Thanksgiving Wines: Make Good Choices

Thanksgiving is really the perfect time to apply my favorite rule about wine: don't overthink it.

We're getting ready for a meal that's large, varied, likely to take a while, and, in most cases, involves pretty straightforward food. Thanksgiving dinner isn't a meal for a Michelin-star restaurant; it's family comfort food, simple and good. So this isn't the time to break out complex, extravagant wines. You need a bit of variety and something that you enjoy drinking. That's it.

As we've already learned in thinking about beer for this meal, a typical Thanksgiving spread has a lot of competing flavors. This is good news, because what doesn't work with one side dish will almost certainly work with something else. Try a little white, a little red, and taste everything.


Yes, you can drink white year-round. Because you can drink WHATEVER YOU LIKE. But if you're used to drinking ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc, you're missing all the wonderful things white wines can do. A nice dry Sauvignon Blanc - at something higher than freezer temperature, please - will likely appeal to almost everyone during Thanksgiving dinner. A good one, like something France's Loire Valley or a domestic wine from Oregon (we have a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Gaspard in the shop and one from Patricia Green Cellars), can take you from a cheese course through salad to roast turkey and green beans with no problem. For a little more body and more savory notes, try a Viognier, which is nearly perfect with sweet potatoes, squash, and stuffing.  Fausse Piste's Mineral Selection Viognier, from Oregon winemakers who really understand food, is my favorite here. Another no-fail crowd pleaser is a good Grüner Veltliner, which finally got Americans' attention about 20 years ago, and simply tastes good.

What about the people who think they love only Chardonnay? Give them some. White Burgundy wines aren't going to fail you. And if you want a nice domestic choice, Forlorn Hope Queen of the Sierra Estate White is a blend of Chardonnay, Verdelho and Riesling that's got something for everyone. We'll be recommending this wine and its sister red blend as a Thanksgiving strategy to anyone who asks this year.


Again, no rules, but if I can sneak in one guideline, it would be this: Thanksgiving isn't the best time for big, powerful Super Tuscans and California Cabs. Those are steakhouse wines for a reason, and their tannins and strong fruit will probably make it impossible to taste your turkey. So, what to serve? Pinot Noir seems like the obvious answer, and we always carry a few nice Pinots. The really good ones can get expensive, though, so if you need to be a little budget-conscious, look to Spain. There are tasty Tempranillos available at reasonable prices, and the grape's tart flavors are lovely for Thanksgiving (you've already got cranberries on the table, right?). I like a Cabernet Franc with some nice herbal notes to highlight fall foods. Challenge your wine-snob cousin with a bottle of d'Orsaria Cab Franc from, unexpectedly, Italy. It finishes with a little rosemary flavor, which is nice with most of what's on a Thanksgiving plate.


Have room for more? The good news about Thanksgiving dessert is that, even if you end up with a pairing that doesn't taste fabulous, you're likely to be too full to care. The even better news is that a great pairing might wake you from your food coma and leave you ready for another round of eating. My favorites: pumpkin pie with tawny port; cheesecake or pear-based desserts with late harvest Gewurztraminer; blue cheese and nuts with Manzanilla sherry.

Still not sure what to choose? Really - don't overthink! We've put together a few combinations for Thanksgiving that will do just fine, so come in for a taste of cheese, a friendly chat with a cheesemonger, and the reassurance that, whatever family drama may arise next Thursday, your wine choices won't be part of it.

Elizabeth Falk