Untraditional Wines to Update Your Thanksgiving Table

November 11, 2015

Every Thanksgiving, my mom keeps a case of wine near the back wall of our kitchen. It’s there for easy access so that as we empty bottles—nothing elicits a feeling of gratitude quite like a full glass of wine—I can replace the empties with a bottle of some full-bodied red. It’s usually a Pinot Noir or a nondescript blend simply labeled, “Red Wine.”

Photo by James Ransom

After the turkey, sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows), and news of your cousin’s latest food allergy, wine can be second hat. As long as it’s red, plentiful, and the turkey doesn’t burn, it’s all good. But it could be better. And at a traditional Thanksgiving table (have you seen our classic menu?), wine can be a fun place to play around with new flavors. Randall Restiano, the wine director at Eli's Table, and Italian winemaker Marina Cvetic shared some of their favorite, untraditional wines to serve at your Thanksgiving table this year (or bring as host gifts!):

As Guests Arrive

What better a way to greet guests as they arrive inside from the cold than with a glass of Champagne? While Randall says that while pairing bubbly with dishes can be very limiting, he “always likes to serve Champagne when everyone arrives.” Marina says that her favorite “apertif wine” is Pecorino. She says, “It’s a very light, elegant white wine [that wouldn’t pair well with dinner] that’s perfect to welcome your family with when they walk through the door—it creates an enjoyable atmosphere.”

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For the Main Event

Photo by Alex Bowman

The first time I met Randall in July to speak about orange wines, he suggested I put it on my Thanksgiving table—four months later, his opinion hasn’t changed. He told me over the phone, “The Thanksgiving table is always confusing because there are so many flavors at once—trying to pair wines can be tricky.” While white wines tend to work well with the turkey, red wines work better with some of the more robust sides. Randall says, “Orange wines play at both sides.

Orange wine shares a characteristic with red wine in its tannins (which it gets from skin contact with the grapes), and it has something Randall refers to as sauvage, a wild and natural flavor that’s crisp and common in white wines. Plus, its slight residual sugar makes it sweet enough to stand up to dishes like yams and sweet potatoes.


  • For red: wines made from Pineau d'Aunis or Barbera grapes
  • For orange: wines made by Paulo Bea, Lamoresca, Panevino (all Italian winemakers)

Because variety is the spice of Thanksgiving, Randall says that he will also always have some sparkling rosé, and prefers those from the Loire Valley. Marina agrees that dark rosés work well on the Thanksgiving table because their “taste, fragrance, crispness, and level of acidity” make them suitable for any food (especially if you’re going the rogue route. On top of being delicious, Randall adds that the untraditional wines “entice people to ask what it is,” and thus start an interesting dinner conversation (“Well, I read this amazing article on this fantastic site, Food52…”).


  • For sparkling rosé: Try the winemaker Les Trois Bonhommes in Loire Valley, France.
  • For a dark rosé: Marina suggests her own Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo DOC, and if you can find it, Mark Angeli's Rosé d'un Jour is delicious.

With Dessert

Photo by James Ransom

Instead of riesling this year, serve something that has a balance of acidity so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet and doesn’t overpower your pumpkin pie. Randall recommends Passito di Pantelleria (an Italian DOC for a type of wine made on the island of Pantelleria) or a fortified wine like Madeira sherry.


  • For a Passito di Pantelleria: Try this one made by the actress Carole Bouquet.

Do you have any untraditional wines you like to serve at Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • walkie74
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    Leslie Stephens
I eat everything.


walkie74 November 24, 2016
I've got a sweet, cheap champagne to greet my one guest, a rose for dinner, and a Vouvray for dessert. I even bought a Soave for... I have no idea why, and some dark rum in case the five of us get tired of wine. I think we should be good... and if we drink all that, we screwed up somewhere.
Esha November 22, 2015
Is there a specific bottle of orange wine you could recommend? I am having trouble finding them from the winemakers you listed. Preferably easy to find in New York City.
Leslie S. November 23, 2015
Hi Esha, Channing Daughters orange wine is findable in the city since it's from Long Island and this article has more information:

Depending where you live in the city, I know that Eli's on the UES has a great selection of orange wines—that's where I usually go for them, but they're available all over!
Jennifer November 19, 2015
"Instead of riesling this year, serve something that has a balance of acidity so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet": I've gotta say you've been drinking the wrong rieslings (not that there's anything wrong with a sweet riesling, but that sugar should always be balanced by acid). I'm tired of people rehearsing the old saw that rieslings are necessarily (or problematically) sweet. Also: T'giving is an all-American holiday--why not emphasize American wines? Eat local, drink local. I'm glad to live in the Finger Lakes region. I'll be celebrating with local bubbly (from Herman Wiemer), Cabernet Franc (from Lamoreaux Landing and Bloomer Creek), and Rieslings (from Standing Stone and Silver Thread).
Leslie S. November 19, 2015
Sounds like a delicious roundup of bottles!
Kate November 15, 2015