Find a Thanksgiving wine for every palate and plate

Ah, the perennial Thanksgiving wine question: what to pour, and when?

These days, it’s an almost impossible query to answer. Family Thanksgiving traditions vary with each clan, and a subtle Burgundian-style Pinot Noir that matches well with a traditional turkey imbued with delicate savory spices won’t work if you like your bird spicy or slathered in a sweet, pungent glaze. So when choosing your wine, consider the specific flavor profile of your main courses.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about wines that are traditionally considered solid Thanksgiving standbys, together with a couple of suggestions that are a little creative.

Reds, whites, sparklers, and dessert wines all have a place at the table. We’ll discuss them one category at a time. To honor the movement toward sourcing locally, most of our suggestions will come from California’s bottomless bounty of quality wine. And we’re sticking with moderately priced bottles, since these days you don’t have to break the bank to drink excellent wine from the Golden State. (All prices are taken from popular online sources.)


Sparkling wines are an increasingly popular way to kick off your festivities. They add a sense of occasion to Thanksgiving, and they bring a nice hit of clean acidity to the palate that pairs well with rich or unctuous appetizers. These days you can get a good quality sparkling wine for a reasonable price as long as you’re not fixated on some of Champagne’s most prestigious labels. Some suggestions from our own state:

J Cuvée 20 Brut is a festive sparkling wine befitting a Thanksgiving gathering. (Courtesy of J Vineyards & Winery)

Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Brut Cuvée ($29): A wonderful array of aromas including white flower, pear, golden apple, honeycomb and brioche. The texture is creamy, full and elegantly structured.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($30): Aromas of green apple, pear, grapefruit and lime, fresh bread and candied citrus. Generous flavors of grapefruit, lime and pineapple.

J Cuvée 20 Brut ($33): Fresh mousse on the nose and palate. Bright acidity adds to the liveliness, while flavors of lemon and lime zest lead to an Asian pear finish.


With white wines, the pairing priority is finding something with bracing acidity, and slight sweetness can be an attribute with some Thanksgiving foods. Oakiness and its associated flavors are not ideal if you’re pairing with many subtly flavored foods, so big 100 percent Chardonnays are out. Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier are better bets. So are Austria’s great grape, Grüner Veltliner, and some of the leaner Italian and Spanish varietals, such as Albariño, if you’re averse to anything even slightly sweet.

Rombauer 2018 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and enticing as grapefruit, pineapple and passion fruit intertwine with Meyer lemon and lime. (Courtesy of Rombauer Vineyards)

Claibourne & Churchill 2018 Dry

Gewürztraminer ($24): From a respected Edna Valley producer, this beautiful wine is light gold in hue, delivers rose petals and citrus fruits in the nose, and is light but not pallid on the palate.

Rombauer 2018 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24): Aromas of key lime, mango, papaya and white nectarine with a hint of fresh-cut grass. The palate is fresh and enticing as grapefruit, pineapple and passion fruit intertwine with Meyer lemon and lime.

Bodega de Edgar 2017 La Guera ($28): 75 percent Albarino, 25 percent Chardonnay. Aromas of honeysuckle, lemon blossoms and pineapple, followed by similar notes on the palate as well as citrus and apple. Good acidity and pronounced minerality.


For the red wines, stay away from muscular Cabernets and Bordeaux blends. Yes, Napa makes some great ones, but they’re too bold and tannic for turkey and the relatively restrained spices of Thanksgiving. Look instead for light- to medium-bodied reds with fairly tamped-down tannins but fruit-forward tendencies that will support and reinforce the flavors of your meal. Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel are good choices — the latter is especially appropriate if there’s a little spice to your meal. Beaujolais Nouveau is appropriate a well. Light, fruity and served chilled, this Gamay grape pairs well with turkey. And Thanksgiving is Beaujolais season.

Babcock 2017 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills is a bold, dark, rich, well-structured Pinot Noir. (Courtesy of Babcock Winery)

Babcock 2017 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills ($35): A bold, dark, rich, well-structured Pinot Noir made exclusively from estate fruit. Babcock, the family that also owns Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach, is one of the premier pinot producers in this burgeoning cool-climate AVA between Buellton and Lompoc that makes intense Pinots.

2017 Dante Dusi Zinfandel ($42): A classic, dense, peppery old vine Zinfandel from one of the original Italian wine-producing families in the Paso Robles region. Some of the family’s head-pruned Zinfandel vines near Highway 101 have been bearing fruit since the 1920s.

Eberle Syrah Steinbeck ($24): From Gary Eberle, one of the original Syrah producers on the Central Coast. Sumptuous flavors of ripe blueberry and black cherry with hints of vanilla, oak and white pepper, and graced by a slight sweetness.


Once the pies start coming out, it’s time for fortified wines and other sweet, more boldly flavored sippers. Port is the go-to choice for autumnal pies. With pumpkin-flavored desserts, you might also consider a Spanish sherry to bolster the nutty, spicy quality of the pie. Late-harvest whites such as Riesling also make wonderful Thanksgiving dessert wines. Their honeyed, intense flavors can enhance many desserts.

W. & J. Graham’s10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30): This Portuguese tawny port offers good bang for the buck, comparing well to much pricier ports. Wine Spectator loves it: “A zesty, sweet floral aroma, with delicate, well-spiced flavors of apple tart, flan and cocoa powder. The plush, mouth-filling finish of cream, vanilla and raspberry is fresh and balanced.”


Domaine Tempier comes from the Bandol region in Provence and is made with hand-harvested old vine grapes aged for eight months in bottle. (Courtesy of Courtesy Domaine Tempier)

Tempier Bandol Rosé ($39): If you’re going to serve rosé, why not splurge a little? It still won’t cost you more than a cheap bottle of Napa Cabernet. One of the most legendary and well-respected rosés out there, Domaine Tempier comes from the Bandol region in Provence. Hand-harvested old vine grapes aged for eight months in bottle add structure and complexity.

Spier Chenin Blanc ($18): From South Africa. You’ll get a hint of fresh mousse on the nose and palate. Mouth-watering acidity undergirds flavors of lemon and lime zest that lead to an Asian pear finish.

Gironata Vermentino ($30): The Vermentino grape makes a white wine that’s aromatic, dry, light-bodied and refreshing. We love the Vermentino from Giornata, a wonderful Paso label run by a charming husband-and-wife team, the Terrizzis, who really know their Italian wine. It has aromas of white peach, gardenia, and on the palate you’ll get white peach and a hint of salt.


We suggest offering both a red and a white during the meal, and setting the table with two wine glasses. Diners can then shuttle back and forth between white and red as they take a bite of this, a bite of that. Thanksgiving is about letting everyone have his or her choice, and that applies just as well to wine as it does to the green bean casserole that Uncle Ned can’t possibly do without.

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