One of the nice things about hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is that historical precedent has done much of the menu planning for you. And the seasonal produce calendar does the rest. There’s turkey, dressing (or do you say stuffing?), mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce.
But what about the wine? Wine for Thanksgiving is a big deal, especially here in California. Of course, we’re all free to drink whatever we like with what we’re eating since the days of rigid pairing rules are over.
After a couple decades of adult Thanksgivings, I’ve noticed that some wines create more delight–and pair with Thanksgiving’s rich, earthy and sweet flavors–better than others. So I created a list of wines that win when paired with most anything on your Thanksgiving table. If you can’t find these exact wines that’s OK; just use these five categories as a guide to happy Thanksgiving wine pairings and keep these in mind for your next big holiday dinner.
No. 1: Bubbly
Sparkling wine is always festive and it’s a happy way to begin any dinner party, but especially one where you’re counting your blessings for the year. The acidity in a fine traditional method sparkling does a good job of priming your palate for dinner, and the toastiness from aging a bit will give the wine depth. This one made from 100% Chardonnay will pair beautifully with seafood starters like cracked Dungeness crab to creamy dips and chips and even white turkey meat.
No. 2: Pinot Noir
So last Thanksgiving, everybody at the table was going on about how much they loooved Cab. But what wine did they all pounce on? My bottle of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. I shouldn’t have been surprised. There’s a reason Pinot Noir is considered the most food friendly of all the red wines out there. With its lovely aromatics and flavors that take you through bright acidity, red fruit, smoke, spice and earth it does all the things. Whether you’ve got a forkful of turkey and cranberry, mushroom bread pudding, or Brussel sprouts with bacon, Pinot will make it better.
No. 3: Zinfandel
While the grape is originally from Croatia, the wine called Zinfandel is an American creation. And so it seems perfectly fitting for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, with its tangy, berry-forward flavors, juiciness and soft tannins, it’s the kind of easy-drinking wine that’s perfect with dark turkey meat, pork roast, stuffing and gravy and all the other deliciousness on your holiday table.
No. 4: Older Napa Valley Bordeaux Style Wine
Some people couldn’t imagine having a special dinner without some Cabernet Sauvignon. I get that, but for me, pouring a young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (with the possible exception of one by Heitz Cellar) at Thanksgiving evokes Godzilla stomping all over the dinner table, sending peas and onions, sweet potato casserole and gravy flying.
The exuberant fruit, tannins and alcohol make Cab and its Bordelais brothers way too big for this meal, unless you’re swapping ribeye for turkey. Ah, but a wine that’s nine or 10 years old? That’s a very different story. Over time that fruit calms down, allowing earthiness and spice to emerge, and the texture to become sublimely silky. See why Robert Parker called this wine “one of the finest California Cabernet Francs I have tasted.”
No. 5: Tawny Port
Maybe you believe in drinking dessert with whatever red wine or Chardonnay you have lingering in your glass. It makes economic sense, but don’t you want your Thanksgiving dessert experience to be the ultimate? Do this by uncorking a tawny port. Tawny port has warm sweetness mingled with tangy dried fruit and nutty notes that are made for autumn. It will make you look at a pecan, sweet potato and pumpkin pie in a whole new light. And it’s delicious with aged Gouda too.