13 Best wines for Thanksgiving

Wines for Thanksgiving

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner means picking up a turkey, shopping for the ingredients you need to prepare all those classic side dishes, and making a pie or two – but you also have to think about the best wines to serve with your meal.

From a bottle of sparkling to start things off, to a white wine for the soup, and a few reds that will go with the big bird, food wine pairings at Thanksgiving don’t have to be a challenge. It’s just important to choose versatile wines that can complement the intense and diverse flavors on the table, instead of overpowering them.

Chateauneuf du Pape is a red wine from France with good spice for Thanksgiving dinner

Look for white wines that have some texture to them but aren’t necessarily bone dry. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are white wines with prominent fruit flavors and good acidity and Riesling is a white wine that will pair well with almost any food, including turkey.

When it comes to red wine, you want something that’s light to medium in body, but low in tannins. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais Crus are some of the best red options for Thanksgiving. Pinot Noir will be popular with most guests and Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape, is even referred to by some as the Thanksgiving wine!

Turkey is a more gamey meat so you need wines that can stand up to it

Remember, turkey is a juicy and more deeply flavored white meat than chicken and it can be quite gamey. This means you can also serve a red wine with some spice to it, for example, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Zinfandel or Pinotage. You might consider a Syrah / Shiraz as well (they’re the same wine). They can have notes of red currant and baking spices, an obvious pairing for turkey and cranberry sauce. Moreover, Syrah from the northern Rhône area of France sometimes has hints of bacon fat in its aromatics. This makes it pair especially well with certain stuffing recipes.

Riesling is a versatile white wine that will pair with stuffing

Looking to take something out of your wine cellar? Aged white wines are perfect for Thanksgiving. They have a nuttiness to their flavor profile that’s particularly complementary to recipes that call for roasted chestnuts. If you want to serve a more structured and older red wine, Barolo, Barbaresco or Amarone are best. Note, Amarone will have cherry flavors and make a good pairing for any dishes in your meal that have dried fruit.

Thanksgiving dinner

You need a wine to go with different Thanksgiving dishes including roasted turkey and mashed potatoes

Unlike a regular dinner, there are a lot of dishes on the table at Thanksgiving and they tend to be best served altogether. Picture a typical plate piled high with roasted turkey, stuffing, mushrooms, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans and gravy. Then there’s the tart cranberry sauce, and later pumpkin pie. The trick is to find wines that go with everything.

Butter based dishes go with white wines like oak aged Chardonnay

Let the aromatics and flavors in the food be your guide –imagine parsley, oregano, sage, and thyme next to a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If you’re cooking, what are the most common ingredients when you’re planning your Thanksgiving menu? Many recipes call for butter, nutmeg and cloves, and this can mean a buttery and oak aged Chardonnay might be a better bet than a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc –unless it’s a Sancerre or you’re planning on having the Sauvignon Blanc with appetizers before the meal.

Choose a red wine that’s not overly tannic to serve with your Thanksgiving meal

And, as with any holiday gathering, consider everyone at the table will have different tastes, so the best wine is an approachable one. Whether it’s white, rosé or red, you want it to be easy to drink. This is one reason why Pinot Noir is one of the best wines for Thanksgiving. If you’re cooking for friends and family or have been invited to someone else’s house and want to bring a wine to thank your host, Pinot Noir is a good choice.

Lastly, it’s safe to assume people will drink both a white and a red with dinner, so you’ll want both to be on your shopping list. Take a look at our suggestions below for more great Thanksgiving wine ideas, including information on which glasses to serve each wine in. Don’t forget to check our top tips section, to help you plan your food wine pairings for turkey and every other part of the meal, dessert included!

Sparkling wine to start things off

For a celebration like Thanksgiving, handing people a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne as they arrive (note Champagne is sparkling wine that comes exclusively from the Champagne region in France) is only fitting. Sparkling wines go with most hors d’oeuvres, from cheese platters to smoked salmon and pâté. They’re also a great way to raise a toast! Plus, bubbles can help open up the palette so your guests are ready to taste all of the great food you’ve prepared. If you’d like to serve a sparkling wine with your Thanksgiving meal, we suggest a rosé champagne or a wine that’s from an older vintage.

Sparkling wine doesn’t have to be expensive either. There are plenty of options for all budgets. From Spain, try a bottle of Cava, from Italy, Prosecco or Franciacorta. We mentioned Champagne, but there’s also Crémant from France. Keep in mind, they make great sparkling wines closer to home as well. Choose a wine from California, New Mexico, Oregon, the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, or the South of England if you’re in the UK. Just note sparkling wines labeled Brut are actually drier than bottles labeled Extra Dry.

Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rose and Gewurztraminer are all great white wines to serve at Thanksgiving

5 White wines to serve at Thanksgiving

  • Riesling. A white wine known for its green and golden apple and stone-fruit notes, Riesling typically comes from Alsace or Germany, but is now also produced in New Zealand and Australia. It’s a high-acidity wine and one of the most versatile. Riesling pairs well with all types of food and can even change its character depending on what dish it’s served alongside. Note, there are different styles of Riesling so if you think you don’t like this wine, you may just have had one that was too sweet for your liking. For Thanksgiving, it’s best to pick a medium dry Riesling with just a hint of fruitiness. This is to help it stand up to the different flavors in the food. It may be easier to find a medium dry wine from Alsace and Germany. A Riesling Kabinett will be drier and a Spatlese will be a touch less dry but still have great body, texture, and flavor.
  • Chardonnay. While not everyone is a Chardonnay fan, this is one of the best wines for Thanksgiving. It has bold flavors that can match traditional spices and complement food where butter and cream are the main fats used in cooking, for example that roasted vegetable soup or pile of fluffy mashed potatoes you’ve whipped up. Oak aged wines pair well with turkey too! Chardonnay can be aged in new or neutral oak; it can also be unoaked. We’d suggest a full-bodied oak aged Chardonnay for your Thanksgiving meal. California makes beautiful Chardonnays, especially the Russian River in Sonoma, Carneros and Napa Valley.
  • Pinot Gris. Look for a Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon. These are fuller-bodied wines that can be rich in flavor and have more texture and pronounced fruit than an Italian Pinot Grigio. They’ll go especially well with light turkey meat, as well as most Thanksgiving dinner recipes. A bottle will cost between $20 and $45 and is best served in Sauvignon Blanc style glasses.
  • Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer is another recommended white wine for the holidays. Gewurtz means “spice” in German and thus it’s no surprise these wines have a distinctive spice to their finish. They can be medium flavored and medium dry and will match well with the gaminess of turkey, and food like stuffing or potatoes seasoned with sage and white pepper.
  • Rhône wines. Both northern and southern Rhône wines are great at Thanksgiving. Made from Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc grapes, these are highly aromatic medium to full-bodied wines with notes of exotic and stone fruits. They make a nice food pairing with light and dark turkey meat and can be served with soup as well – they’re perfect for any holiday meal, Christmas included.

Other white wine ideas include a drier Chenin Blanc like a South African Chenin Blanc or a Vouvray Sec.

TOP TIP: If one of your guests brings a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, it’s best to open it at the start of your dinner with food like dips, cheese boards or shrimp cocktail. Note, if it’s a Bordeaux, such as a Grave (which is an oak-aged Semillon Sauvignon Blanc), you might pair it with your turkey too!

Why you should consider a rosé

Rosé wines can be made in two ways. They are either left on their grape skins for a short period of time, meaning they have more body, flavor, and texture to them than whites, but aren’t as heavy or tannic as reds. A rosé can also be a white wine with some red wine mixed in. This makes rosé a good choice for Thanksgiving because it pairs well with lighter food and won’t overpower the flavors in many Thanksgiving dishes, turkey included. Rosé is also perfect with different starters. For example, pair a rosé with a cauliflower or zucchini cream-based soup or serve it alongside a dish of paté or terrine.

Pinot Noir is one of the best red wines you can bring to Thanksgiving dinner

8 Great reds for turkey

  • Pinot Noir. This is a light to medium-bodied wine with a lot of up front fruit flavors that pair beautifully with turkey meat, think cherry and raspberry notes. This wine is light ruby in color and you want to serve it in a Burgundy glass, which has a wide bottom and a smaller opening at the top. It should be lightly chilled, so try to avoid keeping the bottle in a hot kitchen while you’re cooking. They make Pinot Noir in Oregon, California and New Zealand, but the grape and the wine originated from Burgundy, France which still produces some of the best Pinots in the world. However, a wine from Burgundy can be quite expensive, with average bottles ranging from $40 to $100 or more. Luckily, there are plenty of more affordable options.
  • Cru Beaujolais. Cru Beaujolais is similar to Pinot Noir and makes a less pricey, great alternative to a Burgundy wine. In fact, it comes from the Beaujolais region of France which is just south of Burgundy. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape. It has good fruit and minerality, with bright acidity. There are 10 Beaujolais Crus, each coming from a different village in the region and they range from light to fuller bodied wines. For Thanksgiving, try a Morgon which has distinctive cherry notes and some depth to its flavor profile. You can learn more about Beaujolais Crus in this article on Beaujolais wines.
  • Barolo or Barbaresco. Made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, these are excellent wines for aging and as such they shouldn’t be drunk young. If you can’t find any older bottles of Barolo for this year’s dinner, we might suggest buying a few to put in your cellar for a future Thanksgiving meal. Alternatively, you could open and decant a younger wine up to a day beforehand. Barolo and Barbaresco are light to medium in color and body and have more subtle and complex flavors with a nice earthiness to them that will complement turkey, mushrooms, stuffing and any hearty soups you might serve.
Red wines like Zinfandel, Shiraz / Syrah and Rhone wines including Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas pair well with turkey and Thanksgiving dinner
  • Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. From the South Rhône region of France, these wines are predominately Grenache-based but can also be a blend of Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah, among others grapes. Châteauneuf du Pape is a favorite wine for Thanksgiving because you can drink it young but it also ages beautifully. It’s a wine with spiciness and complexity that makes it a perfect pairing for turkey and in general the food we eat at Thanksgiving.
  • Zinfandel (make sure you get red). While some people think this grape originated in either Croatia or Italy, today it’s grown mainly in California. Zinfandel wines are spicy, fuller-bodied reds with a dark purple color and a jammy texture. They go well with rich and fatty foods, for example if you’re preparing a deep-fried turkey or have dried fruit in your stuffing recipe, this is a good wine for you. Look for an older vine and lower-alcohol Zinfandel that is around 14%. If the wine is too high in alcohol, it may be almost like drinking port and could overpower your meal.
  • Syrah / Shiraz. These are the same wines, they just have different names depending on where they’re grown. Syrah and Shiraz are wines with blueberry, red currant, and berry-fruit flavors, alongside notes of baking spices. They make a nice pairing for turkey and holiday recipes that call for dark fruit and figs. You’ll find a good bottle of Syrah will cost between $35 and $60 and Shiraz is more affordable at $20 to $45. Note, Australian Shiraz has more of a bramble and blackberry-based flavor profile.
  • Amarone. Amarone is considered one of the best wines from Italy. It has a rich texture and deep cherry flavors which isn’t surprising given one of the main fruit crops in the area where it is grown are cherries! If you have dried cherries or cranberries in your stuffing, this would be an ideal wine to serve for Thanksgiving. It’s also a fitting pairing for roasted food in general, especially when it’s served with a rich gravy.
  • Pinotage. Pinotage is a wine that was developed in South Africa as a cross between Pinot Noir and the Rhône grape Cinsault. It’s a medium-bodied wine that can be thought of as a stronger flavored Pinot Noir with some spice to it. You’ll find fruit and herbs in this wine’s flavor profile and you can get a Pinotage for anywhere from $25 to $40.
You will likely drink more red wines than white at Thanksgiving

More on red wine

Rioja Reserva from Spain and Chianti Classico Riserva from Italy are two other turkey friendly wines for Thanksgiving. They’re affordable, guests will like them and they can pair with most Thanksgiving food and holiday recipes.

While not one of the top wines we recommend, Cabernet is a popular red and you may find guests bring it to go with dinner. Keep in mind Cabernet can be quite tannic and full-bodied so try to serve it with heavier dishes so it doesn’t overpower lighter food and the more delicate flavors in certain recipes.

Wine Tip: How do you pick out a good bottle of Pinot Noir? Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to grow, and as a result, it tends to be a more expensive wine. For a special celebration like Thanksgiving, you should choose a wine that’s $20 to $25 or more. You might try something from Russian River, in the Sonoma area of California. Pinot Noirs from Oregon tend to be more terroir driven. If you want something more expensive, go with a French wine from Burgundy. Germany is also making nice Pinots and you could try a wine from New Zealand as well.

Choose the right wine glasses when you set your Thanksgiving table
Red wine options for Thanksgiving and tips on how to pair holiday food with wine
We serve many different types of food at Thanksgiving
Making pie is part of Thanksgiving

6 Tips for choosing great Thanksgiving wines

  1. Put together a plan. Are you going to serve sparkling wine to start off? For gatherings of six or more, you probably want to have both a white and a red with dinner. And because it’s Thanksgiving, consider you’ll need more bottles of red to go with the meal, though that does depend on who you have around the table. All in all, it’s not a bad idea to sketch out your dinner plan and make a list of the wine you’re considering before you go to the store.
  2. Think about the other guests. It’s important to know who is coming and what they like to drink. For example, you may remember that a few of your friends or family members just drink whites. If you have a larger group of people who appreciate wine, you could get three different bottles of the same wine from the same vintage so you can compare notes and see what goes best with each dish.
  3. Let the ingredients inspire you. Are you making recipes that call for particular ingredients or spices? Consider which wine will best complement them. For example, if you’re doing a spicy stuffing with sausage in it, you want a bolder wine, like a Syrah, instead of a Pinot Noir.
  4. Be mindful of budget. Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be quite costly. Wines don’t have to be expensive to be a good pairing and there are great options for every budget. For those families who want to spend a bit more at Thanksgiving, be sure you’re getting the right wines for your meal. For example, there are plenty of wines that may be higher priced but are not meant to be drunk right away, unless they are decanted early.
  5. Make sure to get enough. You always want to plan on guests drinking a bit more than expected, because if you run out of wine, you’re unlikely to find a store that will be open on Thanksgiving. One good option is to serve a large format bottle like a magnum or a 3 Liter, which is impressive when you have a large gathering. A magnum is the equivalent of two bottles of wine and a 3 Liter holds the same as four regular bottles of wine.
  6. Consider something from your cellar. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to bring out an older bottle of wine that you may have put away for a special occasion. Older whites like a Burgundy, Chardonnay or a white Rhône wine can have more texture and a nuttiness to them that complements the flavors in most Thanksgiving dishes. Thanksgiving is also a great occasion for an older Barolo or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If it’s a Barolo, you want a wine that’s at least ten years old and at least five for a Barbaresco.

Which wines go with pie?

Which wines go with pie and Traditional Thanksgiving flavors

Every family makes different desserts for Thanksgiving, but pumpkin pie and apple pie are two standards you’ll find at most dinner tables. If you want a wine that goes with pie, try a late harvest white wine, like a Sauvignon Sémillon, a late harvest Riesling from Austria, or an Eis Wein from Canada or Germany. Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany or Austria will be the sweetest options. They’re quite versatile wines that complement other desserts too. However, they’ll also be the most expensive. Another Thanksgiving dessert wine is a Tokaji from Hungary which is similar to a Sauterne, and has honey and lemon notes with good acidity alongside its sweetness. You can serve a Tawny Port as well which is a bit lighter and not quite as heavy as a vintage-style port.

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Freddy is a retired wine professional and wine educator who was Vice President of the sixth largest wine importer and wholesaler in the United States for over 40 years. He currently works as a wine consultant and collaborates with his daughter to write articles that help people learn about wine.

Brian Keeping

Brian Keeping

Brian is an avid wine enthusiast and wine educator who has spent 45+ years in the fine wine industry. From 1975 to 1994 he was part owner and sales director of Silenus Wines and from 1994 to 2021 served as Fine Wine Director at Carolina Wines & Spirits.

Write a Comment

  • Mike J.
    Mike J.

    Thanks, Freddy! This article is really helpful for choosing a nice Thanksgiving dinner wine. I used to think wines should be a white wine, including Chardonnay, which I’m not a big fan. It’s great to know there are so many wine options to pair with a Thanksgiving dinner!

    • Meredith Cicerchia
      Meredith Cicerchia

      There are so many great red wines to try for Thanksgiving if you’re not a fan of white (or Chardonnay). Can’t wait to hear what you open for next year’s turkey dinner!

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