Few meals conjure up universal nostalgia among Americans like the classic Thanksgiving dinner. Anchored by the iconic roasted turkey centerpiece and complemented by side dishes like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy, Thanksgiving dinner brings friends and family around the table like no other holiday. And of course, where there’s a meal to gather around, there’s a fantastic opportunity to elevate the dishes on the table—and create an exceptionally memorable experience—through delicious wine pairings. We compared the most recommended Thanksgiving wine pairings against those discovered through our tried-and-true method of pairing to help you host a Thanksgiving dinner like never before.
Every home cook has a different idea of the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, often influenced by family traditions and preferences. But most often, the meal revolves around a wonderfully roasted turkey dressed with savory gravy, accompanied by hearty sides like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Perhaps there’s a casserole or vegetable side added in for good measure; whatever your go-to Thanksgiving meal is, it’s safe to say there are rich dishes—and plenty of them.
Though Thanksgiving dinner is generally considered to be as a big meal, the flavors themselves—particularly the turkey itself—are fairly mild.
Because foods like turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and vegetables are relatively subtle in flavor, it’s important to find a wine that doesn’t overwhelm the food. Many of the sides are quite mouth-filling as well, with textures that stick to the palate, so acidity is key in order to refresh the palate.
When family and friends are gathering together around a meal, there is a wonderful opportunity to create an unforgettable experience through delicious wine pairings. When wine and food work together seamlessly, Thanksgiving dinner is more than just another holiday—it’s an experiential event. So, we’re determined to find absolutely delicious pairings for a memorable Thanksgiving.
Every year, there’s plenty of talk about which wines will be best to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, so we scoured the Internet to determine which wines were the most recommended. While there were many to choose from, four wines popped up again and again: Riesling, Sancerre, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
However, most online recommendations focused only on the grape variety or category of wine to look for, stopping short of offering specific wines to pair. Because individual Rieslings or Pinot Noirs, for instance, can be wildly different from region to region and producer to producer, we took an educated guess about which wines people were most likely to pair with the dish.
Most recommendations were justified based on the wine’s acidity, which is absolutely necessary, but even more goes into a great Thanksgiving pairing. We’re adventurous here at Pairing Base, though, so we dove into these recommendations headfirst—while also going through our own process where we come up with ideas for dozens of wines that might taste great with the dish.
Having pinpointed the four most recommended Thanksgiving wine pairings, we sat down with a plate of turkey, gravy, and sides to try out each wine with the dish through our tested pairing method. We discovered quickly that Thanksgiving foods tend to diminish a wine’s fruit flavors, so if a wine didn’t have enough concentrated fruit to begin with, the pairing would quickly turn sour; without any fruit left, unpleasant minerality and structural elements like acidity and tannins were out of balance.
Loser #1: Riesling – Durnstein
The first was Riesling, a wine with laser-like acidity, big flavor, and a huge range of styles from dry to sweet. We selected a dry Austrian Riesling, which might work theoretically. But while the wine was delicious on its own, with concentration and a nice combination of lime citrus and minerality, it didn’t quite work with our Thanksgiving meal. The dish created an impression of unpleasant austerity with overly dominant stony minerality in the wine; the Riesling just needed more to be a great pairing.
Loser #2: Sauvignon Blanc – Sancerre
Sancerre was also a popular recommendation for its mouthwatering acidity, but this wine—made from Sauvignon Blanc—is also notorious for grassy, herbal notes. These non-fruit notes and intense, dominating minerality were the only flavors left after tasting the wine with the Thanksgiving dish, so this pairing wasn’t a winner, either.
Loser #3: Pinot Noir – The Eyrie Vineyards
Pinot Noir, in theory, could be very good with Thanksgiving dinner. It is often reminiscent of cranberry sauce, which is a classic component of the meal. But Pinot Noir is grown all over the world in a multitude of styles, and not every Pinot Noir will work with these mild food flavors. The Oregon Pinot Noir that we tried was simply too tannic, without enough fruit to support that intense structure after the dish sucked some of that flavor in. While there could be a great Pinot Noir out there to pair with the Thanksgiving meal, this one wasn’t it.
Loser #4: Zinfandel – Seghesio
Finally, the frequent recommendation of Zinfandel went in a different direction—rather than being fresh and acid-driven, Zinfandel tends to be big and juicy. Though the wine’s fruit flavors survived even after trying it with the dish, unfortunately, it was the wrong fruit: dark and jammy, with blackberry flavors–fruit characters that did not fit in with or provide a complement to the flavors in the food.
When it comes to finding a great pairing, there are two general categories of successful ones: a wine that continues and enhances the food experience, or one that cleans the palate in a beautiful, pleasant way. We found one of each.
Winner #1 – Champagne Pierre Peters
Nothing will cleanse the palate like a Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Made only from Chardonnay—the key white grape grown in Champagne—Blanc de Blancs tends to be fresh and clean, with high acidity. And of course, it has bubbles, which just scrub the palate even more.
We fell in love with the Pierre Peters Cuvée Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV alongside Thanksgiving dinner. Though the flavors are relatively neutral to match the mild flavors of the turkey, they are interesting enough to keep the palate intrigued. Light citrus and fine, elegant bubbles refresh the palate before, during, and after enjoying the classic Thanksgiving meal, creating a simply pleasing experience.
Winner #2 – Domaine Bachelet – Pinot Noir
While the Oregon Pinot Noir that we tasted based on outside recommendations fell flat, we found a Pinot Noir from Burgundy that took our senses to a new level. It’s the Domaine Bachelet Bourgogne Rouge 2016, which has pure, concentrated cranberry and cherry fruit that sings through the pairing. This wine has lower tannin with fresh acidity, creating an elegant, lively mouthfeel. While the Pierre Peters cleanses the palate, the Domaine Bachelet elongates the delicious flavors of the dish alongside the wine itself, creating a lovely sensation that lingers as conversations around the table do as well.
Notes on Every Pairing we Tasted
At Pairing Base, we like to provide you with in-depth content on how we taste pairings. We find which wines work, as well as the ones that don’t and why, so you can discover the best wines to fit your recipe. For Thanksgiving Dinner, we tried twenty-six different wines, representing a balance of different regions and varietals. Our host, Tracy Gardner and sommelier, Irene Miller collected useful notes on each pairing and we have provided that summary here for you.
What to Ask For at the Wine Store
If you can’t find our recommended wines, don’t worry. Simply ask for an alternative with these characteristics at the wine store:
If you can’t find the Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs:
- Ask for a Blanc de Blancs from Champagne that is light and fresh, with fine, elegant bubbles and citrus flavors.
If you can’t find the Domaine Bachelet Bourgogne Rouge:
- Ask for a red Burgundy that has lively acidity and soft, well-integrated tannins that don’t stick out at all. The fruit should be bright red fruit, and the wine should have tons of depth and concentration of this flavor.