A Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Primer

Red or white? Sparkling or still? A guide to help you choose the right wine to pair with your Thanksgiving meal.
Chappellet Mountain Cuvee
Allison Beck

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee

When it comes to pairing wines with Thanksgiving dishes, it’s can be quite overwhelming. Will the same wine you pair with your turkey and gravy go well with sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce? And from Pinot to Syrah, what grape to choose? The Four Seasons New York hotel recently hosted a tweet-up discussion with a couple of wines that pair perfectly with Thanksgiving dishes. We, of course, followed along.

To begin, a couple of myths to dispel: You don’t have to start a meal off with a white, nor are whites only for fish and reds only for meat — a salmon dish goes beautifully with both a big Chardonnay and also a fruity Pinot noir. Nor are Champagnes just for pairing with caviar and blini appetizers — duck-fat fries or venison medallions, anyone? When pairing, think about the heaviness and richness of the dish.

Meaty, full-flavored dishes can handle bigger wines, while dishes with more fat can handle more acidic and mineral wines. Most importantly, you don’t have to break the bank in order to find a fabulous wine for your meal.

Now for the fun part: Tasting. Listed below are each of the three wines tasted, as well as one alternative option. As you read our tasting notes, keep in mind what kind of foods you plan on serving. Need more help? Bring these notes, and your menu, to your local wine shop — they will be more than happy to work with you and your palate in picking out the right wines to serve.  

Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” 2009 Riesling

Mosel, Germany

Nose: Granny Smith apple and apricot.

Color: A light straw, with a more viscous consistency than water.

Flavor: Very apple-y, with some pear, honey and honeysuckle. Slightly acidic, as well, making your mouth water — good to serve with an appetizer to help whet your palate. The sweetness and acidity helps to cut through the heat of spicy dishes, like sausages or spicy lettuce cups. It also brightens rich or full-flavored ones, like baked brie, after-dinner cheese plates, or Roasted Beets with Hazelnuts and Truffle Honey, as paired by Four Seasons New York. For Thanksgiving, we recommend pairing this with cheese appetizers… or even a light pumpkin pie.

Paraiso2005 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah

Monterey County, California

Nose: Spicy, slightly smoky nose with a hint of cherry

Color: Deep red.

Flavor: Very full, with smoke, leather, dark fruits and cherry. Not too tannic or acidic, and peppery on the tongue. A perfect mid-meal wine, as it can handle rich dishes, but also leaves you ready for more. Would pair well with meat and rich, buttery dishes — steak, turkey with gravy, even a hearty mushroom ragu for vegetarians. The fat in the food would help mellow the peppery-spiciness of the wine, and allow for the fruit flavors to come out. Four Seasons New York paired this wine with spicy lamb meatballs.

A Syrah is an excellent full-bodied choice for pairing with Thanksgiving. The richness of dishes like gravy and creamed onions would mellow its peppery bite, while its spice and smoke flavor would balance out the slightly sweet and fruity flavors of sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. If you are not so spice-inclined, but like a full-bodied red, a zinfandel might be right for you; just be wary of some of the fruit-bombs out there as it may be too much fruit and sweetness for an already slightly sweet meal. Syrah too heavy? Opt for a lighter wine, like a nicely balanced pinot noir.


Chappellet 2008 Mountain Cuvee

St. Helena, California

Nose: Oak, cinnamon and earth; surprisingly buttery and very cherry.

Color: Deep ruby red.

Flavor: Incredibly smooth tannins, dark berries and cherry fruits. Full-bodied yet very-drinkable. A winemaker’s blend of different Bordeaux varietals, with 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; and 1% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Would pair well with a fish dish, like salmon in white wine sauce, or a meat dish, like veal scaloppini. At the same time, is smooth enough to beautifully pair with roasted vegetables, or butternut squash, white bean and kale stew. Four Seasons New York paired this with their lobster hush puppies with truffle remoulade.

A slightly lighter alternative to Syrah for pairing with your Thanksgiving meal. Because it was created with a nice balance of flavors, this specific wine is actually quite versatile.

Click here to learn more about champagne and food pairings.

Click here to find the best budget wine for your Thanksgiving meal.


For more turkey talk, visit The Daily Meal's Guide to Thanksgiving!