January 31, 2023

Wines for Thanksgiving

I always enjoy the autumn season. The summer heat is finally gone. The harvest has come in, bringing with it all the abundance of nature. After a long summer season of light and simple flavors to avoid weighing one down, the hearty foods and robust spices come out to satisfy the palate as the days get shorter and colder.

The quintessential expression of the season is my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving. The traditional turkey dinner can be challenging to match wines with as the popular varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are not typically the best fit. So, for November, I bring you some of my personal favorites to match with Thanksgiving dinner.

A reason pairing the traditional turkey dinner can be a challenge is that its flavors tend to be different from the usual fare dominating American cuisine. Turkey is somewhat earthy and gamey in flavor versus chicken, pork or beef. Many common side dishes have stronger herbal flavors, or more tart fruit flavors than is common; items such as sage in the stuffing or dressing, or cranberry sauces and relishes. While the typically fruit forward wines of California do pair with these dishes, the wine flavors tend to be somewhat simple versus the food at the value end, and overpowering at the premium end, particularly for Cabs.

Pinot Noir

The easiest pair to make with Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir. Pinot is known for having an earthy/gamey quality as a wine, and is one of the more versatile reds for food. Its one drawback is that Pinot tends to be the lightest of the red wines, and lighter styles may not have enough oomph for a very hearty meal. Several regions are known for producing heavier Pinots on a consistent basis though, and are the ones I recommend selecting from. The Carneros region of Napa and the Russian River Valley in particular are very consistent, and many of the central coast regions have excellent quality with often heartier bodied Pinots. La Crema, Acacia, Cambria, Byron, Fess Parker, Artesa, Carneros Creek, and Sanford are several common quality labels that aren’t too expensive.


Grenache makes an exceptional pairing for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a red wine that at its best is hearty, meaty, often has an herbal/smoky character, and fruit flavors that tend towards hints of cranberry. The best place to find outstanding Grenache is amongst the imports from Spain. The wines of Rioja are classically a Grenache/Tempranillo blend. Two common names found at most stores are Marqués de Cáceras and Campo Viejo. Go for the Gran Reserva over the Reserva or Crianza if it’s available, as the quality for the price makes it an excellent upsale. Also look for wines from the Priorat region. These are primarily blends of Grenache and Carignane from old, dry farmed vines. The wines are earthy, dusty, and an excellent match with the traditional turkey dinner. Priorat can be tougher to find, but your more premium wine markets should carry a few. Arizona produces wines that are good choices to pair for Thanksgiving. Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards offers a varietal Grenache I highly recommend. The Arizona Stronghold Nachise is a Southern Rhône/Provençal style wine blended from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah. Pillsbury’s Roan Red is a predominately Grenache blend. And Callaghan Winery makes a blend called Back Lot that’s mostly Mourvèdre, and Syrah with a bit of Zinfandel and Grenache that is earthy, spicy, and screams to be served with a hearty meal.

Bubbly Choices

If you diverge from reds, rather than white table wine, I suggest sparkling wines and champagne. They match with just about anything, and nothing quite says celebration like a bottle of bubbly. Go with Brut styles, and look for the labels that are known for having more leesy character. Vueve Clicquot and Bollinger from France, Gloria Ferrer and Shramsberg domestically are good choices. The last thing to consider is the after dinner beverage. Aged Tawny Ports, Hungarian Tokaji, and Icewines all make an excellent option for the holiday dessert selection. Just ask your local wine monger for a good choice in each category. If you’re going to go through all the effort to make a wonderful feast, you can’t forget about the beverage to go with it. Hopefully this gives you some new ideas beyond the same old same old, and can bring enjoyment to your holiday table.

A toast to be thankful and a wish for success to everyone this holiday.

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