Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Go-To Thanksgiving Wine?

Turkey dinner for a crowd can be daunting to pair with wine. Here's what 12 wine pros reach for

Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Go-To Thanksgiving Wine?
Beaujolais is classic for a reason, but you can try everything from Zinfandel to Vouvray to Barolo. (iStockPhoto)
Nov 15, 2019

You've already got to deal with the bird, the gravy, the stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce, plus a swarm of relatives, each with their own dietary restrictions. And you have to pick wines to please all palates and pair with a glorious mess of flavors on the table?

So how to tackle Thanksgiving wine? We asked 12 sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners for some pointers on both reds and whites. Their picks range from classic to unconventional and, as a bonus, most are friendly on the wallet.

Want more suggestions for holiday pairings, including tips for roast beef feasts and party sparklers? Pick up a copy of our Nov. 30 issue, and check out "Sommeliers Pair the Holidays."

Wine Spectator: What are your go-to wines—red and white—to pair with the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner?

Jake Lewis, beverage director of the New York–based Momofuku Group, with seven Restaurant Award winners

We take Thanksgiving food fairly seriously in my family. A few years ago, we started frying the bird. For that crispy fried turkey skin and juicy interior, I like a good ol' Chardonnay. I prefer to have one with a bit less wood so as to not overwhelm the turkey, so something like Eyrie Original Vines Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley.

For red, it starts to be about working with the accompaniments like cranberry sauce. A red wine with primarily red fruit notes is ideal—something like a brighter style of Zinfandel. Bedrock Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel from Sonoma is delicious, and the extra kick of alcohol makes the holiday a bit more fun.

Amy Mundwiler, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Maple & Ash in Chicago

There are two ways I always approach a Thanksgiving pairing: size of the crowd and intent of the dinner. If this is a large crowd of hedonists, eating, drinking and just having fun all day, I'd recommend copious amounts of cru Beaujolais and a white Burgundy from the Mâconnais. Both are perfect pairings and offer incredible value. We currently have magnums of Lapierre Morgon 2017 in the cellar that I'm holding back for our Thanksgiving service. We're going to use it for a by-the-glass pairing, and it's going to be sexy as hell to pour from a magnum.

If this is a smaller affair with more discerning palates, I'm heading to Burgundy for the red and Alsace for the white. I'm having a love affair with the wines from Christophe Perrot-Minot right now, and it's 100 percent what I will personally be drinking at Thanksgiving this year.

Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco

For a red, traditional Thanksgiving herbs and ingredients such as thyme, rosemary, sage and truffles, if you’re lucky, really scream Italian reds for me. A Barolo with age offers a bouquet of savory herbs and dried fruits backed with acidity and tannins that give it a voice at the table that everyone wants to hear.

Ryan Bailey, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner NoMad Los Angeles

I know it's cliché to say Gamay is the perfect Thanksgiving red wine, but this time, instead of grabbing Beaujolais Nouveau, try Domaine Migot's Gamay from the northeastern French region of Lorraine. It's such a steal and so delicious with a slight chill on it. From the very high-toned aromas of purple flowers to the crazy minerality on the palate, this has been my personal go-to.

Thanksgiving white wines for me are all about texture and depth without being weighty or oxidative. That's why I really love Jolie-Laide's Fanucchi-Wood Road Trousseau Gris. It seems to catch the attention of everyone at the table with how unique it is.

Rebecca Kirhoffer, co-owner and wine director of Award of Excellence winner Rebeccas, in Greenwich, Conn.

First and foremost, Champagne, Champagne, Champagne: A holiday festivity is not a holiday without a bottle of Champagne. Second choice, white Burgundy, Meursault, Coche-Dury if I could have any bottle. Or perhaps a bottle by Antoine Jobard or Domaine Leflaive.

Jill Gubesch, wine director at Award of Excellence winner Frontera Grill/Topolobampo in Chicago

For red, I recommend a Nero d'Avola from Sicily such as the Morgante Don Antonio or the more value-driven Colosi. I like T-Day reds to be medium-bodied, with a bit of spicy fruit, to work with the array of flavors in the sides while not overpowering the turkey.

For white, try any of the Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec [wines], such as Clos du Bourg or Le Mont. I like a bigger white, but not necessarily an oaky one, so it can hold up to the bolder sides while balancing the meaty turkey flavor.

Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York

I'm loving Rhône varieties right now for their versatility in pairing with a variety of savory and sweet dishes—the heart of a Thanksgiving feast. Matt Trevison blends Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah into Rising Tides for his winery, Linne Calodo, in the Willow Creek appellation of Paso Robles. This wine is soft and beautiful and will sing an orchestral tune with any thankful feast.

Also from Paso Robles, Tablas Creek blends five white Rhône varieties for its Patelin de Tablas Blanc bottling, presenting a full bouquet of floral, tropical aromatics and a silky, rich mouthfeel, along with crisp acidity to let your family recipes shine.

Virginia Philip, wine director at Grand Award winner HMF at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.

For white, German dry Riesling from von Buhl or Robert Weil. Both are stunners, and no, they are not sweet. For red, cru Beaujolais from Domaine Lafarge-Vial Côte de Brouilly, Jules Desjourneys Moulin-à-Vent or Lapierre Morgon—or, without breaking the bank, Damien Coquelet Chiroubles, Henry Fessy or Mommessin. Skip the Nouveau and move up your taste buds to a delicious and fairly inexpensive alternative to red Burgundy. The Gamay has lighter tannins, generally more fruit and is easy to drink with or without food, but works well with the lighter fare of turkey.

Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its four Restaurant Award winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.

The two common denominators in Thanksgiving dishes are salt and fat. So you need wines that can refresh the palate and balance the weight of the other components, through fruit and acid. For white, I would reach for Riesling. I’m a big fan of the Rheingau and have always held a special place for the von Simmern Erbacher Marcobrunn Kabinett bottling. For red, I’d go with Pinot Noir. It will pair well with everything from savory stuffing or rich potatoes to chutneys and, of course, turkey. I’d look to ones a bit more fruit-driven than earthy, like you’d find in the Russian River Valley or Santa Lucia Highlands.

Elizabeth Kelso, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Craft Los Angeles

I prefer drinking white wines with holiday meals, as they cleanse the palate as the typically long evenings carry on. My go-to white wine for Thanksgiving is Chardonnay from Burgundy. To avoid breaking the bank on providing for the whole party, I suggest looking for options from St.-Aubin, Rully or St.-Véran. For reds, I suggest something light, jovial, and low to moderate in alcohol and tannins: Trousseau and Poulsard from the Jura region of France, or a Schiava or Lagrein from northeastern Italy's Alto Adige region. These play well with classic holiday dishes like turkey and cranberry sauce, and roasted duck, and are a refreshing respite from richer foods.

Robby Younes, beverage director and chief operating officer at Crystal Springs Resort, including Grand Award winner Restaurant Latour, in Hamburg, N.J.

An aromatic rich white to stand up to all the different rich flavors in a Thanksgiving dinner, like a Gewürztraminer, a Viognier or blend.

Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego

I recommend Marcel Deiss Alsace Vin Blanc and La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2009. Both are serious wines but also have this incredible broad likability. The Deiss has some Riesling in it, which gives it great fruit without getting sweet. The Ardanza has beautiful sweet and savory aromatics and is just irresistible after the first sip. They also won't break the bank.

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