What wine pairs with Thanksgiving?

This is the time of year where everyone wants to know which wine they should have with Thanksgiving dinner. Since most people don’t want to break the bank, what follows are a numbe rof recommendations that land squarely on the less expensive side of a $20 bill.

Personally, my go to wine for turkey OR ham is zinfandel. There is alchemical magic in that combination!

How do I know? Many years ago, I worked the tasting room at Ridge and so of course I brought a bottle of zin to that Thanksgiving table.

Last year, during the weekend before Thanksgiving, I convinced my husband to make a turkey AND then a ham so I could try a bunch of wines with these classic holiday meals.  I came up with these three blog posts:

white and rose wines with Turkey

red wines with Turkey

wines for Ham

Since holiday meals usually gather many people, it’s a great excuse to splurge and have different wines to enjoy with each course. In general, I would recommend

–have at least one bottle of a sparkling wine

Try a Prosecco from Italy, a Cava from Spain, or a cremant from Bordeaux or Alsace! A well made, dryer sparkling wine goes with just about everything. Plan on spending between $10 and $20.

–have at least one bottle of a white wine

Most people I know when they think white wine they think Chardonnay. Well, I’m hear to tell you that there’s more to white wine than chardonnay, and truth be told, most California oaked chardonnays are not your best choice for Thanksgiving meals. Yes, they will go with the turkey, especially the white meat, but they are not your best overall.

Recently, I’ve tasted through 10 Vouvray wines (chenin blanc from Loire Valley) and from the sec (dry) to semi-sec to the sparkling to the sweet; you could easily bring a line up of vouvray wines to a holiday meal and please most any palates.  Low alcohol content allows drinking for a duration without feeling heady.  Body, complexity, acidity and flavor is great for the palate.  The ones we tasted were mostly under $20. Try this organic Vouvray from Vincent Creme.

Another option that I love with salads and oysters that offer acidity to refresh the palate and cut through the richness are sauvignon blancs. Check out white Bordeaux wines from Planet Bordeax–I recently tasted four of them and they were all fabulous values–closer to $10 than $20.

Dryer rieslings and gewurtraminers work well, as do white rhones like viognier. Blends are also a great option, for example Ojai Vineyard’s white or Big House (in a bottle or a box!).  There are a lot of great wines out there for under $20!

–don’t be afraid to go pink!

Dry roses, still or sparkling, are outstanding and festive choices that work with most holiday foods. I especially love dry rose and clove encrusted honey or molasses baked ham. I love the dry roses from Planet Bordeaux which are around $10. The Ojai Rose will be harder to find but well worth it and under $20. Probably NOT for that person who loves white zin, but you could try!

–have at least one bottle of red

Most people think white with white meat like turkey, but try a medium bodied, fruit forward, spicy red like a zinfandel or a GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) like Zaca Mesa‘s Z Cuvee. Pinot noir shows up on many holiday wine lists but I prefer zin with turkey. Maybe that’s because I prefer dark meat. On the other hand, Ojai Vineyard’s red blend of pinot noir and syrah would work wonderfully with turkey–light or dark meat. Avoid cabernet and cabernet blends as they will overpower the meal. Now I don’t have any turkey around at this minute, but I do have open a sample bottle of a 2011 pinot noir from Ventisquero in Chile ($13) which is fragrant and delightful with notes of strawberry and lots of cranberry.

–have on hand a dessert wine

I love port (go here for reviews). I also love sherry (read here for more). There are a number of late harvest wines like Terra d’Oro’s zinfandel port from Amador County which is zesty, rich, and decadent that would fill the bill. Try it with a pecan pie and go straight to heaven! I also love wines infected with the noble rot, botrytis (here’s a review). The vouvray pictured Cuvee Botrytis – 2001 – is only 10.5 % alcohol ($45). If you have had a lot of alcohol throughout the meal, the low alcohol content might be nicer than having a port after a meal. We found orange creamsicle flavors – tangerine lifesaver or a fifty fifty bar. Honey and orange and a lot of acidity. It’s not syrupy because of the acidity. You get great aroma on the nose and a burst of goodness in the mouth. Great with a tart and whipped cream. Poured over ice cream would be nice. White raisin flavors. Sweeter and different than a black raisin.  Bright candy balanced fun lively.

You can find decent dessert wines for under $20 but I tend to splurge in this department for special occasions!

Keep in mind that you want the wine to be sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise, go for coffee!

Ventura locals might wish to take advantage of  holiday recommendations and specials at The Cave on Telephone near Market Street. On the list, I can heartily recommend the Etoile Brut Rose Sparkling Wine and the Pine Ridge.

Etoile Brut Rose Sparkling Wine
2011 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier, California
2008 Jade Mountain White, California
2011 Tolosa Roussanne, Central Coast
2011 Claiborne & Churchill Dry Gewurztraminer, Central Coast
2011 Acacia Pinot Noir, Carneros
2010 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
2010 Ferrari Carano Merlot, Sonoma County
2010 Brassfield Eruption Red

On my urging they added a $25 Ridge zinfandel. MMnnnn–zinfandel! MMnnn–Ridge! As you can see, we’ve got a bottle of Ridge pulled from a friend’s cellar!

For some general ideas about how to pair wine with holiday foods, check out this blog post by Meg Maker.

So, after all this: What wines will you be pouring for Thanksgiving?

PS Some of these wines were samples that were sent to me to taste, tweet, and possibly review (Vouvray, Planet Bourdeaux, others. But some of them I bought or were given to me as gifts knowing I would appreciate them. If you want to know more about which are which, drop me a line and I’d be happy to tell you!

5 thoughts on “What wine pairs with Thanksgiving?

  1. Thank you Gwendolyn for saving my face with this Holiday 101 wine education! I was asked to “bring the wine” to our Holiday meal and was wondering what I would do. The sparkling wine recommendation is a fool-proof meal asset. I forgot how delightful desert wines can be. Thanks so much! I wish you a very happy ThanksGiving. xoML


  2. Hola, Ms.G…nice lowkey Thanksgiving, only half of those present drank alcohol at all. Opened the Oracle Oaks zin, had a very nice moment late in the evening when the spice really filled out. Been fighting a cold since Tuesday evening or so, so had less of my wits & senses about me than usual. Had a nice unusual gift of wine from Jared of D&G I will tell you more about in person, I hope…cheers!


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