Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the lives we live and all that we are thankful for. Since the first Thanksgiving in 1621, we’ve been sharing our gratitude with a fine feast at a table with family and friends. Part of feast planning includes food and wine pairings, so, as soon as you’ve invited everyone and set your menu, you should be thinking about which wines you should serve to your guests to compliment your menu. Choosing a wine that will appeal to every guest is difficult; not every wine will appeal to every palate, but there are many selections of wines that will enhance the flavor of your food and add elegance to your meal.

You can always serve your favorite wine, or you can pick elements of your meal and pair wines with different flavor profiles like the sweet, savory and mellow aspects of your Thanksgiving meal.

Traditional Thanksgiving menus include the bountiful foods of the fall harvest like:

  • Pumpkin
  • Potatoes
  • Cranberries
  • Corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Pecans and other nuts
  • Game
  • Fish
  • Oysters
  • And of course, turkey

With such a wide variety of foods on the table, it is best to pick the strongest elements of the meal, so for instance, while turkey has a mild flavor that will pair well with many wines, the flavors of your oyster dressing might best be paired with wines made from the Chardonnay grape, like a classic Chardonnay or a Champagne, both of which will pair well with the turkey. So let’s keep this thought in mind and we’ll explore classic Thanksgiving flavors and the wines that complement them.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Meats

White wine with fish and poultry and red wine with red meats and sauces is, as we know now, not necessarily always the golden rule, in fact, you can be missing out on some great pairings if you follow that rule. The following pairings are simply based on Thanksgiving meats:

Zinfandel's Love for Turkey

As we already discussed, turkey has a mild flavor profile and pairs well with many different wines, red or white, such as a dry Riesiling or a florally pinot noir. However, as a classic, Zinfandel has always been a great partner to turkey, as it has been a popular varietal in the Americas for a long time, naturally gaining flavors that compliment American cuisines like roasted turkey and stuffing. Its sweet raspberry flavor compliments the warm roasted essence of turkey.

Choose Old World Wines for Game Meats

Game meats have deeper flavors that pair well with an Old World red, like a velvety Burgundy or an Old World white wine - try a fruity pinot gris. Waterfowl pair well with the fruitiness of Pinot Noir or the oakiness and apple/citrus flavors of chardonnay.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Fish

White fish, like swordfish or halibut, pair well with the crisp, lively flavors of Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Rosé. Heartier fish, like tuna or salmon, pair well with hearty Old world white burgundy wines or the smooth balanced flavors of a Merlot.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Now that we’ve established a few base wines that pair well with meats, let’s look at Thanksgiving sides. The side dishes served with Thanksgiving meals are where pairings can get complicated, as there can be so many different flavors being presented at once; don’t worry, you don’t have to pair a wine with each side dish. Just pick the flavors that stand out to you and then pick your favorite wine or an exciting new one to try.

Wine Pairings for Stuffing

Bread mixed with mirepoix and herbs as a base can go well with several different wines such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay or even Sauvignon Blanc, add in sausage, oyster or fruit, and you can pair reds like Pinot Noir, Merlot or even a smooth Zinfandel.

Wine and Sweet Potatoes

Even if you don’t make the ultra-American classic "sweet potato casserole smothered in marshmallow fluff", sweet potatoes are in and of themselves…sweet. You’ll want a wine that won’t be overwhelmed by the sweetness, so think Sauvignon Blanc for a white or Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah for a red.

Add Wine Directly into Gravy

The easiest way to pair your wine with your gravy is to add the wine you’ve chosen directly into the gravy. If you've used wine to cook your meat, residual wine flavor will be present in the drippings used to create your gravy. You can add a bit more of your chosen white or red during thickening, making it a perfect pairing for the meal.

Sauvignon Blanc & Mashed Potatoes

Potatoes on their own are mild and will pair well with most wines, add butter or cream, and you’ll want a bright lively wine like a Pinot Noir or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Vegetables & Wines

When you are serving vegetables, consider the flavor of the vegetable and the cooking method, also consider if you will be adding more ingredients, like for instance, if you'll be make a green bean casserole with cream, mushrooms and crispy onions. Corn and beans pair well with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, roasted root vegetables pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel, and the iconic green bean casserole pairs with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or a Syrah.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Desserts

Once dinner is over, it’s time for dessert! Here you can have fun trying dessert wines or you can continue drinking the wines you've served with dinner. While there are multiple wines styles, like reds, whites and dessert wines, never forget that Champagne is a go-to wine for rich, creamy desserts and is all around fun to drink. Try these pairings:

Pumpkin Pie & Pecan Pie

Muscato and Sauterenes dessert wines pair well with the creamy spice of pumpkin pie and lift the richness of whipped cream.

Sherry and Madeira, with their depth and complexity, pair well with the intense sweetness of brown sugar and molasses and the nuttiness of pecans.

Fruit Pies

Match the fruity flavors of fruit pies with like-minded wines: Zinfandel with stone fruit, and apple with the lively Sauvignon Blanc.

Wines for Chocolate Desserts

Port pairs well with white chocolate and milk chocolate desserts while darker chocolates pair well with Shiraz and Zinfandel.

Cheesecake & Riesling

A simple cheesecake can be paired with a muscat or dry Reisling or you can pair the topping or flavors in the cheesecake by pairing zinfandel with berries and chocolate.

There are many choices for your Thanksgiving menu and many wines to pair with them - a safe choice is always Sauvignon Blanc for lighter dishes, Champagne for desserts and a bright Pinot Noir as your red.