Wine Pairing With Turkey: A Thanksgiving Guide

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Roast turkey on a platter with sides of mashed potatoes and stuffing

Wine has always been an integral part of the holidays. You give special wines as gifts and share bottles with loved ones in merry celebrations of friendship, familial love, and camaraderie. Among these celebrations, debates can arise about the wine that's being drunk. Is it too dry? Too sweet? What would go well with what?

The rules of wine pairing are not always as cut and dry as some may think. Fish does not always need to be paired with white wine. Many cajun salmon fillets have been enjoyed with a dry malbec or fruit-forward pinot noir. A light lamb dish can be divine with an oaked chardonnay.  

Around the celebration table during Thanksgiving, wine debates may arise. Fortunately, when it comes to wine pairing with turkey, those who swear by red wine and those who tout white wine are both right.

Considerations When Wine Pairing With Turkey

If you're hosting, here are a few tips to consider when pairing wines for Thanksgiving dinner:

  • White meat and dark meat are going to work well with different wines. Have a varied selection of reds and whites on hand.
  • How you prepare your turkey makes a difference. A smoked turkey tastes different from an oven-roasted or a fried turkey. Medium-bodied Pinot Noir and full-bodied Chardonnay go well with all of them.
  • Think about the side dishes you'll be eating when choosing a wine. They will affect your palate when drinking wine. 
  • Are you cooking a turducken? This combination will expand the flavor profile of your Thanksgiving dinner. You should adjust your wine selection accordingly.

Great Wine Pairings With Turkey

1. Pinot Noir

Turkey is not a strongly flavored meat. It's generally low in fat and can dry out in places. That's why it's helpful to have a wine that makes your mouth water. Heavily tannic wine dries out your mouth a bit, so a muscular Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec could increase this dryness. Pinot Noir is less tannic and offers a bright acidity, which lends a feeling of moisture to the meat.

New World Pinot Noirs are an excellent choice for Thanksgiving dinner. Look for something from Oregon's Willamette Valley or the Russian River Valley in California. On the other hand, if you're set on having an Old World wine on the table, then look at something from France's Burgundy region.

Pinot Noir offers fruit-forward aromas that lend themselves to the savory flavors of the classic roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberry sauce you may find on your Thanksgiving plate.

2. Chardonnay

If Pinot Noir is the go-to red wine for a classic Thanksgiving dinner, Chardonnay is its white wine counterpart. Once again, the creaminess and acidity of a full-bodied Chardonnay can lend a helping hand to the drier parts of a turkey. The minerality and fruitiness in Chardonnay will excite your palate when combined with savory side dishes.

An Old World Chardonnay will generally give you more minerality and citrus notes, while New World Chardonnays will offer more juicy tropical fruit flavors. Look for something from the Burgundy region of France — more specifically, Chablis. If you want a New World Chardonnay, then all of California will have you covered, but two of the best places to look for full-bodied examples are Napa Valley and Santa Barbara.

Great Chardonnay is often found in the same places as great Pinot Noirs. Both of these wines are great paired with various Thanksgiving dishes, but they match best with the classics.

3. Cru Beaujolais

Only the top-rated areas in Beaujolais are granted the "Cru" designation. Those who know a bit about the region's wines may think of the very light Nouveau as a traditional Thanksgiving pairing. However, those who know more about Beaujolais are aware that the lightness of the Gamay grape has much more to offer.

Nouveau can be a delightful wine to pass around at the Thanksgiving table — especially for those who don't drink wine often. Its light fruitiness will ensure that it doesn't overpower any part of dinner. But for those looking for more oomph and refinement, a Cru Beaujolais, such as one from the Morgon region, will come with a light body and acidity that offers more complexity and structure.

4. Zinfandel

If you're looking for something stronger than Pinot Noir for your red wine option, then Zinfandel is an excellent choice. Zinfandel has softer tannins than other big red wines, once again ensuring that your mouth doesn't dry out. Zinfandel also offers fruity, jammy, juicy flavors that explode in your mouth when they're matched with dark meat, white meat, and any sides that may be on the table.

California is the prime region for Zinfandel. Napa Valley Zinfandels tend to be more acidic, helping with the dryness of white meat. Sonoma Valley Zinfandel's tend to be richer. If you're looking for a Zinfandel that isn't quite so big but splits the difference between a Pinot Noir and an aggressive Zinfandel, then Paso Robles may be the region to pick.

5. Champagne

Thanksgiving is a celebration, after all. What better way to celebrate getting together with friends and family than with a bottle of bubbly?

Champagne pairs well with turkey. It's bright, refreshing, acidic, and you can choose whether you want a crisp, dry version or something sweeter to complement your savory Thanksgiving dinner. The bubbles in Champagne work exceptionally well with the crisp skin of a deep-fried turkey.

Of course, "real" Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, but similar sparkling wines from other places have plenty to offer. A Cava Brut from Spain is an excellent sparkling wine to offer friends and loved ones at Thanksgiving dinner.

Don't Forget About Dessert

Many opt for coffee when they bring pumpkin pie to the table, but there are other brilliant wine options for dessert. Consider a New World Port or a medium to sweet Riesling. Or, if you want the best of the best, the Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine from Canada will certainly give you and your guests something to talk about.

Wine is in high demand during the holidays, and JJ Buckley is here to offer holiday-goers the best wines from around the world. Our team of experts curates our offerings and can help you pick the perfect Thanksgiving wine pairings for your own celebration.