apple pie a la mode.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
One of our favorite ingredients, garlic seems to go great in any dish. Whether you’re loading up your plate with garlic mashed potatoes or diving into a basket of garlic bread slathered with the finest extra virgin olive oil, you’ll need a wine that can hold up to the potency of that beautiful bulb.
Enter Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio is a common variety of white wine that can vary significantly in flavor and experience based on where it was crafted. Italian, Austrian, and Hungarian assortments tend to have a higher acidity, lower alcohol content, and lack the fruity notes that can sometimes get in the way of enjoying paired dishes.
On the other hand, if you enjoy the fruity notes of Pinot Grigio, or if you’re serving sweet dishes along with your savory, garlic-filled spuds, you may want to choose varieties from California, Washington, Australia, or Argentina. These Pinot Grigio varieties will have a more oily mouthfeel that will make the acidity of garlic and other ingredients pop.
If you’re looking for a single wine that will pair nicely with all of your star dishes, you’ll likely find it in the sparkling wine aisle. Sparkling wines are often more acidic that the non-bubbly varieties and are a perfect complement to the salty, fatty dishes found around the Thanksgiving table.
Also, the bubbles can have a palate-cleansing effect, which makes them an excellent option for multi-course meals and feasts with a wide variety of foods.
Hard & Soft Cheeses
While the turkey is roasting and the pies are baking, you and your guests will likely enjoy some appetizers. Lay out a spread of hard and soft cheeses paired with a lovely, crisp Champagne. Not only is this festive bubbly a great way to kick off the celebration, but it’s diverse enough to match well with exquisite cheeses like gruyere, truffle cheese, epoisses, and colorouge.
Thanksgiving honors the fall harvest, which brings us a wide array of root vegetables and starches like potatoes, carrots, yams, turnips, and celery. Starchy vegetables like these often have subtle flavors, which makes them perfect for loading up with seasonings and sauces.
Brut Cava made from the Macabeu grape is a simple variety with notes of lemon, which naturally compliments root vegetables and other staple starches without overwhelming the delicious spin you’ve put on your veggies.
With this guide in hand, you’re ready to become the go-to guru for advising all your friends on the ideal Thanksgiving wine pairings.
Which wines will you be enjoying this Thanksgiving? Leave us a comment below or share your piquant pics with us on Instagram @getVINEBOX!
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