One of the most relied-upon “rules” of wine and food pairing is “if it grows together, it goes together.” Food that traditionally comes from a particular region tends to go well with grapes that comes from that region. For instance, fresh, crisp whites often come from warmer-climate areas adjacent to the sea and are usually the best bet with sea food. Dark reds, on the other hand, are better for heavy steaks. Now most Thanksgiving tables have very little fish or steak, turkey is the star after all, so what wines are you supposed to serve when you’ve got savory and sweet dishes, heavy and light flavors, on the table at the same time?
For the turkey.
Since Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, it might be good to also feature a wine that is uniquely American: Zinfandel! U.S. Zinfandel producers make their wine in a wide range from late harvest dessert wines, rosés (White Zinfandel) and Beaujolais-style light reds to big hearty reds and fortified wines more like port. Zinfandel is the perfect wine for turkey, as it has lower tannin levels (tannins are what produce that “dry” flavor); it’s a dry wine with still a little sweet kick that helps moisten even the driest turkey. Also, Zinfandel’s secondary flavors of cinnamon, clove and vanilla are perfect for fall.
A classic favorite.
Pinot Noir is a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. Domestic Pinot, in particular California Pinot, tends to be rich and packed with sweet fruit, making it stand up to the heavy flavors of Thanksgiving dinner that would overpower a subtler Pinot Noir. If you grab nothing else, grab a few bottles of Pinot Noir.
Just in time for Thanksgiving!
Beaujolais Nouveau is released from France on the third Thursday of November, just in time to highlight your Thanksgiving feast. In fact, Beaujolais Nouveau is billed as the first wine of the year! It’s low in tannins, grapey and easy to drink so even guests that don’t like wine all that much will probably enjoy a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau with dinner.
The sweet, white option.
If you need a sweet, white wine to serve at Thanksgiving your best bet is a Riesling. Depending on the flavor profile of the Riesling, the taste can range from very citrusy flavored to peaches and honey. The sweet, light flavor can be a nice break between all the heavier dishes. 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.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to be spending $100s on a bottle of wine in order to get a good one! Plenty of great wines only cost $20 (some even cost less than $10!) so if you aren’t sure what to buy just head to your favorite liquor store and asking the man behind the counter for his favorite pick within your budget.