Thanksgiving is ALL about the food—so when it comes to wine, we have to be satisfied with second place. But this doesn’t let us off the hook completely! The perfect wine pairing can enhance any meal. And while choosing the perfect wine for Thanksgiving can feel like a lot of pressure, when you know what to look for (and what to avoid), selecting the wines for the holiday becomes a treat all in itself!
From appetizers to the main event, and dessert a different wine pairing can amplify not only the flavors of the meal but the mood of your guests. In fact, having a wide range of wine varieties to pair with each course is recommended for this marathon meal. No matter what you choose, you’ll want to look to avoid the common downfalls of Thanksgiving pairings: wines that are too heavy, too overpowering, or clash with the meal.
Read on for suggestions that can help you choose crowd-pleasing favorites that emphasize the flavors of Thanksgiving that we know and love.
Before the Meal
Before you bring out the heavy hitters, hors d'oeuvres, and appetizers hour ahead of the meal is your opportunity to present a more flavorful wine.
Offering champagne before the meal, for example, is a great way to start off with a bang. A little-known secret is that champagne is food-friendly—it pairs with everything! Whether you’re setting out cheese and meat platters, or passing around snacks, the crisp bubbles are a great way to stimulate the palate without weighing you down too early. Champagne comes in a variety of price points but this $52 Champagne Pascal Lallement, Premier Cru Brut offers a great “bang for your buck”—splurge worth for a special occasion but an amazing deal for the quality.
If you’re not that into sparkling, go with a white or lighter style rosé for these pre-dinner snacks. This is your chance to go with a more playful—think zesty or herbaceous—as it’s more difficult to integrate these flavors later on in the meal. Think of this wine pairing as a palate cleanser, exciting your guests’ appetites for what’s to come!
The Main Course
With all the dishes to choose from, Thanksgiving plates will be a little more personalized than other dinner parties. Offering both a red and white option will give your guests the option to choose what fits best with their Thanksgiving favorites.
Overall, the flavors of a Thanksgiving meal are on the more delicate side, without strong flavors that overwhelm the palate, so your wine choices will want to mirror that. While it might be tempting to opt for the rich and creamy wines that match the hearty nature of the meal, you aren’t going to want to choose a bottle that overpowers these delicate flavors in the food—nor do you want the wine to weigh your guests down. Lighter wines with autumnal tasting notes will be your best friend for the meal.
For the red wine-leaning, pick something on the lighter side—Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Nebbiolo. If you’re building your meal around turkey, Cabernet and Merlot will be too overwhelming for the meat. Look for a red-fruited base of cranberry, pomegranate, raspberry, or strawberry. Notes of mushroom pair wonderfully with the sides and veg on a traditional Thanksgiving table.
While Pinot Noir can feel like an obvious choice for red wine there's a surprising amount of undiscovered Pinot that will impress even the pickiest guest. I love some of these bargain options for under $30 that are sourced from lesser-known regions in both Hemispheres like Baden Germany, Alto Adige Italy, Argentina, and Chile. Red wine doesn’t always have to be heavy, expensive, and from France or California. An exciting Pinot Noir will avoid overpowering the flavors of the meal and is an easier wine to drink, which is important on an occasion with heavy food.
For me, it’s the white wine pairings that really allow a sense of creativity during this holiday. Choosing Chardonnay for your white will give you a wide range of options that make for delicious pairings that will enhance your Thanksgiving sides of choice.
For a crowd-pleasing Chardonnay, I would go with Trouillet Lebeau’s “Les Quarts” Pouilly-Vinzelles from 2018. With Chardonnay you want to look for flavors of light fruit—white peach, ripe apricot, Meyer lemon, crisp red apple skin, and green melon flesh— that add subtle flavor while remaining light, ending with a refreshing cut of acid. With a crisp white like this, the wine can elevate the food, without competing on the flavor side. My personal Thanksgiving favorite? Pair Chardonnay with Mac & Cheese!
Another tip when choosing whites: while we love it on other occasions, it’s best to steer clear of intensely aromatic whites like Sauvignon Blanc. For example, the tropical notes of Sauvignon Blanc have a tendency to take center stage and aren’t very helpful for putting your guest in the Thanksgiving mood.
Time for Dessert
For this last portion of the night, you’ll want to change up your wine pairing to energize guests through the last portion of the meal.
Pie filling and wine notes already have some easy overlap—think apple, cranberry, and nuts. Matching the flavors of the filling with the flavors in the wine is the best way to avoid drawing away attention from the pies we worked for hours to make. If you’re serving apple pie, go for a wine with notes of orchard fruit—if it’s cranberry, look for cranberry in the tasting notes! This is the moment to go all out in autumnal spirit, so there’s nothing as too much fall flavor.
If you’re looking for a more unconventional pairing to end the night, bring out the port with your pumpkin pie. I would go with the 2012 Kopke, Colheita Porto, the flavors of the wine will enhance the spices in the pie. It’s certainly rich, but sometimes you have to go all out for the biggest meal of the year!