Matching Wine With Thanksgiving Dinner

With a wide array of food and so many wine choices, even the Pilgrims would have had a hard time finding the right match
Nov 22, 2002
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Suggestions for the wine types that best set off your favorite foods

To the vast majority of Americans, Thanksgiving means turkey for dinner. But what accompanies turkey on the plate varies greatly from table to table, as can the wine that goes along with the meal. The dishes served at Thanksgiving can be a hodgepodge of flavors and textures that have become one's own family tradition over the years. My grandmother's rolls and my sister's baked sweet potato dish come to mind.

These variations on a theme mean that there are no hard and fast rules about which wines to drink with Thanksgiving dinner. Add to that the great diversity of the meal's components and flavors, and pairing wine can be quite a challenge.

Here is some help just in time for the holiday. Highlighted below are wine selections in various categories that should pair well with any feast. While these suggestions offer some helpful guidelines, at the end of the day your personal preference and your family's own Thanksgiving menu may offer the best direction.

Sparkling wine

The celebration of any holiday brings to mind the ultimate party wine: Champagne (or sparklers from other wine-producing areas). Along with the celebratory aspect, sparkling wine can also be a great pairing with many dishes. The acidity and effervescence of the wine serve as palate-cleansers, preparing you for the next bite. Also, the flavors of most sparkling wines are somewhat more restrained than those of still wines, making them easier to match with food that has a variety of spices and flavors.

Wine Score Price
BOLLINGER  Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV 91 $45
A combination of freshness and maturity highlight this medium-bodied bubbly. The flavors evoke toast, nuts and citrus, while the vivid acidity keeps it all focused. From France. Drink now through 2004. 9,000 cases imported. -- B.S.
PIPER-HEIDSIECK  Brut Champagne NV 91 $30
A well-rounded, balanced sparkler, showing hazelnut, citrus and honey flavors, augmented by toast, well-integrated with the medium-bodied weight and lively structure. From France. Drink now through 2004. 50,000 cases imported. -- B.S.
GLORIA FERRER  Blanc de Blancs Carneros NV 89 $22
Intense and concentrated, with a broad array of pretty flavors and floral, ripe cherry, pear and strawberry aromatics, with a touch of vanilla. Excellent value. From California. Drink now through 2006. 2,000 cases made. -- J.L.
CODORNÍU  Brut Cava Cuvée Raventós NV 85 $12
A Champagne look-alike, with toast, honey and baking bread notes, albeit done in a more straightforward, lighter style. Nicely done. From Spain. Drink now. 100,000 cases made. -- B.S.

Aromatic whites

For some good white-wine pairings, it may be best to think in the category of wines sometimes known as "ABC," or "Anything But Chardonnay." While Chardonnay may be a favorite for other meals, full-bodied and oaky styles may overwhelm a Thanksgiving menu. Wines such as Riesling and Pinot Gris mix white fruit and spice flavors with low alcohol content. The alcohol content can be an important consideration when pairing wine with the clove, nutmeg and other more-exotic spices found in many Thanksgiving side dishes. These spices often make a wine with higher alcohol seem very hot on the palate. For a drier, more refreshing style of one of these fragrant whites, try a Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Wine Score Price
BOLLINI  Pinot Grigio Grave del Friuli Reserve Selection 1999 87 $15
Aromas of freshly sliced apples and pears, with hints of spice. Medium- to full-bodied, with good fruit and a medium, fruity finish. Well-made, especially in this quantity. From Italy. Drink now. 36,000 cases made. -- J.S.
PIERRE SPARR  Pinot Gris Alsace Réserve 2001 87 $15
Shy in aroma, but no shortage of apricot and peach flavors in this rich, vibrant Pinot Gris. Medium-bodied, with lip-smacking acidity, making it delicious on its own. From France. Drink now. 7,500 cases made. -- B.S.
CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE  Johannisberg Riesling Columbia Valley 2001 85 $8
Bright and fruity, striking a nice balance among the peaches and cream flavors, lively acidity and touch of sweetness. From Washington. Drink now. 350,000 cases made. -- H.S.
STAATSWEINGÜTER KLOSTER EBERBACH  Riesling QbA Rheingau Steinberger 2000 85 $14
Juicy, with peach flavor, this Riesling captures the clean, crisp character one looks for from '00. Lingering aftertaste of apple. From Germany. Drink now through 2005. 12,000 cases made. -- B.S.


Young rosés are often crowd-pleasers at Thanksgiving. They are easy to drink, and they exhibit lively fruit flavors that almost everyone can appreciate. And unlike the white Zinfandel you may be thinking of, many rosés are neither decidedly sweet nor decidedly dry. This makes them welcome with a variety of dishes, as the balance keeps them from wiping out or dominating the food's flavors.

Wine Score Price
CHÂTEAU ROUTAS  Coteaux Varois Rosé Rouvière 2001 86 $10
Pleasant and light- to medium-bodied. Delicate flavors of dried cherry, berry and spice. Good, dry finish. Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. From France. Drink now. 7,000 cases made. -- K.M.
CHÂTEAU CAVALIER  Côtes de Provence Rosé 2000 85 $10
Pleasant medium-bodied rosé, offering well-defined dried cherry and berry flavors, and some spicy notes on the finish. From France. Drink now. 46,000 cases made. -- K.M.
E. GUIGAL  Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2001 85 $10
Fresh and crisp Rosé, clean and pure, with a tart lemony character. Needs food, but the suppleness on the aftertaste makes it worth hunting down. Lingering finish. From France. Drink now. 12,500 cases made. -- P.M.
BODEGAS OCHOA  Garnacha Navarra Rosado 2001 85 $9
This crisp, dry rosé offers exuberant cherry, licorice and light earthy flavors, balanced and clean. Can match with food. From Spain. Drink now. 6,000 cases made. -- T.M.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is a personal favorite of mine for the Thanksgiving table. While this grape is well known for its role in the traditional Bordeaux blend, varietal bottlings are also delicious. Cab Franc is usually lighter-bodied and shows less tannin than its relative Cabernet Sauvignon, making it a good red-wine option for turkey or other game birds. France's Loire Valley produces some of the better-known versions, though the grape variety is hidden behind the name of the wine's appellation of origin. Also, look for bottlings from California as well as from New York and Washington states.

Wine Score Price
JUSTIN  Justification Paso Robles 1999 91 $29
A ripe, intense, fruit-driven style, with racy, jammy black cherry and blackberry fruit that's well-focused, picking up pretty toasty oak, tar and leathery shadings and holding its focus nicely. Cabernet Franc with Merlot. From California. Drink now through 2009. 2,000 cases made. -- J.L.
CHARLES JOGUET  Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos 2000 89 $27
Very solid, ripe black cherry and cassis fruit lays over a firm, minerally edge in this muscular Chinon. Structured finish, but the tannins are ripe, so let this blossom. From France. Drink now through 2004. -- J.M.
JEAN-MAURICE RAFFAULT  Chinon Les Galluches 2001 88 $14
Supple and fleshy, with black cherry and smoke notes, and lingering hints of tobacco and spice on the focused finish. From France. Drink now through 2003. -- J.M.
LANG & REED  Cabernet Franc Napa Valley 2000 87 $21
A medium-bodied style, with earthy, beefy, wild berry, cranberry and even strawberry flavors that are firmly tannic and vibrant. Best soon. From California. Drink now through 2006. 2,000 cases made. -- J.L.
Holidays / Celebrations Thanksgiving Recipes

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