Thanksgiving Wine Pairings from the Pros – Food & Wine
Here’s what pros pour for the biggest dinner of the year.
When I’m with my family, we serve a mix of Italian dishes (manicotti, stuffed shells, lasagna) and Southern food (collard greens, cornbread, chitlins). We usually do a honey-baked ham instead of a turkey. My contribution to that is to help my mom!
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As you can imagine, that makes for quite the range of wine. We love food-friendly bubbles and reds, and we aim to keep it to $25 or less per bottle—so bottles from Etna in Italy, Corsica, the Savoie in France, and lighter-style reds from Chile. The 2020 Tenuta delle Terre Nere
Etna Rosato ($23) is a favorite. A new discovery is the 2019 J. Bouchon País Salvaje ($22) from Chile. It’s a wild wine, made from ancient-vine País grapes in central Chile—the vines basically grow up the sides of trees, and the vineyard workers harvest them using ladders. And I love Gamay, which goes with everything. The 2019 B. Kosuge Carneros Gamay Noir ($25) is excellent. Byron Kosuge is a Pinot Noir veteran, but he makes a lot of other varieties as well; he’s doing exceptional work right now.
Most of the time, I spend Thanksgiving with friends who work outside the restaurant industry. I bring the wines, and they make the cocktails.
Stolpman Vineyards makes some natural wines that are low intervention and low sulfur but not messed up. The Sangiovese, 2020 Stolpman Vineyards Love You Bunches ($24), is great with cranberry sauce.
I like to finish everything off with Madeira—a Madeira made from Sercial grapes is amazing paired with pecan pie. It has salted caramel and nut notes that match beautifully with the flavors of the pie, plus it has enough acidity to cut through the richness. The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Charleston Sercial ($49) is my go-to.
This year, I’ve been thinking about how we usually only have sake with Japanese food, but why is that? At Sushi Note, we pair wine with sushi all the time, so why not the reverse? That’s why I’m going to bring this Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo First Run ($35) to Thanksgiving. It’s an unpasteurized (nama) sake that’s savory and full of umami, with this wonderful viscosity and texture. I think it’ll be great with both turkey and stuffing.
My mom is Southern, from just outside of New Orleans, so eating, cooking, and taking care of people is rooted deep within me. We always go big for Thanksgiving with all the fixin’s, like oyster dressing, bourbon sweet potatoes with candied pecans, even peach Jell-O salad.
To kick off the day, the answer is always Champagne—I’ve decided it also makes me a better cook. NV Champagne Marc Hébrart Rosé Brut ($62) is delicate, with strawberry and orange-peel notes. Bourbon sweet potatoes contain a hefty amount of brown sugar, so to complement that sweetness I love the 2019 Dönnhoff Estate Riesling ($23). It is off-dry and loaded with mouthwatering acidity, slaty minerality, and a touch of stone fruit.
For the star of the show, we order duck from The Morris in San Francisco instead of turkey. It’s brined, aged, and smoked and comes with duck jus seasoned with espresso and honey. I pair a Gamay with it: the 2019 Domaine de la Grand’Cour Fleurie Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Le Clos ($30). It reminds me of violets with dark berry fruit, tobacco, and spice. The perfect Pinot Noir alternative!
For those of us in the hospitality industry, the weekend after Thanksgiving is always very busy. I prefer to spend my time in Asheville, where I work, rather than traveling and being rushed all day, so I always celebrate with friends here in town.
I’m all for a potluck-style Thanksgiving, and though I’m usually in charge of cooking the turkey, the highlight of this day for me is the deviled eggs and charcuterie we have while dinner is coming together.
RELATED: Perfect Potluck Thanksgiving Dishes
I always pour Spanish wines! I like to open the evening with bubbles: A pét-nat-style Cava, like the NV Finca Viladellops LD Ancestral ($17), pairs perfectly with deviled eggs and gives everyone an opportunity to toast to the evening ahead. When it comes to dinner, I prefer a lighter red variety, such as Mencia; the 2016 Candea Tinto ($26) from Spain’s Monterrei region is a great choice (and I love to pour it from magnums). Its acidity and red-fruit flavors are perfect alongside the rich, earthy dishes on the table. To finish the evening, I’ll pour a cream sherry. Sherry has a special place in my heart, and I wouldn’t leave it out of any perfect evening. Good cream sherry, like the NV Lustau East India Solera ($26), has a balance of dry sweetness and a touch of acidity that goes especially nicely alongside stewed fruits and pies.
In past years, my business partner, Samuel Clonts, and I haven’t had time to see our families, so we’ve hosted a Friendsgiving with folks who don’t have a place to go.
I love making the stuffing with bread from my favorite local bakeries, like Balthazar, and Sam brines a turkey for three to four days and confits it in Wagyu fat before roasting it in the oven. It’s absurdly delicious.
I always pour Champagne— it’s a much more food-friendly wine than people realize. For the NV Champagne Savart L’Ouverture ($55), I ditch the flute for a white-wine glass, which opens up the profile. We also have Beaujolais, as those wines typically come out around Thanksgiving. Cru Beaujolais is fantastic, not only for Thanksgiving but for the whole year. The 2018 Damien Coquelet Beaujolais-Villages ($25) is an incredible value. Damien Coquelet studied with his renowned stepfather, Georges Descombes, and made his first vintage at age 20. Minimal intervention, organic viticulture, vibrant flavors—it’s impossible not to love.
Being first-generation Americans, my family has never really understood having a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The day after, for instance, my lola would turn the scraps into a Filipino dish, like a turkey pancit or a shiitake-turkey egg drop soup. Over the years, we’ve moved toward making fish (for prosperity) and chicken (for long life) with pancit as well as lumpia Shanghai.
I generally bring a few magnums of Prosecco, like the Valdo Cuvée 1926 Prosecco ($22), and also rosé; the 2020 Triennes Rosé ($18) is great. For red, I usually pick a juicy, Grenache-dominant southern Rhône blend such as the 2018 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône ($14). And finally, Bordeaux with at least 10 years of bottle age. Last year, I brought a few bottles of the 2004 Château Sociando-Mallet ($60). It’s an underrated vintage that’s drinking spectacularly right now, and my family loved it.
My family came to the United States from Cuba in the 1960s and are proud Americans. Growing up, Thanksgiving was a whole family affair, rolling about 30 people deep. My mom and my grandmother always make a turkey and fricasé de pavo—my favorite dish. It’s a Cuban take on the French fricassee, with turkey braised in white wine, onions, and carrots.
When it comes to wine, some people just want something to drink, and others want to take advantage of their in-house sommelier and try new wines. I always bring a couple of classics, like Prosecco, Malbec, and Barbera, and then mix them with a theme. One year, I brought eight different Cabernet Sauvignons; that was eye-opening for my family, as they’d never understood how different wines made from the same grape variety could be.
This year, I’m bringing the 2019 Ridge Three Valleys Red ($30). It pairs great with cranberry sauce and turkey. The 2018 Yardstick Ruth’s Reach Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) is so approachable in both flavor and price; an earlier vintage was the favorite at that family Cabernet tasting. Finally, the 2020 Bieler Père & Fils Sabine Aix-en-Provence Rosé ($14) is my Abuela Mima’s favorite supermarket rosé. For the price, it’s a total banger.
My wine ritual for Thanksgiving is to put out a cornucopia of different wine styles. Thanksgiving for me is about pairing to the different plates on the table but also to the diverse range of palates present. Aunt Sheryl may want something on the sweet or buttery side, while Uncle Bob the Wine Snob may want to flex his wine knowledge over a meaty California Cabernet. So I usually pick anywhere from six to 12 different bottles and set them up on a side buffet. Guests can get up and help themselves to a wine tasting, or they can just use the opportunity to refill their glass if they need an excuse for leaving the dinner table when the conversation gets too personal or too political!
Some of my recent favorites to include are the NV Roederer Estate Brut Rosé ($25). I mean, who could possibly say no to bubbles and rosé all in one glass? The 2019 Pala i Fiori Vermentino ($18) from Sardinia is another. I liken this wine to a cross between Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc: in other words, a perfect compromise for those looking for something that is light and refreshing but that still has plenty of crisp green fruit and fresh citrus aromatics. And then, for a red, the 2016 Marqués de Murrieta Reserva Rioja ($25) is soft and easy to drink, and its notes of dried herbs are a perfect complement to the savory herbs you find in a lot of Thanksgiving dishes, such as sage, thyme, and rosemary.