Published Jeremy. Last Updated on November 14, 2023.
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When it comes to Thanksgiving, we hope that you are thinking about the wine pairings as much as you are the food.
But if you are struggling with the best Thanksgiving wine pairings, don't worry! We are here to help.
In this one we thought we'd share some of our favorite pairings for different elements of Thanksgiving, including turkey, the array of sides, pumpkin pie, and of course other non-pumpkin desserts as well.
Suffice it to say, you have a lot of options for this meal!
Wines to Pair With Turkey
Turkey is the quintessential Thanksgiving food, and if you are heading a gathering for the festivities, odds are good a bird will be present. So, what kind of wine pairs with turkey?
This is a bit of a loaded question because turkey preparation can go several ways. Are you eating a whole bird or just a turkey breast? Is it being done in the oven with stuffing, or something less traditional like smoked or deep fried?
For those on the more traditional side of the spectrum, roasts of an entire turkey or straight turkey breast you may be in white wine territory or lighter reds. This could be unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay, a dry Chenin Blanc, a cru Beaujolais (Beaujolais Nouveau Day is just a week before Thanksgiving if you like a lighter style), Pinot Noir, or perhaps a GSM blend from the Southern Rhone like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
As you get into the more out-there styles like smoked turkey or deep-fried, you can possibly push the intensity of your wine more. Bolder oaked whites, more intense reds like Syrah or Zinfandel, or perhaps something a bit more interesting like a Nero d'Avola or a Chianti will all offer a nice twist for more intensely prepared turkey.
- Note: Some of the wines mentioned above, particularly Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Champagne, can have appreciable residual sugar. Be sure to avoid any bottles marketed as sweet, semi-sweet, demi-sec, and so on.
Wines to Pair With Thanksgiving Sides
When it comes to pairing wines with Thanksgiving sides, the sky is the limit here.
Making a rich stuffing? An oaked Chardonnay could go nicely, doubling up on the turkey pairing above. Making cranberry sauce? Match that with a high-acid white like Riesling. The list can be near endless here.
If your list of sides reads like a butter-rich, umami-forward menu, an oaked white is an easy play here. Butter, cream, and toast in oaked wines can compliment the flavors of these dishes nicely. Reds high in tannins may contrast a bit too much with some bitter sides, like green beans or Brussels sprouts, so we often stick to the lighter wines much like we do with turkey- a benefit in doubling up on the pairings overall.
So, in a way, odds are good here you can pick a couple bottles from the turkey list above and still get a moderately decent pairing for sides- albeit perhaps not some of the more intense reds recommended for deep fried or smoke turkey.
A fun play here could also be going a bit into the floral territory with the likes of an Alsatian field blend. High acidity pairs nicely with most of the dishes, and the slight floral notes could hit well if your sides are herb-heavy. That said, when in doubt, stick to the classics.
Wines to Pair With Pumpkin Pie
Although you can have many desserts at Thanksgiving (which we'll discuss below), pumpkin pie is the ubiquitous dessert found on almost every table this time of year.
So, what wine pairs with pumpkin pie?
There is often a rule with dessert pairings that the wine should always be sweeter than the dessert, and pumpkin pie is on the sweet but not too sweet side of the spectrum, which gives it a lot of options.
A personal favorite pairing of ours here is Tawny Port, specifically in the 20 to 30-year age indication if you can justify the cost. The reason we like these wines is that they are starting to show complex flavor notes like chocolate, caramel, and nuts- the latter being more prominent in 30-year tawny ports over 20 years. These characteristics often play nicely with the spices and sweetness in the pie outright.
For a different kind of twist, a 20-year White Port could be an interesting alternative to tawny. These are made with white grapes instead of red and can showcase brighter citrus fruit notes, honey, and some floral components. That said, older white ports are more recommended here as dried fruit notes (golden raisin) and emerging nut characteristics will likely complement pumpkin way better than a young white port.
But what if you want to go something a bit less conventional? Madeiras are often a lot of fun because they have similar intensities to Port, but for us, they have a nice citrus note to bring a brighter flavor profile (not to mention, tend to be slightly lower in alcohol overall). But as Madeiras run the spectrum of dry to sweet, we would err on the sweeter side with a Malmsey or Boal style- also with a bit of age indication on it if you can find it (10 or 20 year, for example). The brightness in the wine with a hint of age could add some nice contrasting flavors to a pumpkin pie.
Finally, if a bit of restrained acid is your thing, a Cream Sherry may be for you as well. A lot of aged notes with a bit of sweetness and subdued acidity could also play quite well with a pumpkin pie!
Wines to Pair With Other Desserts
We'd be remiss if we didn't touch base on other desserts you may choose to have at Thanksgiving, as we know that pumpkin pie isn't for everyone.
If you're going into the nut territory, like a pecan pie, our list above holds fairly well. Aged ports and Madeiras (roughly 20 to 30 years) have nice nutty notes that compliment the flavors nicely.
If you're going more chocolate or dark fruit territory, we'd hold the same recommendations on port but simply go younger in age indication. 10-year Tawny Ports, Late Bottle Vintage, and even some Ruby Ports will offer a wealth of fresh and dried fruit character, with only hints of chocolate and nuts, that work well with desserts of this nature.
If apple pie is your dessert of choice, you could go either way. Aged character in these wines help offset the sweetness of the apples, but young ports (even some Vintage Ports) can offer nice contrasting flavors to the tangy apple. That said, we also wouldn't be averse to hitting the citrus-forward Madeira spectrum with a bit of a drier style like Sercial or Verdelho for some fun contrast, even if we admittedly still like the sweeter Malmsey and Boal personally.
Although there are an untold number of Thanksgiving wine pairings to consider, these are a good start for traditional dishes. But, when in doubt, just remember to not go too tannic, and that sparkling wine can go with everything in a pinch!
Do you have a favorite wine pairing for Thanksgiving food? Comment below to share!