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Thanksgiving Wine Recommendations From Vinography

This is the sound of me caving in to popular demand.

Here at Vinography, I specifically try to avoid the clichés and tropes of the mainstream media. You won't find me writing articles here about how crisp, bracing rosés are perfect for warm summer weather, or end-of-the-year recaps of my top 25 wines. The way I figure it, you get way too much of that crap from the glossy mags and newspapers for me to need to do it. Or even if you don't, that's the most boring kind of wine writing from my perspective, so I'd just as well skip it.

However, I have been getting e-mails asking for my particular individual point of view on wine for the American Thanksgiving meal, and while I may look down my nose at the banality of writing wine recommendations for major public holiday's, I'm not about to disappoint some readers who really want to know what I think.

For those of you who don't, feel free to shut down the browser now and come back tomorrow.

For those of you who are still fretting about what to serve with the turkey and stuffing, and are trying desperately to avoid the trap of some California Chardonnay and some Oh-So-Popular Pinot Noir, read on.

Thanksgiving is a tough meal to pair wines with because of the wide variety of flavors and foods on offer, and the fact that they are all consumed together. You've got turkey breast, which like chicken will basically go with any wine, but then you've got dark meat and salty gravy, potatoes, and stuffing which can be rich and heavily spiced and more suited to red wines. Not to mention the deadly sweet and tannic flavors of cranberry relish which is a really tough pairing with just about anything, as it tends to be more tannic than almost any red wine.

Despite some foods presenting individual challenges, there are a couple of main guidelines I tend to follow when picking wines for this dinner.

Because a lot of this food is rich and buttery I tend to lean towards wines that have high acidity, whether red or white, as they cut through these thick flavors and serve as counterpoint to their often heavy nature.

For much the same reason I believe acidity is important, I also believe wines with some body to them are important. Delicate flavors such as those from Sauvignon Blanc (which certainly meets the acidity requirement) will quickly be overwhelmed. On the other hand, the big blockbuster Cabernets which are tempting to break out at special occasions like big, once-a-year family dinners are too much and will tend to clash with the food. That is, unless you are serving prime rib for Thanksgiving (in which case I want an invite).

With those basic guidelines in mind, here are my favorite types of wines for Thanksgiving dinner.

If there is a single wine that works great with absolutely everything on the table, from stuffing to pumpkin pie to dark meat dripping with gravy, it's a nice brut vintage Champagne. Great acidity, lively bubbles, and a touch of earthiness make for a very nice contrast to most parts of the meal. The trick with Champagne is to not skimp. Go for a nice bottle of 02 (or earlier) bubbly, whose age will give it qualities better suited to the meal than a fruity, inexpensive non-vintage wine would have.

A good example might be a 1997 Nicolas Feuillatte "Cuvée 225" ChampagneWhich you can pick up for about $50 a bottle.

Grenache From the Southern Rhone
The nice red fruit and herbal characteristics of these medium-bodied wines are perfect for poultry, and will carry off a decent conversation with some of the heavier spices on the table such as cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the best known (and most expensive) of these wines, but nearly as good and often less expensive are the neighboring wines from Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and the village wines of the Cote-du-Rhone.

One of my favorites is the 2003 Domaine Pallieres Gigondas, made by importer Kermit Lynch, and available for around $24.

Good Gewurztraminer
When made to my liking, Gewurztraminer has a lovely, complex, and rich core of fruit flavors, and a bit of minerality, all the while still retaining an acidity that makes it work with food. Often accompanied by just a touch of residual sugar, it can pair nicely with some of the sweeter components of a traditional dinner.

The best Gewurztraminers are made in Alsace, in my opinion, though there are some excellent ones being produced on the West Coast of the US, and elsewhere. If you are buying blind (without knowledge of the producer) I recommend sticking with Alsace, simply because you're much more likely to avoid a flabby, overly sweet wine, which unfortunately still characterizes some American interpretations of this fabulous grape.

One of my favorite everyday Gewurztraminers is the 2004 Trimbach Gewurztraminer Alsace, which is available for less than $16 per bottle.

The most important advice I can give you about Thanksgiving wine pairings, however, is not to sweat it, and certainly don't go out of your way to try to find the perfect wine. Save that for romantic candle lit dinners with someone special, or a quiet evening of conversation with your best friends. Thanksgiving dinner is a smorgasbord of flavors that tend to thwart even the most enlightened wine choices, if only because it's damn hard to keep the mashed potatoes from moving in on your candied yams which are resting on the edge of your corn which is brushing up against your stuffing, if you get my drift.

So don't worry. Even if you do happen to break out a Zinfandel or a Cabernet, it hardly matters. Unless you've invited all the wine snobs (in which case they should have brought their own damn wine) everyone will drink and have a good time no matter what wine you serve.


Comments (18)

11.19.06 at 8:38 AM

Great post man. You hit the perfect balance of giving mainstream info in a laid back style. I am going to forward this to all my friends freaking out over the Thanksgiving wine thing. I keep telling them to not stress so much and this will seal the deal. Thanks man!


Allie wrote:
11.19.06 at 9:56 AM

I believe holiday meals provide an opportunity for those less experienced to discover wine and understand it better.

I have seen several articles built around the common Christmas metaphor - 12 Wines of Christmas - and found it an entertaining approach to offer some suggestions to select and buy the best wines for a holiday dinner.

For the novice, I enjoyed this approach, since I feel there are many people that miss out on the enjoyment of wine because they fear choosing incorrectly or see choosing a wine as snobbish endeavor.

And yes, I'm having a Zinfandel with my Thanksgiving turkey. :)

wayne wrote:
11.19.06 at 8:06 PM

Dolcetto is an Italian grape variety also grown in Australia. Translated it means "little sweet one" and is a perfect light red wine that is ideal for the taste rigours of Thanksgiving.

Taylor wrote:
11.19.06 at 9:34 PM

Well put Alder, nice point about acid and body. There are usually too many things going on at the table, so no wine will match up perfectly. Anyways, I always thought T-day was about mashed potatoes and football more than '47 Petrus or what not anyways.

I do have to say I try to stick to American wines for an American Holiday. I realize there is no true American grape (not even Zin) but at least you can go with American producers.

Based on your criteria, I would look for something like:

Bedell Cellars Gewurztraminer A Block from Long Island, New York;

Alban Vineyards Grenache from California's central coast or virutally any central coast Grenache;

Sparkling is the toughest I think (since so many American sparklers are not up to the task) and I agree with a nice rich wine but in lieu and sticking with the Americana theme, I would give my nod to Scharffenberger NV Brut from California (note: not Schramsberg) which gets close to Champagne for an excellent price point (~$14).

But if you are getting whatever region, at least throw the US a bone and finish up with some finger lakes Ice Wine.

Now where'd I put that Turkey?


Alder wrote:
11.19.06 at 10:56 PM


Who knew you were such a wine patriot? I find most California Grenache a bit heavy and a bit low on acid for this meal, but have little to argue with about your other recommendations. Another domestic producer to look at for sparkling wine is Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley.

Matteo wrote:
11.20.06 at 8:28 AM

great points. thanks for explaining the why of thanksgiving wine pairing.

don't forget sparkling reds as a perfect pairing. there are some lambruscos on the market that are tasty, refreshing and perfect for both the dryness of the turkey and the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. lots of people pass over lambruscos thinking they're garbage, but they are some of the most perfect wines to pair food with that you could possibly find. low alcohol too!

we should start a discussion on sparkling reds some time.

St. Vini wrote:
11.20.06 at 8:45 AM


Chris wrote:
11.20.06 at 1:18 PM

Try any of the Alsatian varietals from Navarro in Anderson Valley. Their dry reisling & gewurz are very well structured. And under $25.

I also love the Roederer Hermitage with turkey.

Andersson wrote:
11.20.06 at 7:30 PM


Way to go noting that there are other regions than California producing great wine in the US. Not discounting all great CA producers. A Fingerlakes Chardonnay or Riesling works great with Thanksgiving dinner in my opinion.

Margherita wrote:
11.20.06 at 8:00 PM

Thanks for the info. I'm hooked!

BRETT wrote:
11.21.06 at 7:53 AM

You state "the big blockbuster Cabernets which are tempting to break out at special occasions like big, once-a-year family dinners are too much and will tend to clash with the food. That is, unless you are serving prime rib for Thanksgiving (in which case I want an invite)"

My question is simple: do you want an invite because the person is serving prime rib, or because the person is serving a blockbuster Cabernet?

Just wondering if your passions lie in the food or the wine.

Alder wrote:
11.21.06 at 8:09 AM

I'd rather have prime rib than turkey any day !!

Tim S wrote:
11.21.06 at 10:37 AM

Alder--I have a hard time convincing my wife and family that Champagne is a wonderfully versatile wine and is for more than the occasional toast. I defer to their tastes and have the following line up-
Copain Rousanne 2004 James Berry Vineyards
Pride Mountain 2002 Sangiovese (500ml)
Rostaing 2000 La Landonne

What do you think?

Happy Thanksgiving. Tim

Whit Stevens wrote:
11.21.06 at 5:39 PM

I think I'm going with a 2004 Riesling Spätlese from Stefan Gerhard ($20). I'm expecting it to offer a bit of sweetness balanced by plenty of acidity. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to buying it, in part, because of the cool blue bottle and glass wine closure. Luckily for my family, Gerhard also happens to be good producer, not just a good selector of packaging (though I've yet to have this particular wine).

Taylor: What about Norton or Niagara? [bass drum, snare hit, symbol crash]

Alder wrote:
11.21.06 at 7:34 PM


Interesting, I haven't had the Pride Sangiovese. I'm sure the Landonne will be great, although you might be drinking it a little early !

j wrote:
11.22.06 at 12:06 PM

is cerdon available in america? if so, it is an inexpensive, if sweeter alternative to champ. it's not going to go well with dark meat though i'm afraid.

carlos Serafim wrote:
11.22.06 at 2:23 PM

The secret is to go with what you would normally drink but a simpler version, because the simpler, the better.
So, if you normally drink 30.00 reds try something in the fighting varietal price of 8-12.00 and no need to worry. Same applies to whites.
Nothing too tannic, sweet, or big.
A simple QBA riesling or soft beaujolais would be my choice. I can save the better stuff for a less complicated dinner.

Amy wrote:
11.19.07 at 10:28 PM

I agree that this can be a bit cliche but I do have fun every year trying to make the impossible pairing, last year I went with a pinot blanc and pinot noir both from J Wilkes, this year, I'm recommending over at my site,a Foxen Chenin Blanc ( good acidity) and a Carr Vineyards Cab Franc for fun with the red. Its a delicious wine and I look forward to drinking whether there's turkey or not. I think the best advice is to not take the pairing so seriously. Just have fun.
have a nice holiday

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