Choosing Thanksgiving wine is a minefield of trying to pair with many flavours of the dinner table and attempting to please all the family. Ray Isle gives us his top tips for finding the perfect bottles...
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Writing about Thanksgiving wine pairings is, for wine writers, almost as much as yearly ritual as Thanksgiving itself.
And like Thanksgiving, there are traditions involved. For example:
- Stating that turkey in and of itself doesn’t taste like much and therefore one should consider the plethora of side dishes on the table;
- Noting that Pinot Noir and Riesling have been anointed by sommeliers (and many others) as go-to wines that pair with anything;
- Noting that since turkey-day is a deeply American holiday, wines from the US are the appropriate option.
Nothing wrong with all that. However, my suggestion is actually to more or less ignore what’s on the table.
Most Thanksgiving dinners involve a mass of different foods heaped together on a plate: roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, and the list goes on. One bite may be turkey (white meat? dark? with gravy? without?); the next a brussel sprout (roasted? steamed? buttered?); then yams with marshmallows on top (in our house, at least; see above tradition).
Worrying about pairing a specific wine with all that seems a bit far-fetched.
Instead, I’d suggest that Thanksgiving wine choices are really more about pairing wines with people. To put it another way, a holiday dinner isn’t the time to try to convince your father-in-law that an orange-hued, skin-fermented Ribolla Gialla is a better idea with the roast bird than the affordable red Bordeaux, which he’s had at every Thanksgiving dinner since time immemorial. Better to give him a wine that will make him happy, and keep the family peace.
What kind of Thanksgiving guest are you?
To that end, I’d suggest slotting your Thanksgiving guests into one of three categories:
- Old School
- Moderately Adventurous
- Off the Wall
In my case, for instance, a large number of elderly in-laws would likely stage an armed rebellion at our Thanksgiving dinner if there wasn’t Chardonnay on the table.
On the other hand, if the in-laws suddenly decided to go on a lengthy cruise during November and I were able to invite my wine-geek friends, they’d all be appalled to find affordable Chardonnay on the table; a bottle of Jura Savagnin or two, though, and they’d be thrilled. With that approach in mind, here are some excellent Thanksgiving dinner options, at various prices.
The Thanksgiving wine options, for each type of guest
Chosen by Decanter contributor William Kelley
Foxglove, Chardonnay, Central Coast 2013
A crisp, unoaked Chardonnay, versatile at the table and stunningly well-priced. Foxglove is the second label of the Varner Brothers, whose complex, Burgundian-styled Chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Barbara are keenly sought after by connoisseurs. Juicy and pure, with aromas and flavours of yellow citrus, honeysuckle and apple.
Ridge Vineyards, Three Valleys Zinfandel, Sonoma County 2014
Ridge’s Three Valleys bottling is another great-value, versatile choice for Thanksgiving. A Zinfandel-dominated blend, bursting with blackberry and raspberry fruit, subtly framed by new oak, 2014 is a great success for this historic winery.
Stockists US: $25.95 San Francisco Wine Trading Co (CA)
Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2010
Stony Hill’s Chardonnays are true classics: aged in neutral wood without malolactic fermentation, vintages from the 1970s are still drinking well today. Notes of ripe lemon, white flowers and green apple lead into an intense and vibrant wine with beautiful length and balance.
Eyrie Vineyards, Original Vines Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon 2014
One of the most singular wines produced in North America, the Eyrie Vineyard’s old Pinot Gris vines have turned out a lovely 2014, bursting with aromas and flavours of poached pear, tangerine, ginger and subtle smoke; textural and mult-dimensional on the palate. A great match with Turkey.
Off the Wall
Kalin Cellars, Pinot Noir Cuvée DD, Sonoma County 1999 The latest release from Kalin Cellars, California wine’s best-kept secret, this is always a beautifully Burgundian bottling. Its complex fruit tones are complemented by nuances of forest floor, raw cocoa and woodsmoke. Classical and sophisticated, the 1999 is fully mature and drinking well.
Ray Isle is executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine. Originally published in 2015 but updated with more wine choices November 2017.