What did the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts drink at the very first Thanksgiving dinner back in 1620? If it was anything other than water, it would probably have been the dregs of some beer they'd brought over in barrels from England; they wouldn't have had time to plant apples for cider, another favored tipple of the time, and though the Mayflower had been used in a previous life to transport wine from Bordeaux back to England, it's unlikely that there were any casks of claret or butts of malmsey on board.
Today in America we have access to a whole world of good things to drink — wine, beer, cider, endless spirits, limitless cocktails, and even soft drinks of many kinds, from everyday to artisanal. Let's not get into the soft stuff, though. It's Thanksgiving, and time to celebrate — and quite possibly to insulate ourselves from the prying siblings or sententious uncles at the table with the help of a jolt or two of good old ethyl alcohol in some delicious form or other.
Over the past several weeks we've tasted through scores of wines and beers and at least a dozen ciders to come up with some very tasty Thanksgiving choices, at a wide range of prices — 35 wines, 10 beers, five ciders. Note that beer and cider prices are given for standard four- or six-packs of 12-ounce bottles or cans unless otherwise noted, and that the prices of beer, cider, and wine may vary from state to state and even store to store.
Here, then, are 50 festive things to drink at Thanksgiving dinner.
This modest Portuguese classic will draw sneers from any wine snobs at your table, but the fact is that this very pleasant tipple — made from a mix of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties and fermented to an effervescence that's just this side of sparkling — has plenty of fruit and an unexpectedly dry finish, and would be fun to drink all Thanksgiving day long.
An attractively festive Californian (with a Catalan heritage, but, again, let's not get into that) — fairly full-bodied and plenty fruity, but with a nice mineral edge.
Bring this to the Turkey Day table and you'll be a wine hero, though admittedly a slightly impoverished one. This bold, rich, classic Champagne offers a nose of yeast and smoke, with apples, golden toast, and mineral definition on the palate — a feast in itself.
Lushly aromatic but without that cloying perfume some viognier exudes, and full of summer fruit flavors, with a creamy texture. For those who want something rich and soft but not sweet, this would be perfect.
Just a luscious wine, round and full, with a luminous yellow color, a generous bouquet, and a whole bowlful of tropical fruit on the palate. Good food wine, but also a pleasure to sip by itself as an apéritif.
If there are oysters involved in your Thanksgiving repast, whether on the half-shell or in the stuffing, this would be a good choice. A lean, flinty, nicely acidic Spanish white based on the underappreciated godello grape, with real complexity and a long, distinctive finish.
A very pretty wine, aromatic and nicely rounded, with a bright golden color, suggestions of persimmon and apple on the palate, and a nice mineral edge — just charming overall, and delicious with a mushroomy stuffing.
If you're looking for something crisp and bright to knife through all the rich food on the holiday table, consider this Greek beauty, with its lively current of acidity — a taster once described it as being "like lemon fireworks" — and an attractive mineral character balancing its subtle fruit.
A gorgeous wine, with a sunny yellow hue, a nose of honey and wildflowers, and a lush white-peach character on the palate.
You either like gewürztraminer — with its spicy floral perfume and rich mouthfeel — or you don't, but if you do, this dry Alsatian-style Californian is one of the best. It will offset traditional Thanksgiving fare in a nice if rather showy manner, but is practically essential if you're incorporating such elements as soy sauce, ginger, or sesame oil into your holiday recipes.
Switzerland's best white wine grape is chasselas, and this is a first-rate example of what it can provide — well rounded in flavor, faintly spicy, and animated with a barely perceptible sparkle that makes it a lively guest at the holiday table.
Domaine Huet is the most renowned producer in Vouvray, and this is one of the winery's showpieces, very rich, with hints of quince and caramel apple outlined by the slight sharpness of citrus and minerals.
This classic Châteauneuf white blend based on grenache blanc offers a suave blend of fruitiness and savoriness, with hints of smoke and flowers and enough acidity to make it a fine partner for white or dark meat, savory stuffing, and even a not-overly-sweet pumpkin pie.
An elegant, weighty wine, deep yellow in color with a smoky nose and a mineral-rich, spicy, almost meaty flavor. This is a wine that will stand up to all the usual side dishes quite nicely — the sweetness of the candied yams, the tartness of the cranberry sauce, and the pungency of the Brussels sprouts — while also drawing out the flavor of the turkey.
This sprightly garnacha-based rosé from Navarra is juicy and intense, with flavors of cherries and summer berries and a whiff of anise — carried by enough body to stand up to the dark meat.
Contributor John Tilson of The Underground Wineletter told us last year that this was one of his favorite Thanksgiving turkey wines, and we agree that it's a delight. Citing its "light red color with a faint golden hue," Tilson described its "lovely floral-tinged perfume with berry and cherry nuances" and called it "rounded, supple, and lush with loads of red fruit flavors."
One of the most expensive non-sparkling rosés in existence, this Provençal classic is a big, confident wine, mostly mourvèdre, with grenache, cinsault, and carignan added. Its medium-light color is deceptive: It has a forthright aroma of fruit and herbs, and then floods the mouth with complex flavors — a little earthy, a little smoky, and a lot delicious.
This juicy, slightly earthy cabernet franc from the Loire will stand up nicely to herb-laced stuffing and giblet gravy and chase that cranberry tartness right off your palate.
A lot of Valpolicella these days is the kind called ripasso — a sort of little brother to amarone, in which the wine is macerated with the pomace from late-harvested grapes. The non-ripasso variety, like this one, is much fresher, with rounded fruit and a hint of leather — sort of a stylish alternative to pinot noir.
From Terra Alta, next to Catalonia's esteemed Priorat region, this bargain-priced red offers a generous, spicy, floral aroma leading into a flavor of ripe red cherries and strawberries, finishing with a tinge of tartness.
If you favor something ripe, smoky, peppery, and dense, this Sicilian red will fill the bill, complementing everything from the cheese straws on the sideboard all the way through to the that cloying pecan pie.
Nothing to do with "Riunite on ice." This is sophisticated wine, very dry and faintly peppery, with plenty of fizz and tart fruit accented with (appropriately to the season) cinnamon and cloves. This one will cut right through all that butter and gravy.
Forget overpriced, often cloying Beaujolais nouveau and reach instead for this Burgundian beauty, opulent and richly textured, with graceful tannins and a pronounced black-currant flavor.
A good all-purpose red, likely to satisfy both the wine-knowledgeable and the gimme-some-more crowd with its soft, medium-rich, plummy fruit, accented by a touch of pepper and clove.
A gem from La Rioja Alta, blending garnacha (grenache) and tempranillo into a textbook example of this great Spanish wine type, with its aroma of leather and tobacco and its toasty, fruity flavor cushioned by silky tannins. A slice of moist white meat and a sip of this would be a heavenly match.
A first-rate interpretation of this uncommon red variety from Italy's German-speaking Alto Adige region, minty and spicy, with ample fruit and a nice tang of acidity.
Some wine lovers can't imagine the Thanksgiving table without a few bottles of pinot noir. If you're one of them, reach for this classy, earthy, medium-rich example, with enough cherry-like fruit — defined by just enough tannin — to liven up even a middling turkey.
A delightful wine, dark in color, creamy, and bursting with flavor. Recommending an earlier vintage for Thanksgiving dinner last year, our wine writer Roger Morris called this wine "a seducer than will grow in complexity with age."
This 100 percent garnacha from Rioja is ripe and rich, with plenty of fruit and a seductive character of wild herbs and dusty earth — aristocratic and slightly racy at the same time.
Contributor Anne Montgomery named an earlier vintage of this wine as her Thanksgiving favorite last year. "The nose and palate are heady with dark red fruit, plum, and blackberry with just enough mineral and spice to add complexity and interest," she wrote, adding that "it would complement and enhance virtually all of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes."
This high-class offering from a famous Burgundy producer and négociant is spicy and rich, with smooth tannins and plenty of juicy blackberry fruit.
Some holiday diners just want a beer that tastes like beer, not like pumpkin pie or chocolate, and this is a fine example — hoppy and malty, medium in heft, and just sharp enough on the finish to make it a good foil for heavy food.
This lighter-than-you'd-expect reddish-orange ale has the obligatory (this time of year) pumpkin-pie spices but is given a shot of tartness by a touch of cranberry juice and an even smaller touch of lemon.
The pilsner by which all others must be judged — the first example of the style and still a standout, with its toasty, slightly grassy aroma and its buttery, hoppy flavor. This is a beer that goes surprisingly well with many kinds of food, including the usual Thanksgiving suspects.
A widely available and popular seasonal release from one of our go-to California craft breweries, this one is rich and round, with plenty of hops and a citrus tang, but very food-friendly, too.
If you've had enough pumpkin spice for the season, and/or if you'd like to get your cranberry hit in liquid form instead of jellied for a change, this nicely fruity unfiltered wheat beer, flavored with Ocean Spray cranberries, is just the thing.
No, not a "pumpkin spice" brew but a beer made with barley malt and Dickinson pumpkins — amber-hued, toasty, and surprisingly dry.
"Inspired by" Hunter S. Thompson (oh, my!) and with a Ralph Steadman label, this is one to bring to the table if you want to shake things up a bit. Very malty, with roasting coffee and hot chocolate flavors and plenty of aromatic hops. Probably best poured after the main course is finished.
One to drink with those Thanksgiving pies, or instead of them — a beer brewed with pumpkin but also brown sugar and, yes, pumpkin spice — cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. A crowd-pleaser, for at least some of the crowd.
The yeasty Belgian beers called saisons — sometimes described as "farmhouse ales" — were originally brewed as summertime quaffs, but they're all-year beers now, and this one evokes pears and apples with a touch of holiday spice.
This popular Belgian standby, a low-alcohol lambic flavored with sour cherries, is on the sweet side, with a lovely aroma of yeast and fruit and an effervescence that fills and tickles the mouth like rosé champagne.
A Thanksgiving-dinner cider that offers nice apple-y fruit and good mouthfeel but is light enough in body, with fine enough carbonation, that it won't interfere with all those turkey and stuffing and Brussels sprouts flavors.
A change of pace — pear cider with gentle carbonation, pronounced pear flavor, and a tart finish. A cider for sauvignon blanc lovers.
Stella isn't only beer — it's so-called "cider beer," too. This light, classy, tart-sweet (with the accent on the second syllable) offering is better than you'd expect a mass-produced cider to be, and would go nicely throughout a holiday meal.
Cider is sometimes described as having citrusy notes. This entry from Austin takes the idea literally, blending Italian blood orange juice with Texas apple juice in a way that lets both the oranges and the apples come through in surprisingly happy harmony.
A definitive French cider from Brittany made with assorted Breton heritage apple varieties. Apples and brown sugar in the nose, tart apples with a backdrop of tannin in the mouth. Clean and eminently quaffable.
Getting a head start on your Christmas shopping? Consider giving one of these 15 splendid spirits for the holidays.