A Guide to the Best Wines for Thanksgiving

Say yes to red, white or sparkling.

Illustration of what wines to serve at Thanksgiving
Illustration: Alison Czinkota. © The Spruce, 2018

One of the most daunting tasks of preparing for a Thanksgiving feast is choosing the wine. However, with so many different flavors on the menu, selecting wines to partner with all the classic dishes might be easier with a bit of guidance.

The big question: Which wines go with the variety of tastes, textures, flavors, and aromas that uniquely present themselves on Thanksgiving Day? Can one wine carry you from appetizers through desserts, or should you opt for several wines to accent the various dishes? The choice is entirely up to you, though there are some tried-and-true pairings to get you started.

Keep in mind that whether you are hosting five or 50 guests at Thanksgiving, you don’t have to drop a bundle to offer a lovely selection of wines. There are many well-received, well-rated value wines available for $10 or less.

The Most Versatile Thanksgiving Wine

Thanksgiving menus usually begin with appetizers and move to turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, and pumpkin or pecan pie. Is there a single wine that can take you seamlessly from start to finish?

Sparkling wine and Champagne can be the one-stop wonder you're seeking. These are increasingly popular pairing partners and not just for the holidays. Sparkling wines bring both elegance and phenomenal food-pairing versatility to virtually any meal. They shine at the Thanksgiving dinner table because they typically carry a decent dose of acidity while adding
a festive flair to the table.

Regional sparkling wine finds are completely capable of handling assorted appetizers. They're lovely with fried or salty fare and make a good match with turkey and dressing. The crisp effervescence cuts seamlessly through the rich layers found in many daring desserts, too. 

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

The art of pairing wine with food is indeed a matter of personal preference. With white wines, the priority is finding a wine with well-balanced acidity. Reds should have reasonably tame tannins that will yield to and support the flavors of the food. Some safe bets for Thanksgiving wines are pinot noir, syrah, and zinfandel for red wine lovers, and sauvignon blanc, riesling, gewürztraminer, and viognier for those who prefer white wines. 

Top Thanksgiving Whites

  • Riesling: This white wine can either be quite dry or fairly sweet, and it's excellent with spicy, salty, or sweet foods. Whether from Alsace, Germany, or Washington, riesling wines are a top pick for a Thanksgiving dinner. Riesling’s natural flavors of apple, apricot, and honey, and its clarifying acidity give it a significant pairing edge with the likes of sweet potatoes, turkey, and spiced or herb-filled stuffing.
  • Gewürztraminer: Simply delicious, this white wine tends to have aromatic gusto and spicy palate appeal. Gewürztraminer makes a solid standing with turkey and gravy, bringing out the best in both.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Known for its citrusy flavor with herbal or mineral undertones, this crisp white is a prime pairing candidate for turkey and mashed potatoes.
  • Pinot Grigio: Capable of handling garlic and onions, herbs and rich, flavorful, high-fat dishes, this white wine is a natural for the demands of Thanksgiving Day.
  • Albariño and Viognier: While they may not boast the name recognition of, chardonnay, these whites offer the perfect opportunity to shake up the Thanksgiving table. You'll take your guests on a little wine adventure while maintaining excellent pairing power.

Top Thanksgiving Reds

  • Pinot Noir: This red wine is a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. Pinot noir's subtle earthy undertones and often mushroom-inspired flavors surround the fruity features of the wine. It tends to work well with the traditional flavors of turkey and stuffing.
  • Zinfandel: A fuller bodied red, zinfandel is more intense than pinot noir and balances many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. It's a great wine pick for those looking for a heartier red with the capacity to accommodate spicy, bitter, and sweet flavor profiles.
  • Syrah: The syrah (or shiraz) grape can bring a spicy edge or a meaty character to the table. It's more complex, but graciously bows the cornucopia of flavors at a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The prevalent peppery notes of syrah partner well with herb-infused stuffing and both white and dark turkey meat.
  • Beaujolais Nouveau: A light, fruity red wine from the gamay grape, it goes quite well with turkey and all the fixings. This wine is released from France on the third Thursday of November, just in time to join you for your Thanksgiving feast.

Alternative Choices

Rosé and sherry are worthy of consideration for Thanksgiving dinner. Along with sparkling wines, they provide a capable go-between for those not firmly camped in either the red or white wine trenches. When considering a sparkling wine, choose one labeled "extra dry," which will offer a touch more fruit flavor than a "brut." As for rosé wines, a drier selection will be the most versatile for pairing with virtually any part of the Thanksgiving feast. 

Pie Pairings

When it comes to wine and pie pairings, fortified wines and late-harvest wines are excellent choices. Both categories offer the sweetness and viscosity to support the rich flavors and robust spice of pumpkin pie and the caramelized flavors in pecan pie. 

Fortified wines are the best bet and easy to find. Pairing port with pie is a pretty straightforward partnership that extends beyond pumpkin and pecan pie. If you're a sherry fan, take a look at either Pedro Ximenez or cream sherry to contribute a distinctive nutty, sweet, spice-filled character to the pumpkin or pecan pie pairing. Or count on a late-harvest riesling to bring rich, concentrated flavors of honey to a variety of desserts.