Five Guidelines to Select the Perfect Thanksgiving Wine

By Barbara Hay

There are five basic guidelines to selecting wines for Thanksgiving dinner, whether you’re a vegetarian or traditional turkey maven. Whether you’re a vegetarian or traditional turkey maven, you’ll need a wine with enough fruit and acidity to pair with your protein as well as the variety of sweet and savory fixings, from tangy cranberry sauce, to gooey-sweet yams topped with marshmallows, to green bean casserole, spicy stuffing and meaty turkey.

From white to rosé to red, here’s why each style will work with with the Thanksgiving bird:

Riesling is one of the most food-loving wines on the planet. If you want a wine to show off their food, choose Riesling. Riesling has an ability to retain high levels of acidity even while very ripe, making for a complex, flavorful, fruity wine that always shines through with acidity. Riesling blends fabulously with turkey, while its fruitiness will allow its unique flavor to stand up to the sweetness of your cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. From Alsace, Germany, or Washington State
Viognier is a medium- to full-bodied white wine that is intensely aromatic. Typical flavors of Viognier include ripe pear, apricot, citrus, apple, honey, clove, and nutmeg, not unlike flavors you might find on your Thanksgiving table. Viognier is medium-bodied enough to perfectly to blend with all the tastes on your table, with the right amount of acidity to refresh your palate in between bites. From, Texas, California, or The Rhone Valley of France
Chardonnay when made in a dry, fresh and fruity style, is a perfect wine for turkey. A match in texture, with just enough acidity to cut through the meatiness, and a good flavor combination, it makes for a fine wine on the Thanksgiving table. One strict word of caution…be sure to choose a low-oak or no-oak Chard. Look for a traditional White Burgundy (France’s contribution to the world of Chardonnay), or an “Unoaked” version from California, Oregon, South Africa or Australia, you will be much happier without the oak.
Bubbly wines, including Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, or serious new world sparklers, are perfect all day long. Let’s face it, they have it all: crisp acidity, citrus-inspired fruit flavors, no tannins, no oak, and low- to-moderate levels of alcohol. Nothing says “celebrate” like bubbly, and it’s perfect as a pre-meal refresher, and it can also last through the entire meal…right up through dessert. Sparkling wines are the perfect wine for the season.
Rosé: Some think Rosé is not the most sophisticated wine, but then again, they probably haven’t tried a serious, dry, fruity, crisply acidic Rosé made from Grenache, Syrah, or Cinsault. These wines are a specialty in some regions of the Rhône Valley and Provence. It’s true that Rosé wines can go well with just about any food, and with so many flavors on the table at Thanksgiving, Rosé can be a great choice. Look for Rosé wines from the regions of Tavel, Provence, or the Rhône Valley.
Zinfandel: If you want your Thanksgiving feast to be an All-American, reach for a bottle of Zinfandel, it’s the closest thing we have to an “All-American” wine. Zinfandel’s rich fruity flavors, redolent of blackberry, cherry, and currant, along with its sweet and savory spices, will form a perfect match for the flavors of your turkey. Zinfandel, despite its forward flavors, can be a good match with meaty turkey and your sweet and spicy side dishes. One word of caution…watch the alcohol levels! If you can find a Zin with around 13% alcohol, you have yourself a hit! Try one from Lodi or Sonoma, California.

Pinot Noir, the most finicky but most favored highly aromatic red wine, fits right in with the various flavors of Thanksgiving. Typically light in body, lower in alcohol and tannin, Pinot Noir might just be the best choice for your Thanksgiving feast, assuming you can fork over the bucks for a quality bottle. Pinot Noir’s subtle spiciness and earthy overtones will let the various flavors on your table shine, and if you can find a bottle that promises lots of fruit flavors as well, you might just detect a note of cranberry in your glass as well as your plate! Try one from France’s Burgundy region, California’s Central Coast or Oregon.
Malbec and Shiraz: Shiraz and Malbec…if you want to go farther afield, you might want to try an Argentine Malbec and/or an Australian Shiraz. With either of these, you may find the perfect low-tannin, medium-bodied, little-or-no-oak wine that’s sure to be a great match with your Thanksgiving Feast. Add to that some plum, berry, and cherry fruitiness, and the flavors of spices from cinnamon to clove to pepper, and you have a great match for the red wine lovers around your Thanksgiving table. As an added bonus, both Argentine Malbec and Aussie Shiraz wines can be a bargain, so seek out an inexpensive version and buy a whole case!
Beaujolais: France’s Gift to Harvest Festivals the World Over. While it is a coincidence that the star wine of the French Harvest Festival (Beaujolais Nouveau) is a perfect, wine-and-food match to the feast of American Thanksgiving, it is a great pairing. Beaujolais is a delightfully refreshing, zestfully acidic red wine made from the Gamay grape. Beaujolais is meant to be drunk while the wine is young, when its fruity, crisp flavors will blend with your Thanksgiving feast in sheer perfection.
For Dessert…I know, you’re just “too stuffed.”
But later on, perhaps after a nap, someone will talk you into some pumpkin pie! For a food and wine match made in heaven, reach for a Tawny Port. A good Tawny Port (It must be from Portugal to be “real” Port!) is intensely sweet, crisply acidic and luscious enough to stand up to dessert. The silky, spicy, nutty flavors of the wine will reach out and touch your taste buds, forming a perfect match for the silky, spicy, nutty flavors of Grandma’s pumpkin (or pecan) pie. After dessert, have just one more glass of Bubbly, and your day is complete!

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