Choosing what kind of wine to wash down your Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie is crucial stuff. But let's face it, while you’re face down in a gravy-soaked feedbag, you’ll likely miss the nuance of your favorite Beaujolais complimenting the cranberry sauce. Just like the heaping pile of food on your plate, variety is the key to a blissfully hedonistic Thanksgiving day pig-out.
If you can follow a few basic rules, it’s difficult to screw it up. Low tannin, big fruit, and high acidity is wine’s ticket to Turkey Town, and now that you know the Turkey Day commandments, we don’t care if you break them.
Here, 10 classic wine styles to drink on Turkey Day, along with the best bang-for-your-buck bottles from the pros to drink all day long.
Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs - Champagne, France - $50
Bubbles are always a good idea, especially when kicking off an epic Thanksgiving feast. And you don’t have to spend big for a quality bottle, just buy smart.
"Champagne doesn’t have to be expensive to be superb”, says Chef Sang Yoon, chef and owner of Father's Office and Lukshon. “Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs goes toe-to-toe with $300-$400 bottles. It has all the mineral qualities of a good Chardonnay sparkler, and the acid cuts through the fat in the meal."
Ravenswood Barricia Single Vineyard - Lodi, California - $40
The mighty Zinfandel’s fruitiness, weight, and flavor makes it the ultimate go-to wine to down while gnawing on a turkey leg.
“Zinfandel has the intensity to do well with the whole mash-up on your plate,” says Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW, President of International Wine Center. “Ravenswood single-vineyard zins like the Barricia Vineyard from Sonoma are stellar. If you’re on a low budget, The Vintners Blend label costs around $10; it is a well-made wine despite its price.”
3. Sauvignon Blanc
La Chapiniere Torraine Sauvignon - Loire, France - 2016 - $15
Sauv-Blanc’s crisp acidity and sharp citrus will go toe-to-toe with sweet sides like candied yams as well as it does with earthy green veggies.
“You don't want to pair big and bold with fat; you want to keep your palate awake and ready”, says Julian Kurland, General Manager of NATIVE in Santa Monica. “La Chapiniere Torraine has notes of tropical fruits, papaya, and passionfruit, and the acidity will wipe the gravy off your palate.”
Red Stag Spiropoulos Agioritiko - Nemea, Greece - $17
Legend has it that Hercules drank a cup of Greece’s native Agioritiko before slaying the Nemea Lion, and now you can raise your own cup before battling your Butterball.
“Agioritiko’s small berry and thick skin yields high phenolics, which intensify the flavors,” says Jason Corey, owner of The Immigrant Wine Bar in NYC. “Similar to Gamay wines from Beaujolais, this bouncy, fruity red wine is perfect for a Thanksgiving feast.”
Marotti Campi “Salmariano” Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Classico Riserva - Marche, Italy - $16
Any mouth-breather can grab a bottle of Pinot Grigio at Costco, but if you know what to look for, you can sleuth out something special. Verdicchio, from Central Italy’s Castelli di Jesi, is a great value wine that, while few are hip to it in the States, it’s a big damn deal at home.
“This “Salmariano” Riserva was awarded the highest ratings in Italy”, says Craig R. Hedstrom, Proprietor of Azzurro Wine Company & Director, Somm Smack-Down in Portland, Oregon. “Rich and bright with the scent of Elderflower, “Salmariano” Verdicchio is a beautifully balanced crowd pleaser.”
Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet - Burgundy, France - 2015 - $49
Want to be a Thanksgiving rock star? Break out a killer white Burgundy. Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards produce some of the sickest Chardonnay on the planet, and this Domaine Michel Niellon is a brilliant example of its charms.
“I find that richer, oaked whites tend to be the most flexible,” says Charles Puglia, Beverage Director of Le Coucou in NYC. “Poultry fat has an affinity for Chardonnay, and the oily texture of a fuller-bodied style will be a nice match for buttery mashed potatoes.”
Fleurie ‘Avalanche de Printemps’ 2015 - Beaujolais, France - $35
This Gamay wine from the Beaujolais region in France is a whole different animal from the young and flinty Nouveau bottling that’s released every November 15th, and ultimately the better choice.
“Gamay pairs well without losing its personality,” says David Keck, MS, Partner, Goodnight Hospitality in Houston. “Fleurie’s winemaker, Marc Delienne, is an exciting producer in Beaujolais who focuses on low-intervention winemaking and vineyard management; wine you can feel good about drinking.”
8. Pinot Noir
Hamilton-Russell Pinot Noir - South Africa - $40
Pinot’s sharp acidity, mellow tannin, and fruit flavors balanced with earthy notes checks all the boxes for a killer turkey dinner pairing. But buyer beware: many pinots are too light to stand up to a fatty meal, so find an expression with a little heft.
“Hamilton-Russell is one of the best Pinots coming out of South Africa today,” says Colin Thoreen, Head Sommelier and Beverage Director at Ai Fiori at Langham Place, New York. “Focused, clean fruit with lots of substance and hints of earth, this reminds me of Burgundy.”
Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling - Willamette Valley, Oregon - $15
While many think “dry” wine the sophisticated choice, it’s the slightly sweeter wines that get appetites' rolling.
“Riesling is the sommelier’s best friend because of its versatility, and they adore it,” says Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW, and author of The One Minute Wine Master. “Oregon is gaining quite the reputation for Riesling, and this Willamette Valley is the perfect aperitif. It is delicately light with low-alcohol (10.1%) that works with your pigs-in-a-blanket right into the Thanksgiving Day meal.”
E. Guigal Gigondas - Rhone, France - $35
Grenache blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourverde), from France’s southern Rhone Valley, feature softer tannins and lower oak than most in its class, making GSM a turkey friendly wine that will also stand up to the sausage stuffing.
“Grenache thrives in Mediterranean countries, but it found a special home in the Southern Rhone Valley,” says John Slover, Beverage Director at Major Food Group, NYC. “For great values, look for lesser known appellations, like this E. Guigal Gigondas. It’s an excellent wine for under $40.”