Choosing the perfect wine pairings for the Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be complicated. Our must-have guide for choosing the perfect wine—or wines will help you confidently uncork delicious, food-complementing, and crowd-pleasing wine varieties.
Selecting a single wine for Thanksgiving dinner can be difficult given the variety of foods and flavors. It is a feast after all! There's white and dark meat. There are sweet and rich yams, tart cranberries, buttery mashed potatoes, stuffing made with any number of ingredients, and spiced pumpkin pie for dessert. Rather than try for a one-size-fits-all bottle, we suggest building a comprehensive holiday wine list that will give your guests plenty of options.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for the best Thanksgiving wine pairings. We're fans of the "the best wine to pair with a dish is a wine you enjoy drinking" mantra. But, as a general rule, lighter, livelier, and lower-alcohol wines go better with the traditional Thanksgiving feast than heavier, more complicated ones. (This strategy will also help keep your guests awake!) But if you’re seeking crowd-pleasers that complement the flavors in your Thanksgiving menu, we’ve got you covered.
Sparkling Wines for Thanksgiving
Nothing says "special occasion" quite like bubbles. Serve a flute or two as a starter as guests are arriving to sip on to accompany salty and cheesy appetizers. Sparkling wine puts everyone in a celebratory mood—unless you make these all-too-common champagne mistakes. If you're serving a sparkling wine with dinner, seek out one that is dry, often labeled brut, instead of a sweet sparkling wine such as Italy's Asti Spumante. Consider these three sparkling options:
- Prosecco: Citrusy and crisp. This Italian option is generally less expensive and more accessible than it's French cousin, champagne.
- Cava: Saltiness, with fruity flavors. Known as the "Champagne of Spain." Enhances strong food flavors without fighting them.
- Champagne: Can vary from dry to sweet. Due to the way that it’s aged, Champagne can err on the more wheat-y than the fruity side. Pairs well with the salty, nutty, and creamy. (Grab an extra bottle to pour into sparkling sorbet floats later in the holiday weekend!)
White Wines for Thanksgiving
Chardonnay is a great, everyday wine. But it can be too buttery and intense to be among our best Thanksgiving wine picks (unless you opt for unoaked Chardonnay). Instead, try white wines that are refreshing, tangy, and fruity to pair with the lighter Thanksgiving salads and sides.
- Viognier: Floral and fruity, with essences of peach, apricot, and pear. Low acidity.
- Chenin Blanc: Spicy and slightly sweet with high acidity.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Light and crisp, with grassy or herbaceous flavors. Higher acidity.
- Riesling: Can be dry or sweet; spicy, fruity flavor with touches of peaches or apricots and a floral fragrance.
- Gewurztraminer: Can be dry or sweet. The German word gewurtz means "spiced." These wines are highly aromatic with floral touches and spice notes such as cloves or nutmeg.
Red Wines for Thanksgiving
Yes, you can serve red wine with turkey. You may not want to serve Cabernet because it is generally too tart and high in tannins (that astringent quality that makes your tongue feel a touch dry) to match well with turkey. But you can serve a lighter red with moderate acidity to cut through the richness. (See our complete red wine guide for more.) The light berry brightness of red wine for Thanksgiving contrasts well with the heartiness of the classic menu. Consider any of the following:
- Pinot Noir: Younger wines are fruity with the essence of plums, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. Older wines have a smoky edge to them.
- Zinfandel: Lots of intense, plummy, jammy flavors with spicy or peppery notes.
- Beaujolais: Light and dry with fresh, fruity flavors. Choose more recent vintages of this French red and serve it slightly chilled.
- Syrah: Strong spice and black pepper qualities. Older syrahs are fruitier, with some smokiness. Also called Shiraz if it comes from Australia.
Rosé Wines for Thanksgiving
Rosé is en vogue. Just check out Instagram, #rosé has more than three million posts. Hop on the trend for a Thanksgiving wine that will rack up those likes. Crisp, light, and fruity, this lovely light pink wine might be the ideal Thanksgiving wine to accompany a heavy holiday meal. Serve it chilled.
- Provencal Rosé: Crisp, refreshing and citrus-forward, this French option is the gold standard when it comes to rosé.
- Rosé of Pinot Noir: Traditionally a red, the rosé version takes the complexities of a full-bodied red, but with a touch more acidity.
- Brut Sparkling Rosé: Sparkling rosé is light and fruity with plenty of bubbles.
Dessert Wines for Thanksgiving
Kick off the after-dinner celebration with dessert and a sweet wine. Dessert wines can be red, white or sparkling, and all are slightly sweeter than other wines. Bubbly is also a brilliant Thanksgiving wine option to pair with all the pies if you and your guests prefer something a little less sweet.
- Muscat: Can be white, light, and slightly sweet or dark and quite sweet. Perfumy and musky, with the essence of oranges.
- Port: Sweet, fairly heavy fortified wine. Younger ports are fruitier. Older ports are less sweet, tawny in color, and have a nuttier flavor from longer aging in wood.
- Sauternes: Sauternes comes from France and is delightfully sweet, with notes of vanilla, pineapple, and peach.
- Riesling or Gewurztraminer: Reprise either of these—in their sweeter incarnations (see entries under "The Whites," above) if you served them with dinner. Or break out a new bottle with the pumpkin pie.
- Asti Spumante: A sweet or semisweet sparkling wine from Italy. Serve it well chilled.