What Are the Best Wines to Serve at Thanksgiving?

What Are the Best Wines to Serve at Thanksgiving?
Ⓒ Provided by Food & Wine

By Oset Babür-Winter, Food & Wine

For Thanksgiving, a holiday whose menu tends to be rooted in tradition imposed by family, your local supermarket, or Charlie Brown, the wine selection is one of the best opportunities to switch things up every year. Sure, the main players — your centerpiece turkey, ham, or mushroom steaks — and the supporting dishes may stay the same, but the journey to choosing a few bottles to pair with each can be a surprisingly personal journey.

While some prefer to optimize their wine selections to particular dishes, there’s also much to be said about picking a versatile line up that underscores the best part of a Thanksgiving meal, which is that end of meal plate on which potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and casserole come together in sweet harmony. Regardless of which pairing direction you take this year, we tapped a few of our favorite wine experts to weigh in on their tried and true Thanksgiving bottles.

More Recipe: Thanksgiving Roast Turkey Recipe

Wines That Work With Everything on the Table: Chenin Blanc, Rosé, Grüner Veltliner, Champagne, and Lambrusco

James O’Brien, owner and wine director at Gus’s Chop House in New York City, feels strongly about buying bubbles this time of year. “Champagne is always a Thanksgiving necessity — it’s so versatile and could take you through your entire meal from classic starters like dinner rolls and charcuterie to turkey,” he explains. For a less spendy but equally versatile bubbly, opt for Lambrusco — cranberry sauce and stuffing, for example, can make a bright and tart Lambrusco sing.

For fans of still white wines, O’Brien suggests Grüner Veltliner as a versatile pick that goes especially nicely with sides like green beans and salads, as well as with sweet potatoes. Cedric Niacasse, former wine director at Eleven Madison Park and current owner and wine director The Noortwyck, turns to Vermentino. The grape grows all along the Mediterranean coast, from France (where it’s called Rolle) all the way down the coast of Italy from Liguria to Tuscany. “Vermentino is light-bodied, high in acid, briny, smells like orchard fruit, and is basically a crowd pleaser,” he adds. “To me, it is a great, versatile white that can stand alone as an aperitif or be the white wine that stands up to the main event.”

Meng Chiang, wine director at Manhattan Mediterranean spot Zou Zou’s, believes that Chenin Blanc in all styles deserves a place at the table. “Ranging from bone-dry, to demi-sec, to lusciously sweet from botrytis, Chenin Blanc in all forms will have the mouth watering acidity that I think is a must with richer foods,” he says. “The grape also has natural aromas and flavors that come through very clearly without needing any oak treatment, which can sometimes make wines a little heavy to drink. Personally, I would opt for an demi-sec Vouvray or Montlouis-sur-Loire that will be able to take you through everything from stuffing to pumpkin pie.”

Chiang also encourages bringing the rosé back out during this time of year. “Many think of rosé as strictly a summer drink, and while everyone appreciates them in the summer, rosé wines have the best characteristics of both white and red wine, making them extremely easy to pair with food,” he says. “Rosé is the perfect aperitif to serve with charcuterie, or with the main courses of turkey and stuffing.”

Wines That Make the Main Dish Sing: Mondeuse, Tempranillo, and Listan Negro

“It’s maybe a bit unusual, but a Mondeuse could be an awesome addition [with turkey]…I think of it as a love child between Beaujolais and Syrah,” says O’Brien. “It’s bright and juicy with a savory edge that can kill it with some pork studded stuffing. Would go lovely with turkey, too.” Chase Sinzer, co-owner and wine director of buzzy new NYC restaurant Claud, also loves the juicy notes Beaujolais can add to turkey.

More Recipe: Pickle Brined Turkey Recipe

Looking for something with a bit more body and heft? Kristin Courville, wine director at the Basque hotspot Ernesto’s, suggests giving Tempranillo a try. The characteristic red berries and spice of Tempranillo will pair nicely with both light and dark meat, plus the acidity will hold up to the richness of the gravy (if you’re serving it). Or, take a page out of Cedric Niacasse’s Thanksgiving entertaining book and find a Listan Negro from the Canary Islands. “The wines are fairly easy to find, and most good neighborhood wine shops will have at least one,” he explains. “The prices are relatively modest with great choices starting under $40. Listan Negro is medium-bodied but dark fruited. There is also plenty of acid, so it will cut through some gravy and mashed potatoes as well. Lastly, because it's from a really interesting place, it can spark conversation at the table!”

Bottles to Pair With Stuffing: St. Laurent, Mencia, and White Burgundy

For a classic option, Sinzer opts for a white Burgundy, which easily matches the bread notes in stuffing or anything caramelized. Jodie Battles, beverage director for Faccia a Faccia and Bar Pallino, a new coastal Italian restaurant and wine bar from Boston-based chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, wants you to try Austrian St. Laurent. “St. Laurent is super aromatic, loaded with dark fruit notes flavors and sometimes a touch of spice, but it is light on its feet and super balanced with just the right ratio of tannin to acid,” Battles explains. “The herbs and earthiness of the stuffing balance so nicely against the freshness and fruit-forward nature of St. Laurent. Even if other ingredients such as sausage, cranberries or mushrooms are incorporated into the stuffing, this varietal continues to pair well."

Courville is also a fan of Mencia, which she calls “a fantastic varietal to go with a stuffing laden with sausage and herbs.” The lovely spice and cherry notes will complement the herbs and the fresh acidity will hold up to the lavishness of the meat, while cutting into the butteriness of the bread.

Bottles To Open With Pie “I think a Barolo Chinato could go with the dessert course,” O’Brien says. “Nebbiolo based with an amaro edge pairs well with an assortment of Thanksgiving pies. For example, I would pair Barolo Chinato with our chocolate chess pie from our sister restaurant Popina, because we use a little fernet to give a subtle herbal kick.”

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Food Magazine: What Are the Best Wines to Serve at Thanksgiving?
What Are the Best Wines to Serve at Thanksgiving?
These are the greatest wine pairings for your Thanksgiving feast, from Champagne with each meal to Tempranillo with turkey.
Food Magazine
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