While there are no hard and fast turkey-pairing rules, in general you want to select wines to go with the variety of tastes, textures and aromas unique to Thanksgiving — from appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, yams, herb-filled stuffing, and cranberry sauce, all the way to pumpkin pie.
Sommelier Scott Ross, Wine Specialist at the Kedron Kroger, suggests starting with Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. Its color is more of a purple-pink, reflecting its youth, bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is intended for immediate drinking while it is still fresh and fruity. Ross recommends serving it slightly chilled, about 50-55 °F. Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe.
For a red that is a little less fruity, Ross suggests a silky Rhone-style Syrah. Powerfully flavored, with typical aroma characters of blackberries and black pepper, it can bring a spicy edge to the table able to handle the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The peppery notes often partner well with the herb-infused stuffing and both the white and dark turkey meat.
A Spanish Crianza Rioja is also a nice choice. There are four different categories of Rioja, some aged in oak for longer periods of time. In general, you want to stay away from wines with heavy oak, which will clash with a lot of the different sides at Thanksgiving and make the wine taste bitter. Oftentimes the Crianza designation is not on the front label, but on the back or on the neck, so be sure to check.
If you prefer white wine, Ross recommends a semi-sweet Gewürztraminer. It has nice apricot and lychee fruit with subtle notes of spice, like clove and cinnamon, giving it the gusto to stand up to turkey and gravy. Dry Gewürztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit and floral notes. It is not uncommon to notice some spritz (fine bubbles on the inside of the glass). If this pairing sounds too sweet, then Ross recommends a dry or off-dry Riesling. Riesling’s innate flavors of apple, apricot, honey as well as its acidity makes it pair well with turkey and all the fixings. Remember, don‘t over-chill your whites or they will have less taste. Ross keeps his around 40-45°F.
Rosé and sherry wines also merit consideration for Thanksgiving wine pairing possibilities, as do sparkling wines. They can provide an alternative for those who are not strictly fans of red or white wines. If you are contemplating a sparkling wine, you should choose one labeled as “extra dry,” which will offer a bit more fruit flavor than a “brut.” As for rosé wines, a drier selection will be the most versatile for pairing with virtually any part of the Thanksgiving feast.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to break the bank if you are hosting a large dinner this year. More wine is sold for Thanksgiving Day dinner than for any other meal of the year. Watch for wine specials advertised the week before Thanksgiving. You might also consider serving only American wines for Thanksgiving, as some purists do.
No matter what you choose, remember that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and spending time with friends and family. Consider marking the occasion this year by offering a thoughtfully selected wine that will surely delight your guests.