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Thanksgiving wine pairings and 15 American wines to try

Pairing wines for Thanksgiving dinner can feel overwhelming, with many possible options. These guidelines should ensure all palates are covered, from white to red wine drinkers and everything in between.

The Thanksgiving table includes a myriad of dishes and flavours, starting with appetisers to graze on as guests arrive. The buffet lineup of traditional dishes typically includes roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroles and cranberry relish. Plates are filled with these favourites, and in one bite, you might get turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy. So, how do you pair wines with this array of flavours?

A good starting point is to remember that the Thanksgiving table may not be the time to pour standout, robust wines. Nor is it the time to fret about wine pairings with particular dishes. The goal is to serve a lineup of light-bodied, versatile and easy-drinking wines that can work with the multitude of flavours on the table. And most importantly, select wines that are likely to please your guests’ varying palates. Thanksgiving is a time to break bread and enjoy a hearty, home-cooked meal with those closest to you. Your wine selections accentuate this holiday tradition, not the featured attraction.

Pairing principles

Below are simple wine and food pairing principles for the Thanksgiving table and throughout the year. A good starting point is understanding what’s happening in the glass and on the plate and how those things can create an experience greater than the sum of its parts. These guiding principles of wine and food pairings are evergreen and are meant to enhance a delicious meal with tasty wines and fine company.

Wine and food pairings are more fluid than definitive. Tradition says that specific foods call for particular wines. Things such as oysters and Chablis or steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. With Thanksgiving mains, many point to Pinot Noir as the ideal pairing for a simple roasted turkey. Those combinations are examples of successful pairings, but other options exist. Oysters and sparkling wine (particularly Champagne), steak and Syrah, and turkey and Chardonnay work just as well.

Think less of the food or protein and more specifically of the preparation. When it comes to the turkey, is it deep-fried or roasted? With sweet potatoes, are they baked in a sweet casserole or roasted with pancetta? The preparation method or sauce may drive what wine will work best.

Food made with acid-based sauces (such as tomatoes, vinegar or lemon) goes well with Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir. Rich sauces work best with high-acid wines to refresh or with rich, full-bodied wines to really step into the richness. If there’s any spice on the table, such as a spicy sausage stuffing, lower-alcohol wines with some residual sugar (like Riesling) will work well.

Thanksgiving wine pairing. Credit: The Good Brigade / DigitalVision via Getty Images

Matching food and wines with similar weights and richness is one of the keys to pairing success. To do this, one must think of food and wine, both existing on a spectrum. Light-bodied wines with light dishes and full-bodied wines with rich or spice-driven dishes. So with lighter vegetable dishes, such as green bean almondine or shaved Brussels sprouts salad, an acid-driven white blend might work best. For a baking spice-dominant sweet potato casserole, an oaky red blend with spicy, toasty notes would pair well.

When thinking about wine pairings for Thanksgiving, think about if you’d like to balance or accentuate the flavours on the table. For rich dishes such as buttered mashed potatoes, mac and cheese or candied yams, you can balance the richness and fattiness with a high acid, palate-cleansing white such as Riesling or Pinot Gris. In contrast, accentuate and step into the richness with a full-bodied, creamy Chardonnay.


Thanksgiving wine pairings: 15 American wines to try


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