How to Impress Your Guests With the Best Wine Pairings at Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is ALL about what’s on your dinner table – and that includes the drinks you serve. Whether you’re hosting an intimate gathering or a family-and-friends-feast, someone among the bunch will expect wine to be served. As they should – it’s timeless for a reason! Here’s a handy guide to selecting Thanksgiving wine pairings for your holiday that’ll pair perfectly with your spread and wow your guests, without blowing your budget.
The Principles of Wine Pairing
Before we get into our recommendations, let’s review some wine basics.
Fact #1: Wine is made from grapes (we know you know), but those grapes come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. These are called varietals, like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon, just to name a few. Each carries its own distinct characteristics, colors, aromas, and tasting notes.
Fact #2: Wine grapes are grown all over the world, clustered in winemaking regions that offer unique climates and conditions. Those conditions can be perfect for certain varietals while being very… imperfect for others. But even when tasting a single varietal from a single region, you can notice differences that come down to microclimates, soil conditions, a wet or dry winter – heck, even just growing on the sunnier side of the vineyard can impact the taste of a wine.
So between those two fun facts, you can see how the simple grape can lend itself to a whole world of unique and fascinating wines. We’ll take all of these factors into consideration to nail the perfect pairings for your Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving Wine Pairings to Try This Year
Sparkling wines are a great way to start your Thanksgiving evening (or afternoon) as your guests graze appetizers and cheese plates – the perfect time to set a festive tone for the evening. Not only are bubbles celebratory by nature, but the carbonation can actually increase appetites. Sparkling wines can be lower in alcohol than still wines, and are typically light on the palate, making them the perfect starter wine.
For a more refined, elevated taste profile, you can’t go wrong with champagne (from the Champagne region of France, of course). While high-end champagne can get expensive fast, there are still great bottles to be found at any price level – featuring consistent, seemingly endless bubbles, and dry, crispy notes that perfectly balance those sweeter hors d’oeuvres like fruits, jams, and light cheeses.
If you prefer the taste of cava or prosecco or just want to try something new, these sparkling wines from Spain and Italy, respectively, can offer less tartness and a softer mouthfeel than champagne. When it comes to prosecco, it’s hard to beat the fresh, fruity, and affordable bottles hailing from the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Guilia regions – just look for the Prosecco DOC label. And for a conversation-starting cava, scan labels for the presence of indigenous Spanish grapes such as Macebeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, indicating high quality, traditionally-made cava.
Want to surprise your guests with a sparkling wine that’s not just for toasting? Lambrusco is a fruity, fizzy sparkling red wine from Central Italy that’s a sneakily-perfect pairing for roasted turkey and cranberries. Some lambruscos contain residual sugar, which makes it an easy-drinking wine and enhances the sweeter elements of your Thanksgiving spread.
Aromatic White & Rosé Wines
If you’re kicking off your feast with lighter fare, like a fall-inspired soup or salad, you can transition your wine-drinking guests from grazing to gobbling with a dry, aromatic white or a subtly sweet rosé on the table. And of course, those guests who simply prefer lighter wines will happily enjoy these picks throughout their dinner. The key is offering the right whites and rosés at the right time – drier, more acidic wines will pair better with your feast, while you’ll want to keep those sweeter bottles on the shelf until dessert.
Crisp and acidic, a dry Riesling can be an excellent pairing with the rich and decadent flavors of Thanksgiving. And while Germany is the traditional home of Riesling, fantastic bottles can be found here at home, thriving in cooler growing regions like Oregon, Coastal California, and New York’s Finger Lakes.
Chardonnay is a classic choice, but the full-bodied, rich styles can clash with your menu. Look for a fresh Chardonnay from cooler-climate regions, like Chablis, New Zealand, or even British Columbia. Albariño is another great pick, hailing from cool Northern Spain, while Portuguese versions (known as Alvarinho) are equally refreshing and typically even more affordable if you can spot one.
Rosé can make for a great crowd-pleaser, as certain varietals can be excitingly complex, easy-drinking, and balanced enough to pair with your entire Thanksgiving spread. Spanish Garnacha Rosado and American White Zinfandel Rosé are both great picks, with red-fruit flavors that pair deliciously with subtly-sweet roasted vegetable dishes, like candied yams, balsamic Brussels sprouts, and glazed carrots.
Medium-Bodied Red Wines
Red wine lovers, it’s your time! Even salty, fatty Thanksgiving menus typically don’t stray into full-bodied red territory, so it’s important to keep things complex, yet approachable with light-to-medium-bodied reds.
High-tannin and high-acid wines can overwhelm your palate, so reach for soft, silky reds like Merlot, which tends to have notes of cinnamon and spice, perfect for a chilly November evening. Zinfandel is also a Thanksgiving favorite, celebrated for spiced berry flavors that go great with the classics like turkey, stuffing, and gravy. It’s also got a proud American heritage – though Zin has European roots, it’s one of the most historic and widely planted grapes in the US, especially in California.
You’ve probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, but we’ve found it to be a little heavy for Thanksgiving, which doesn’t traditionally feature red meat on the menu. Instead, we’d recommend a lighter relative, Cabernet Franc, in its place. You can find it in traditional Bordeaux blends, or as a standalone varietal in some excellent bottles from France’s Loire Valley. For an American Cab Franc, look for bottlings from California’s Napa Valley and Paso Robles regions, as well as New York and Washington State.
For a more obscure, conversation-worthy red, look for a wine made from the Mission grape, which is strikingly similar in profile to Zinfandel, though with a slightly more refreshing palate. And there’s a Thanksgiving tie-in too – Mission might just be one of the earliest grapes planted on the American continent. Today, winemakers in warmer California regions are slowly reviving the once-widespread varietal, using old vines from Mexico and the American Southwest.
Everyone’s favorite course – but a notoriously difficult course to pair drinks with. Many guests might order a tea or coffee, look to crack open the liquor cabinet, or go straight for a glass of milk with their slice of pie (hey – it’s a classic).
One fun way to introduce a wine at dessert is to grab a sweeter variety of a white wine you served earlier in the evening. So if you offered a dry, crisp white Riesling, you can pair it with a sweeter Riesling (look for late harvest bottlings) that’ll go great with spiced apple, pear, or pumpkin pie, while being a fun way to engage your guests and compare it to their earlier glasses.
Dessert wines can also be a great way to finish a festive meal. White and tawny-colored dessert wines like Tawny Port and Madeira can bring out the best in the cinnamon and caramel notes of your favorite seasonal treats.
Enhance Your Meal with Thanksgiving Wine Pairings
Now for the fun part – wine shopping! No matter your budget, preferences, or Thanksgiving menu, you’re ready to find the perfect series of Thanksgiving wine pairings to wow your guests. A great way to get your guests involved and start conversations can be “assigning” your invitees to a varietal and letting them bring their choice of bottle that still fits into your master plan. (Hint: forward them this article to make it even easier).
Speaking of making things easier – if you’d rather devote your Thanksgiving energy to wine-drinking and happy hosting, rather than sweating in the kitchen, check out Gobble’s Thanksgiving Feast boxes. Each box includes all the classic dishes, and trust us, they’ll pair perfectly with the recommendations above. (We tested). Cheers – and Happy Thanksgiving!
Check out the Best Thanksgiving Meal Delivery Options for 2023 for more details.