When you’re choosing wines for your Thanksgiving table, it seems simple: What goes best with turkey? While that’s one way of going about it, it probably makes more sense to figure out what else is happening on the table.
Turkey is turkey is turkey, and matches well with anything from the hearty white (California Chardonnay or Viognier, Rhone blends) to the lightweight-but-firm red (Pinot Noir, well-made Merlot, Beaujolais Nouveau).
But where it really gets interesting is figuring out flavor pairings. If you’ve got a hearty cornbread-and-sausage stuffing, you’ll want to go with something funky and red that can stand up to it, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Rioja wine from Spain. If it’s oyster-based, you’ll want a minerally, crisp white, like a Sauvignon Blanc.
If you’ve got a lot of sweet side dishes (sweet potatoes with marshmallows, I’m looking at you), you’ll want to err on the side of sweeter, which, though it sounds counterintuitive, helps keep the dish from tasting too cloying and the wine from tasting too bitter. Riesling’s a good call, as is warm-climate Pinot Grigio.
With several courses, try and keep the order going from white to red, smallest to biggest, and driest to sweetest. (Smallest to biggest? All that means is how much space the wine feels like it takes up in your mouth. Roll a few different wines around in your mouth and see how they feel. For example, as a general rule, Pinot Noir is smaller than Merlot which is smaller than Cabernet.)
Soup can be tricky, because a good pairing provides textural contrast – so your best bet for a soup starter would be sparkling. There’s tons of affordable sparkling wines made in the USA (check out Oregon or New Mexico), or try cava from Spain or prosecco from Italy.
If you’re using wine in your gravy, drink something similar at the table. If you’re uncorking a special-occasion wine for the holiday, clearly we don’t expect you to cook with it, but try to stay in the same grape family or overall flavor profile.
Thanksgiving desserts are a little hard to match with wine. Port is wonderful with less-sweet desserts, chocolate or cheese, and most sweet wines are dessert in a glass. Think about spirits: hot chocolate spiked with pear brandy or peppermint schnapps, Cognac (which would be great with pumpkin pie), or mulled wine with dark rum, which complements autumn beautifully.
Oh, and Champagne goes with everything. Just saying.