Wine Pairings for Food52's Thanksgiving Menu

November 13, 2014

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: When it comes to holiday wines, the pressure is off. Here's what to drink with Food52's Thanksgiving menu.

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If I showed up at your door for Thanksgiving dinner, these are the wines I’d be carrying in my arms: a savory red blend with lots of spice and fruit, a bottle of bubbles (which can also double as the white wine), and a dessert wine. These three bottles cover lots of bases, as I’ll explain below. 

But with so much of this holiday’s attention directed at the food on the table, the last thing I want to do is try to turn the tide. As such, I'm going to direct my attention away from the wines themselves and focus instead on their relationship with the food and you -- because when it comes to wine for Thanksgiving, the pressure should be off!

The most important thing to remember is to choose a wine that you like. That will give you the confidence to set it on the table at such a special meal. If there was a specific bottle that knocked your socks off this year, now’s the time to bring it forward. Your passion for it matters more than whether it will match perfectly with a particular dish -- trust me.

If you're still looking for some guidance, here are my recommendations for wines to pair with the Food52 Thanksgiving menu:

Pre-meal: Channel the energy.
It may sound heretical, but much of the pleasure of Thanksgiving for me happens before and after the main course. I love those minutes when everyone’s arriving and festive energy runs through the house. This is when I reach for the sparkling wine, but more and more I’m appreciating how Champagnes in particular can carry me beyond the aperitif and well into the meal itself.

That’s because quality Champagnes, especially older ones, are "born" with layer upon layer of complexity, flavor, and texture. In general, look for "Brut" sparkling wines, which are dry rather than sweet. Specific recommendations are Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut or Philipponnat, Royal Reserve Brut NV. The Philipponnat wine will complement Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey perfectly thanks to the wine’s spicy finish; its notes of whole-grain toast complement MrsWheelbarrow's Challah, Mushroom, and Celery Stuffing; and its crystallized ginger flavor plays well with a side of Butternut Squash Wedges.

For the main course: Go savory.
The dishes included in Food52’s Thanksgiving menu are all about aromas -- herbs and spices and caramelization. As such, I’d suggest a red blend made primarily of “GSM,” or Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes. You'll pick up herbal and spicy aromas that sing harmoniously with those emerging from your oven and pots. 

More: Here are a few more holiday wines to save your sanity.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in France's Rhône region, is known for its blend of grapes that are more savory, less powerfully fruity, and more nuanced in their flavor profile. You can look specifically for the 2011 Olivier Hillaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is extraordinary for its spicy aromas of licorice, red currant preserves, and roasted herbs. Closer to home, Washington state producers have modeled their "GSM" blends on this Rhône style, relying on the grapes that work especially well in their climate. Look in particular for the 2012 Kevin White En Hommage G-S-M.

Post-meal: Take time to linger.
For me, another critical point of Thanksgiving is after the meal, when everyone’s slowed down a bit, the nervous energy has worn off, and perhaps the noise level has been turned down a few decibels. I want a wine -- in this case, a luscious sweet wine like Vin Santo -- to match the mood, whether we’re lingering at the table or clearing plates or starting the clean-up.

More: Here's what to bring the host or hostess this Thanksgiving.

Many wine regions around the world produce a sweet or dessert wine, from France's renowned Sauternes to Napa's botrytised options. The two recommendations here, from Italy and South Africa, shine a spotlight on the ancient practice of "drying" fresh grapes by laying them out on straw mats and letting nature work its magic over months and months. Look in particular for Avignonesi Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC from Tuscany, or 2011 De Trafford Vin De Paille from Stellenbosch.

The grape-drying process also concentrates and matures the flavors even before they're pressed into wine and bottled. The flavors of the original grapes, whether white or red, are amplified and sweetened. They pose a compelling, extremely flavorful counterpoint to the pumpkin pie on the table.

More: If you're over wine, try one of these after-dinner drinks intead.

When it comes to wine for Thanksgiving, the pressure is off. Just let the food and the company lead the way.

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jennifer
  • ChezHenry
  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
  • Erica Nonni
    Erica Nonni
Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


Jennifer November 13, 2014
Almost any article that talks about pairing wine to food will advocate (or at least acknowledge the wisdom of) pairing wines of a region with foods of a region. These days our Thanksgiving tables celebrate local foods. At our house, we'll pair those local foods with local wines. I'm fortunate because I live in the Finger Lakes, so I've got some great choices. But in any case a strong second to others in this comments section who advocate American wines for Thanksgiving.
ChezHenry November 4, 2014
I always try to keep Thanksgiving an American affair, even with wines. California sparkling wines such as Taittinger Carneros or Scharffenberger. This year I'll also serve an american hard cider, champenoise style. Oregon Pinot Noir with dinner.
Cathy H. November 5, 2014
Great ideas! You can really play with that theme as well. We know that the colonials often drank Madeira, for example. Maybe include that one year? Or, with more and more sparkling wine coming out of England, it may be interesting at some point to add the twist of that... Cheers!
Erica N. November 5, 2014
Agreed, a mix of some of the great American wines with a nod to Thanksgiving history, as well as one's own heritage and American experience, makes a great story at the table. My list: an English sparkling wine like Ridgeview, an Oregon Pinot Noir like Domaine Serene, an Italian red with good acidity like Chianti Classico or Teroldego, and a sweet finish with Dolce Far Niente (Napa). Cheers!
Cathy H. November 5, 2014
Erica, what a fabulous list! I think you're the one who needs to show up at OUR door for Thanksgiving ;-) Thank you for sharing!