Come on folks, the menu hasn’t changed in years! Thanksgiving should be about sharing the day with friends and family, and the quintessential All-American comfort foods. The bottom line is that the wine you like is the best wine for your Thanksgiving but, in case you are searching through all the options, I thought this would be a good time break down some of the classic pairings for Thanksgiving.
Chardonnay is the most popular wine in America and there’s no need to avoid it on Thanksgiving, as it’s actually as good a choice as almost any other wine.
If your meal has orchard fruits and a nutty element, apples, pecans, or wild rice, those flavors can serve as a classic bridge, making this complementary pairing an easy winner.
I would opt for a wine with a little oak. The spice and sweetness imparted by the oak will help the wine stand up to the richer dishes at the table.
Pinot Gris, as opposed to Pinot Grigio, generally refers to a wine made in the Alsatian style, as opposed to the Northern Italian; the grape is the same in both.
In Alsace, Pinot Gris tends to be a rich wine with a decidedly spicy character and enough residual sugar to be round and fruity if not downright sweet.
Many producers in the Pacific Northwest produce Pinot Gris in that style, though in general they are fruitier than their Alsatian counterparts. With either example you’ll find a wine with rich fruit and an edge of sweetness that allows the wine to work well with the sweeter elements of the meal.
If you want to find an obviously sweet white, Riesling is your best option. The precise flavors of Riesling can range from very citrusy to peaches and honey.
In Germany, the wines are labeled with a rough guide to sweetness: Trocken is dry, while Halbtrocken is semi-dry. The terms Kabinett and Spätlese generally refer to increasing levels of sweetness, but because that’s not always the case since the terms actually refer to sugar levels in harvested grapes, not the finished wines.
Vouvray is produced in a wide range of styles from bone-dry to incredible sweet, but each type delivers rich, complex fruit flavors with an earthy complexity.
Vouvray is a wine produced from the Chenin Blanc grape in France’s Loire Valley. The wines tend to be remarkable bargains and are ones I always include for Thanksgiving.
Tendre is a style of Vouvray that includes enough sweetness so that it is just barely noticeable, and makes for a perfect match with most Thanksgiving dishes. If you like a bit of extra sweetness look for the demi-secs, and you might even want to try a demi-sec sparkler!
There are many people who feel that sparkling wines can complement any meal and, while they can certainly ensure that you’ll have a festive Thanksgiving, they may not be the ideal match for your meal.
Having said that, I have to admit that the nutty-fruity interplay of sparkling wines can work very well with a traditional Thanksgiving spread particularly if the wine is a touch sweet.
Prosecco from Italy and sparklers labeled extra dry or demi-sec generally are softer-styled sparklers with just enough sweetness to work with Thanksgiving sides.
Lambrusco has gotten a bad rap. There are tons of crappy Lambruscos, but when they are well-made they are delicious.
These sparkling wines come in red and rosé versions, and tend to be a little sweet, but the dry versions are gaining popularity in this country.
For the Thanksgiving meal I prefer a slightly sweet red Lambrusco. The earthy, dark berry fruit is almost like a liquid version of cranberry sauce, helping to knit the entire meal together!
Lambrusco is not the only sparkling red on the market and many others are worth looking at, particularly if your meal will have rich, bold, or spicy flavors.
Sparkling Shiraz from Australia tends to be dry but fruity and, of course, it has that black pepper spice note that Australian Shiraz is so well known for -- perfect for adding some contrast to a sweet meal.
Argentina has followed Australia’s lead and has rolled out some pretty impressive sparkling Malbecs. These tend to be a touch sweeter than the sparkling Shirazes, with a lightly herbal accent to their rich black fruit.
Beaujolais is actually a great wine for Thanksgiving, though it is probably more often than not chosen because of the brilliant marketing of the Beaujolais Nouveau.
Released with much fanfare the third Thursday of each November, Beaujolais Nouveau is billed as the first wine of the year, though that distinction no doubt lies with the folks in the southern hemisphere, who harvested in February.
Beaujolais Nouveau can be a fun wine; low in tannins, grapey and easy to drink. It is a nice choice for Thanksgiving, though there are better Beaujolais to choose from. A nice Cru Beaujolais from Moulin-à-Vent, for example, that combines sappy fruit with an easygoing style. 2009 is a spectacular vintage too, so this year might be the right year for Beaujolais!
Pinot Noir is one of the staples of Thanksgiving and, seeing as this is a uniquely American holiday, it’s a good idea to stick with domestic Pinot.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Pinot from around the globe, but domestic Pinot, in particular California Pinot, tends to be rich and packed with sweet fruit.
A lighter, more elegant example of Pinot Noir might get lost in the sweet/savory/salty stew that is the typical Thanksgiving meal, so looking for a wine that is all about sweet fruit can be a great option.
Now since Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday I have always recommended a wine that is almost uniquely American: Zinfandel.
There are many great Zins to choose from, though I generally opt for a lighter-styled Zin that combines some of the freshness and elegance of Beaujolais with the overt fruitiness of California Pinot Noir.
While Zins tend to be dry wines, their fruity character lends them an impression of sweetness, which helps them to knit together with the food on your Thanksgiving table. And besides, I like Zin and like I said at the start: the wine you like is the best wine for your Thanksgiving!
To view the photos for this article, go to Wines for Thanksgiving: What Works With Your Menu.