7 Thanksgiving Wine Pairings You Need to Try

By Linnea Covington  |  November 25, 2013
Credit: eat good food group

The classic dishes of the Thanksgiving meal range in flavor from sweet to tart to salty - a mix of flavors that makes it especially hard to pair with a single bottle of wine. This time of year, many sommeliers face a similar dilemma when picking wines for their Thanksgiving feasts, so we got them to share some of their favorite pairings for this epic meal.

  • Turkey

    To go with this iconic bird, Alicia Nosenzo, the beverage manager and partner of Harold Dieterle’s The Marrow in Manhattan, opts for a bottle of the 2006 Serafino Rivella Barbaresco ‘Montestefano,’ which she says will go wonderfully with the classic turkey dish. “The wine is delicate yet firm, but with upfront fruit, and proves livelier than some other wines I have tried,” she says.

    Also, try the 2009 Potel-Aviron Juliénas Vieilles Vignes or the 2007 Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes, two cru Beaujolais from France suggested by Dan Davis, the wine guru of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. “With duck, pheasant, quail and the big bird, I prefer a light-bodied red with some soul,” says David. “One of my favorites this time of year is Beaujolais, and don’t be afraid to buy a bottle with a few years of age on it, so long as you are getting it at a wine shop that you trust.” He adds that these wines are more serious and soulful than those just labeled Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages.

    Though these are all great options, David Giuliano, the beverage director from The Little Owl and Market Table in New York goes for an American wine like grenache from California. “With its wild, brambly fruit, firm acidity, touches of barnyard and ample spice, its the perfect thing to liven up turkey and compliment all the other flavors that accompany it,” says Giuliano. “My two favorites on the lists at the moment are from Dashe Cellar's 'L'enfant Terrible' 2012 label, and Edmunds St. John's 'Rocks and Gravel' 2011, an irresistible blend of grenache and syrah.”

  • Credit: mollyjade via flickr

    Mashed Potatoes

    In Boston, Mary Stout, beverage director at Boston's Toro and Coppa, loves mashed potatoes and feels a nice, crisp-yet-round Italian white goes great with the starchiness and fluffiness of them. Her choice: the 2012 Anselmi San Vincenzo from Italy. “The wine is lush on the palate with hints of pineapple and stone fruit that would pair nicely with the creamy texture and buttery flavors of mashed potatoes,” she says. In Los Gatos, CA, at Dio Deka, sommelier Jeremy Dennis goes a different route and pairs this iconic dish with a bright California Pinot Noir. “The bigger, bolder flavors of say an Anderson Valley Pinot pair beautifully with your classic mashed potatoes,” he says.

  • Cranberry Sauce

    Though you don’t necessarily need a wine to pair with cranberry sauce, it helps if the vino on your table actually goes with the bright-red condiment. For Nosenzo at The Marrow, the 2011 Abbatucci Cuvée Faustine Rouge, from Corsica, works wonderfully. “There is a lot happening in the glass, from savory herbs to sour cranberry to bright fruit on the nose,” she says. “They then lead into leaner fruit on the palate with racy acidity.” In the end, the best reason to try this wine at supper is the aroma, which Nosenzo says smells just like Thanksgiving. For Davis at Commander's Palace, the 2011 Banfi Rosa Regale, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, makes him think of all the flavor components of cranberry sauce, plus strawberries, which makes this wine a shoe-in for his Southern-style Thanksgiving table.

  • Credit: Linnea Covington

    Roasted Brussels Sprouts

    Shannon Tucker, the wine director of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, finds pairing wine with this slightly bitter vegetable a little tricky, but in the end, she says the Chenin Blanc grape is a good bet. “I would go with a Vouvray from the Loire since it has pretty white-flower aromatics, but lots of minerality on the palate,” she says. “Philippe Foreau is one of my favorite Vouvray producers.” At Luma On Park in Florida, beverage director Carson Gray agrees with Tucker on all accounts, and the wine he would pick to pair with this tricky dish also falls in the Chenin Blanc category, like the South African A.A. Badenhorst “Family Secateurs.” “With vegetables like Brussels sprouts, I tend to gravitate to more highly mineral, crisp and acidic white wines with lower to moderate alcohol in order to control or match those bitter astringent components,” he says, adding that an off-dry Riesling would also work to balance those flavors.

  • Credit: mellowynk via flickr

    Sweet Potatoes

    Whether you like your sweet potatoes whole and roasted, mashed up or covered with marshmallows, it’s always one of the sweetish dishes on the Thanksgiving table. For Gianpaolo Paterlini, the wine director at Acquerello and 1760 Restaurant in Sacramento, he votes for a full-bodied, dry Austrian Smaragd Riesling, which he says will stand up to the sweetness of the dish. Tucker goes a different route and picks a light Syrah from the Northern Rhone, like François Villard's St. Joseph. “This one has soft florals and lighter tannins that would make an unusual, but I think good, pairing for sweet potatoes,” she says.

  • Credit: Vicky van Santen

    Green Bean Casserole

    Now, most people don’t think about pairing wine with green bean casserole, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. At Atrium in Brooklyn, NY, beverage director and partner Alexander LaPratt suggests cracking open a bottle of Nikolaihof's Gruner Veltliner Hefeabzug to go with this iconic vegetable and cheese dish. “This expression of Austria's indigenous Gruner Veltliner grape is left on the lees for an extended period of time, giving the wine a nice creaminess which will complement the cream in the casserole,” says LaPratt. “Gruner also naturally has some green flavors like green bean, green apple, lemon, radish and white pepper.” Over at Foreign Cinema, Tucker picks white Burgundy by Thierry et Pascale Matrot to go with the dish. “It will offer some nice round mouthfeel that is great with cream, green beans and mushrooms,” she says, adding that this producer’s Saint-Aubin blend is the way to go. “The wine has a lovely rich mouthfeel that is balanced with bright acidity and some flinty savory notes to finish.”

  • Pumpkin Pie

    For this Thanksgiving dessert classic, anything with bubbles is a great pick. “Champagne is a lovely match to pumpkin pie, and demi-sec is a nice way to offer a bit of sweetness with refreshing bubbles,” says Foreign Cinema's Shannon Tucker. One of her favorites is Laurent Perrier’s demi-sec, which maintains pleasing notes of white flowers and leaves a rich toastiness on the palate. Patrick Cappiello, the wine director at Pearl & Ash in New York, agrees, though he also likes serving Champagne throughout dinner. For this reason, during his pumpkin pie course he goes in for a bottle of Blanc de Noir by a domain in France called Fleury. Over at Acquerello, Gianpaolo Paterlini likes something a little different and chooses a Vin Santo from Tuscany. “This sweet wine has a rich, honeyed, nutty and spicy flavor which beautifully complements the flavor of dessert,” he says. 

  • Wine For Every Course

    If you want one wine to go with everything on the table, William Fitch, the wine director at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, suggests a bottle of 2009 Mt. Blanc, Belluard Brut Zero, a crisp and effervescent vino from France’s Savoie (or Savoy) region. “It’s lively enough to cut through the heartiest gravy, and its slightly minty herbal notes banter pleasurably with the sweeter flavors of sweet potatoes and cranberry,” says Fitch, who also suggests giving the 2012 Santorini Sigalas a go. “This full-bodied white from the Greek island of Santorini has the richness of texture and will not fade away after a mouthful of stuffing, but it combines bright citrus flavors with a distinctive and long minerality, keeping the senses refreshed throughout the meal.” Also try a bottle of 2010 Hirsch Lamm Gruner Veltliner, as suggested by Nosenzo. “This one has lots of fruit on the nose, tons of mineral on the palate and a long finish,” she says. “It really stands up to the turkey, cranberry and stuffing combo.”