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Best Wines for Thanksgiving: Your Guide to Perfect Pairings

Best Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, a day rich in tradition and flavors, calls for a wine selection that complements its diverse array of dishes. But you might be wondering…what are the best wines for Thanksgiving dinner? There are so many flavors on the table, and it’s hard to find wines that please your guests while also working well with dishes that make a traditional Thanksgiving meal. 

But fear not, selecting the right wine needn’t be a puzzle. In this guide, we delve into the art of pairing wines with the classic Thanksgiving menu. From the first bite of appetizer to the last slice of pumpkin pie, we’ve got you covered.

Thanksgiving Wine with Food

Thanksgiving is a time of warmth, gratitude, and a delightful array of foods. Amidst the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pies, wine plays a pivotal role in enhancing this culinary experience. But how important is wine pairing with food during this festive occasion?

Importance of Wine Pairing During Thanksgiving

Wine pairing during Thanksgiving isn’t just about choosing a fancy bottle; it’s about creating harmony between your wine and your meal. The right wine can elevate each dish, enhancing flavors and balancing the richness of the meal. It’s like a dance where both the food and wine bring out the best in each other, making your Thanksgiving dinner not just a meal but an experience.

Family Preferences and Wine Choices

Family and guest preferences play a significant role in selecting Thanksgiving wines. Every table has a mix of tastes – some may prefer the boldness of a red, while others lean towards the lightness of a white or the sweetness of a dessert wine. The key is to offer variety. A well-rounded wine selection caters to everyone’s palate, making the meal enjoyable for all. It’s about inclusivity, ensuring that each guest finds a wine that resonates with their taste.

The Most Important Rule of Wine Pairing

The most important rule in wine pairing is simple: there are no strict rules. While guidelines exist, the essence of wine pairing lies in personal preference and experimentation. The goal is to find what you and your guests enjoy the most. Some might love the classic pairing of Chardonnay with turkey, while others might discover a new favorite in a Riesling or Pinot Noir. It’s about exploration and enjoyment, creating a Thanksgiving that’s uniquely yours through the joy of wine pairing

Wine Pairing Basics

Understanding the basics of wine pairing can transform your Thanksgiving meal from great to unforgettable. But what are the key elements to consider when pairing wine with food? Let’s dive into the fundamentals.

Key Elements in Wine and Food Pairing

The art of pairing wine with food revolves around balance and harmony between the flavors of the food and the characteristics of the wine. Key elements include the body of the wine, its acidity, tannins, and sweetness. The goal is to match these elements with the flavors, weight, and texture of the food to create a complementary experience.

Acidity in Wine and Food Pairing

Acidity in wine is like a splash of lemon in a dish – it adds freshness and lifts flavors. When pairing wine with food, the acidity in wine can cut through richness and balance oily or fatty dishes. A wine with higher acidity, like a Sauvignon Blanc, is a great match for creamy or richly flavored dishes often found in Thanksgiving meals.

Sweetness in Food and Wine Interaction

When sweetness in food meets wine, it can alter the perception of the wine’s flavors. Sweet dishes can make a wine taste more bitter or acidic. To counter this, choose a wine that is as sweet or sweeter than the food. For example, a sweet Riesling can complement a dish with sweet elements like glazed ham or sweet potato casserole.

Pairing Wine with Rich Meats and the Role of Tannins

Rich meats, such as turkey or ham, often feature in Thanksgiving dinners. Wines with good tannin structure, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are excellent for pairing with these meats. Tannins in red wine interact beautifully with the fats in these meats, softening the tannins and enriching the overall flavor of the meal.

Effects of Salt on Wine Pairing

Salt in food can have a significant effect on wine pairing. It can soften the bitterness of tannins in red wines, making them smoother and more palatable. Salt can also heighten the perception of a wine’s body, making lighter wines feel fuller. This is why a slightly salty dish can be perfectly complemented by a variety of wines, from a robust red to a crisp white.

Understanding these basics of wine pairing will empower you to make informed choices for your Thanksgiving feast, ensuring each course is paired with the perfect wine to enhance every aspect of your meal.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings by Course

Navigating through the courses of a Thanksgiving meal with the right wine can elevate the dining experience to new heights. Let’s explore the best wine pairings for each course, ensuring your Thanksgiving feast is a culinary delight from start to finish.

Wines for Thanksgiving Appetizers

Appetizers set the stage for the meal, and the wine should complement their varied flavors without overwhelming the palate. Light, refreshing wines like Prosecco or a dry Rosé are excellent choices. They are versatile enough to pair with a range of appetizers, from savory to slightly sweet, creating a delightful beginning to your Thanksgiving meal.

Wine Suggestions:

Hayseed and Hudson: 4:19 to Paso Rosé

Made from Tempranillo picked specifically for rosé in mid September and limited skin contact to under two hours. This resulted in a bright, satisfyingly dry and lightly hued rosé with Provençal tipicity. This rosé is the perfect starter, but also pairs well with cured meats, hard cheeses, poultry and Zenaido’s late night carnitas tacos. Buy a bottle here.

Sparkling wines from Rava Wines

Rava Wines is the first winery in Paso Robles to focus on sparkling wines crafted using the time-honored méthode champenoise technique. The cuvée, or base wine is made from grapes strategically harvested at slightly earlier stages of ripeness to capture the natural acidity and phenolic complexity. See their wide selection of sparking wines at their tasting room or online store.

Pairing Options for Salads with Different Dressings

Salads, with their fresh and often tangy flavors, require wines that can match their crispness without overpowering them. For creamy dressings, a Chardonnay with a hint of oak can be a good match, adding richness while balancing the creaminess of the dressing. For vinaigrette-based dressings, a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, known for their acidity and citrus notes, pair beautifully, enhancing the salad’s fresh flavors.

Wine Suggestion:

Écluse 2021 Chardonay

Écluse harvest some of the most exceptional fruit from some of the most desirable vineyards for this Chardonnay from the Edna Valley AVA. A beautiful golden hue with aromas of tropical fruit, honeysuckle, and pear. This vintage was aged in a combination of stainless and French oak to produce an incredibly balanced wine. Learn more about Écluse here.

Wine Pairings with Roasted Turkey and Ham

The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals, turkey and ham, calls for wines that complement their rich and savory flavors. For roasted turkey, a medium-bodied wine like Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel works wonderfully, offering a balance of fruit and acidity that pairs well with both white and dark meat. When it comes to ham, especially if it’s glazed or sweetened, a Riesling or Gewürztraminer, with their balance of sweetness and acidity, can be a delightful pairing.

Wine Suggestion:

Cordant Wines Pinot Noir

Cordant Wines produce Pinot Noir from a hand picked selection of vineyards. They focus on small-lot (100 – 250 cases) wines from ultra-premium vineyard sites. Their library holds Pinot Noir from 3 of the central coasts best, Escolle Vineyard, Radian Vineyard, and Solomon Hills Vineyard. You can read more about Cordant here, and purchase a bottle from their online store

Carignan Wines for Thanksgiving Mains

Carignan, known for its vibrant fruit flavors and spicy undertones, pairs exceptionally well with the hearty and savory flavors of Thanksgiving mains. Its medium body and moderate tannin structure make it a versatile choice, capable of complementing a wide range of dishes without overwhelming them. Its bright acidity cuts through the richness of the meal, providing a refreshing counterpoint to dishes like roasted turkey, herbed stuffing, and even glazed ham.

Wine Suggestion:

Ranchero Cellars: The Tethered Beast

Look no further than Ranchero Cellars for world class Carignan in Paso Robles. Ranchero Cellars is the solo project of acclaimed winemaker Amy Butler. It provides her an opportunity to explore unique and uncommon varietals, as well as tried-and-true Paso Robles Rhones with a singular style.

Thanksgiving Desserts and Wine Pairings

As we move to the sweet finale of the Thanksgiving meal, choosing the right wine to accompany desserts is key to rounding off the feast on a high note. Here’s how to pair wines with the delightful array of Thanksgiving desserts.

Pairing Wine with Desserts

When pairing wine with desserts, the primary goal is to complement the flavors without overpowering them. The wine should have a similar level of sweetness to the dessert; otherwise, it may taste bland or overly acidic in comparison. The texture and weight of the dessert also play a role – lighter desserts pair well with lighter wines, while richer, more decadent desserts can handle more full-bodied wines.

Wines for Fresh Fruit and Citrus Flavors

Desserts with fresh fruit or citrus flavors benefit from wines that share a similar fresh and zesty profile. A Moscato d’Asti, with its light fizz and hints of sweetness, pairs beautifully with fruit-based desserts. Similarly, a Riesling, known for its balance of sweetness and acidity, can complement citrusy desserts without overwhelming their delicate flavors.

Wine Suggestion:

Lone Madrone Reisling

This Riesling starts with racy acidity in the glass with just a smidge of residual sugar to tame it. Herbal notes of fresh thyme give way to citrus rind and honey blossom. Learn more about Lone Madrone.

The Rule for Pairing Sweeter Desserts with Wine

The golden rule for pairing sweeter desserts with wine is to choose a wine that is as sweet as, or sweeter than, the dessert. This ensures that the wine stands up to the intensity of the dessert’s sweetness. For instance, a rich, sweet dessert like pecan pie pairs wonderfully with a Tawny Port, whose rich, nutty sweetness echoes the flavors in the pie.

Recommended Sweet Wines for Thanksgiving Desserts

Several sweet wines are particularly well-suited for Thanksgiving desserts. For chocolate-based desserts, a Ruby Port can be a delightful match, with their rich, fruity sweetness complementing the depth of chocolate. For lighter desserts like apple pie or pumpkin pie, a late-harvest Gewürztraminer or a Riesling offers a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, enhancing the spices and fruit flavors in these classic Thanksgiving treats.

By carefully selecting wines that harmonize with the sweetness and flavors of your Thanksgiving desserts, you can ensure a perfectly indulgent and satisfying conclusion to your festive meal.

Wine Suggestions:

Ruby Port from PasoPort

A beautiful blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Syrah. Each varietal is fermented separately in small stainless steel tanks and aging takes place in 10 year old barriques for approximately 2 years. Petite Sirah and Syrah add elements of black licorice and pepper-like spice but the finish is sweet and velvety, leaving a lasting impression. Perfect for richer chocolate desserts.

Tackitt Family Vineyards 2022 Gewürztraminer

A great wine to pair with desserts (or a spicy Asian dish). This wine has a delicate acidity with a crisp, earthy mouthfeel. Its also a Gold medal winner from the Monterey International Wine Competition.


And there you have it – your guide to the perfect wine pairings for a Thanksgiving feast that will be remembered for years to come. 

Remember, the best part about wine pairing is the joy of discovery. So don’t be afraid to mix and match, and maybe even break a ‘rule’ or two – after all, the best traditions sometimes start with a little rebellion at the dinner table.

Here’s to a Thanksgiving filled with laughter, love, and glasses clinking with the perfect wine. May your meal be delicious, your company delightful, and your wine pairings so spot-on that your guests wonder if you’ve been moonlighting as a sommelier.

FAQs: Your Guide to Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

Can I serve the same wine throughout the entire Thanksgiving meal?

While you can serve the same wine throughout, offering a variety of wines enhances the dining experience, as different wines complement different courses. However, if you prefer to keep it simple, choose a versatile wine like Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Chardonnay.

Are there any non-alcoholic options that pair well with Thanksgiving dishes?

Absolutely! Non-alcoholic sparkling juices, like apple or grape, can mimic the effervescence of wine. Herbal teas and flavored waters with citrus or berries also complement Thanksgiving flavors nicely.

What if some guests don’t like the traditional wine choices for Thanksgiving?

It’s always a good idea to have a variety of wines available. Include both reds and whites with varying degrees of sweetness and body. This way, there’s likely to be something for everyone’s taste.

How do I handle wine pairing if we have a non-traditional Thanksgiving menu?

Focus on the dominant flavors of your dishes. Spicy, savory, sweet, or tangy – each flavor profile has wines that pair well with it. Don’t hesitate to ask your local wine shop for recommendations.

Is it necessary to serve expensive wines for Thanksgiving?

Not at all. There are many excellent, reasonably priced wines that are perfect for Thanksgiving. It’s more about the pairing and the company than the price tag of the wine.

How much wine should I plan for each guest?

A general rule is to have one bottle of wine per adult guest. This calculation ensures there’s plenty of wine to last through the meal without having an excessive amount leftover.

Can I serve both white and red wines with the main course?

Absolutely! Offering both white and red wines with the main course caters to different palates and enhances the dining experience. For example, white wines like Riesling or Chardonnay and red wines like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Nouveau can all complement a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Any tips for serving wine at the right temperature?

Yes, serving wine at the right temperature is crucial. Reds are best served slightly below room temperature (around 60-65°F), while whites and rosés are best served chilled (around 50-55°F).

What should I do with leftover wine?

Leftover wine can be stored in the refrigerator with a wine stopper. You can also use it for cooking – it adds great flavor to sauces and stews.

Any final tips for a successful Thanksgiving wine experience?

The most important thing is to enjoy the time with your loved ones. Don’t stress too much about the wine pairings – they’re guidelines, not rules. The best wine is the one you enjoy, so sip, savor, and celebrate the moment!

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