The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to relax with friends and family, and to reflect on reasons to be thankful. One aspect is the successful wine grape harvests around the world, which provide an opportunity to pair delicious wines with the Thanksgiving turkey.
However, turkey is not the easiest meat to match wine, because it has both the delicate, textured white meat, as well as the more savory, moist brown meat. Plus all the side dishes, including stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, gravy and more, make it a rather complex meal for wine pairing. But there are some wine varieties and styles that do work perfectly, and it makes sense to pick up a few different ones for guests to try.
Table 1 lists the top ten wine varieties/styles to pair with Thanksgiving turkey, as well as the side dishes. These wines will also work with plant-based turkeys, because they often have similar flavor profiles to meat turkeys, though may have a different texture. For Thanksgiving, the key is to select lighter bodied wines with crisp acidity, a fruit-forward profile, and no to little oak.
Sparkling/Rosé Wines to Pair with Turkey
These three sparkling/rosé wines will pair well with turkey because of the fresh acidity in the wines, but also the fruity notes. The acid will help cleanse the palate, and cut through the savory notes in the brown meat, stuffing, and gravy. The fruit-forward profile of these wines will help balance the drier texture of the white meat, and pick up the spices in the cranberry sauce. If you insist on Champagne or a drier white sparkling wine, then pair that with appetizers.
- Sparkling Red or Rosé – though it is not that common to find a sparkling red wine, there are some available, and they pair well with turkey. Ask your local retailer for Lambrusco from Italy, sparkling Shiraz from Australia, or red sparklers from some U.S. producers. A darker pink, fruity, sparkling rosé will also work well.
- Pét-nat Orange Wine – these wines are orange in color because they have been fermented on the grape skins. They also have bubbles, but usually less than sparkling wine. Many of these are considered to be “natural wines,” and have delicious fruity aromas of dried apricot, lemon, lime, and flowers. They also have a heavier mouthfeel that works well with both white and brown turkey meat, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Sometimes they taste similar to an IPA beer.
- Darker Fruity Rosé – turkey doesn’t pair as well with the bone dry pale rosés. Instead look for a darker pink rosé with a fruity profile of raspberry and plum. Consider the Tavel region of France, or bolder rosés from other parts of the world.
White Wines to Pair with Turkey
These three white wines all exhibit aromatic floral notes, along with fresh vibrant fruit. They create an exciting combination with the white meat of turkey and spicy herb stuffing. If you insist on chardonnay, then select a lighter un-oaked style with fresh vibrant fruit. However, big, buttery oaked chardonnays often make a good pairing with apple pie, and sauvignon blanc may match veggie dishes.
- Riesling – always a classic with Thanksgiving meals, rieslings show notes of peach, lemon, and white blossoms. They can be dry, semi-sweet, and sweet. All three styles will work, because of the high acid and fruitiness found in these wines. Consider rieslings from Germany, New York, and Washington state.
- Chenin Blanc – once popular in the 1980’s, chenin blanc is surging back into style again. With its attractive floral, honey, pear and apple notes with crisp acidity, it is very appealing for Thanksgiving. Like riesling, it can be dry, semi-sweet and sweet. Consider chenin blancs from South Africa, the Loire Valley, California and Texas.
- Viognier – the more voluptuous older sister to chenin blanc, viognier exhibits similar floral and honey notes, but also has a touch of spice and white peach. Often medium-bodied, it can easily stand up to both white and brown turkey, as well as many of the side dishes. Consider viognier from France, Virginia and California.
Red Wines to Pair with Turkey
These four red wines are classics for Thanksgiving dinner, because they all have fruit forward flavors, good acidity, and usually have moderate tannins and oak. They can work with both white and brown turkey meat, and highlight the spicy notes in cranberry sauce, as well as cut through the heavier texture of stuffing, gravy, and sweet potatoes. If you insist on cabernet sauvignon, select a lighter fruity style with very low oak. Lighter style cabernet francs can also work with turkey.
- Pinot Noir – this grape is always a favorite because of its cheerful bright fruit notes of dried strawberry, raspberry, cherry and even cranberry. It often has a touch of spice, and sometimes a mushroom earthy note – making it perfect for turkey and stuffing. Consider pinot noirs from Oregon, the Russian River Valley of California, and Burgundy.
- Gamay -a lighter style gamay, such as Gamay Beaujolais, is usually a crowd pleaser, with its grapey, floral, and mixed berry notes. It goes especially well with cranberries and white turkey meat. Make sure to get one without much oak. The Beaujolais region of France, and parts of Oregon and California usually produce gamays.
- Grenache – this grape has been gaining in popularity for the past several years and has been compared to a fruit roll-up because of its mixed berry profile with hints of allspice and cinnamon. It goes well with almost everything on the Thanksgiving table. Consider grenache from California, the southern Rhone, and South Australia.
- Zinfandel – this enticing grape with notes of berry jam, white pepper, and spice is another great contender for the Thanksgiving table. Like grenache, zinfandel seems to go well with most all Thanksgiving dishes, but make sure to get one without much oak. Zinfandel is primarily produced in California, such as in the Dry Creek Valley, the Sierra Foothills, Lodi, and other regions.
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