Let’s be honest, the Thanksgiving feast can be a little daunting for wine pairing. My family hails from the south. Regardless of where you are in the country, there are competing flavors all over the table. From roasted turkey and tangy cranberry sauce to herbaceous stuffing (or dressing), sweet potatoes (sometimes with a marshmallow topping!), creamy mashed potatoes, bacon-simmered Kentucky Wonder green beans, and plenty of peppery gravy to pour over a whole plate, it’s a lot.
But all is not lost. It’s entirely possible to have a turkey dinner paired beautifully with wine. And while Thanksgiving is an all-American holiday, we have many iconic regions of the world to thank for producing wines that accomplish such a challenging task. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this list offers a nod to wine regions around the world—and some specific wine selections—for which we can all be truly thankful.
Note: For serving, chill your white wines in the fridge, but pull them out about 20 minutes before serving to let the flavors have a chance to wake up at the table. Serve red wines with a bit of chill, between 55–60 ºF. To achieve this, pop them in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes before serving.
Alto Adige, Italy
“A” is for Alto Adige, and if you’re looking for a one-stop shop to populate the whole Thanksgiving table with wines, you could pretty much stop here. (Austria is a very close second, but we’ll get to that next.)
Tucked into the idyllic Dolomite mountains of the Italian Alps, these higher elevation wines tend to reveal a lithe brightness that’s perfect for lighter fare. Though more than half of the wines produced in this region are white, don’t overlook the elegant, high-toned red wines.
Pinot Bianco offers a nice alternative to Chardonnay for the holiday table, with notes of honeydew melon, peach, pear, quince paste, and chamomile. When vinified with malolactic conversion and aged in barrel on the lees, these wines make for a golden gem on the table. Try 2019 Kellerei/Cantina Terlan Vorberg Pinot Bianco Riserva. Gewürztraminer can sometimes have a polarizing effect, but when made in a dry style with its perfumed aromatics in check, it can be a lovely addition to the holiday table. Try the 2019 Elena Walch Gewürztraminer Vigna “Kastelaz”.
For an old-world alternative to Burgundy—and at a friendlier price point—Pinot Nero from Alto Adige is an elegant option rich in red fruit and full of character. Try the 2018 Kellerei/Cantina Kurtatsch Glen Pinot Nero Riserva. Light-bodied and aromatic, Schiava is often confused with lighter styles of Pinot Noir. Notes of cherry, ripe raspberry, and hints of cotton candy best characterize this vibrant red variety, as does a touch of tartness on the finish. Try the 2019 Manincor Kalterersee Keil Schiava.
Austria is pretty much on par with Alto Adige for finding the perfect Thanksgiving pairing. Austria’s cool, continental climate yields a variety of red and white wines with lean body, tart, and racy elegance. For a versatile white wine, try Austria’s famed white grape, Grüner Veltliner. With characteristic notes of stone fruit, white tea, and pepper, Grüner Veltliner is light and racy, making it an excellent match for salads and fresh veggie side dishes. But it also has enough body to stand up to the weightier dishes on the table. Try the 2019 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen.
Pinot Noir fans will love discovering Saint Laurent, which isn’t too far of a reach, considering this flavorful red grape is a descendent of Pinot Noir. These wines offer bright aromatics with notes of ripe cherry that follow with a sturdy palate backed by vibrant acidity. With bright red fruit and black cherry notes, this grape produces wines with fine tannins and a friendly, juicy palate. Try the 2017 Judith Beck St. Laurent Schafleiten.
For those that like a little more punch to their red wine, but without disturbing the balance needed at the Thanksgiving table, Zweigelt is a perfect choice. As the most widespread red variety planted in Austria, this grape is rich with concentrated red fruit flavors but easy on tannin and robust structure. Try the 2018 Meinklang Zweigelt.
When it comes to the quintessential Thanksgiving wine pairing, Beaujolais has long been the default. In particular, the fresh and fruity, bubble-gummy Beaujolais Nouveau, a traditional early-release wine in France that rose to popularity as a Thanksgiving wine in American thanks to the hard-earned marketing efforts of French producer Georges duBoeuf throughout the 1950s and 60s. To this day, the Georges duBoeuf brand releases a new Beaujolais Nouveau label each year featuring different artists who enter an annual contest to take the top honor. And while this year’s Georges duBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau release will no doubt receive a great deal of praise around the table, there’s a whole world of Beaujolais to discover beyond the semi-carbonic Nouveau style.
Made from 100% Gamay, Beaujolais wines offer elevated acidity and low tannin, with notes of cranberry, tart cherry, violet, mushroom, and grape bubblegum, making them an easy win for pairing with a range of dishes. For something with a bit more structure and complexity, look for wines from the ten crus (or sub-regions) such as Morgon, Julienas, Fleurie, Régnié, or Moulin-a-Vent. With different climates, soils, altitude, and vineyard aspect, each cru offers its own distinct personality. Try the bolder structure of the 2019 Domaine Grégoire Hoppeenot Morgon Corcelette, or the refined elegance of the 2016 Domaine De Thulon Régnié.
In many ways, this would seem an easy pick. After all, Champagne is the most iconic region in the world for sparkling wine. And sparkling wine is the go-to selection for celebrations. But let’s put that aside. While it’s always fun to pop some bubbly to toast a great occasion, the wines of France’s Champagne region also happen to be the most versatile for food pairing. Primarily made from Chardonnay, often with some percentage of Pinot Noir or Meunier blended in, Champagne balances beautiful apple and pear aromas with quintessential yeasty notes of brioche and toast, making it an ideal and versatile selection to pair with a diversity of foods. Try the crisp Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Nature or the plush and toasty Champagne Bruno Paillard Blancs de Blancs. For a little more oomph, opt for a rosé offering. The rich, berry character and added structure from Pinot Noir adds broader appeal to the Thanksgiving table. Try the Champagne Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve.
Oregon, United States
Perhaps the new world answer to Burgundy, Oregon’s versatile terrain in America’s Pacific Northwest has made it a region to watch when it comes to nuanced Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay—particularly in the AVAs around Willamette Valley.
Oregon Pinot Noir is akin to its Burgundian cousin in that it spotlights the earthy, savory, umami characters of the grape rather than lush fruitiness. Fruity red notes of cranberry and pomegranate are pervasive yet subtle, and bright acidity rounds out the palate. These wines are excellent for herbaceous stuffing (or dressing), wild rice, or mushroom dishes. Try the 2017 Lumos Wine Co. “The G” Temperance Hill Pinot Noir.
Though also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, Pinot Gris is most commonly associated with the Alsatian region of France. Known for its medium body and notes of stone fruit and melon, it’s a grape that yields wines of broad appeal. In Oregon, these wines are bright and vibrant, balanced by generosity on the palate. Try the 2019 Acrobat Pinot Gris, or for a conversation starter, the 2018 Beckham Estate Amphora Skin Contact Pinot Gris presents as bright pink in the glass. It’s a reminder that this grape is a tinge of color on the skins, bringing more structure to the wine when the juice is left in contact for a time.
For a go-to region from the Southern Hemisphere, look to South Africa for pairing with a Turkey feast. With sunny days and coastal influences from both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans along the Western Cape, the wine regions of South Africa predominantly benefit from a marine-influenced Mediterranean climate with the added cooling air of the Benguela Current that flows up from the Antarctic. The wine regions here yield grapes with excellent ripeness and freshness. Chenin Blanc has long been the champion white grapes in South Africa, and with good reason. Its versatility in the country’s different growing climates can result in wines with bright stainless-steel raciness or broad, oak-aged selections and everywhere in between. With notes of poached pear, citrus, and almond, these wines can show nice power with medium body, alluring minerality, and freshness. Try the 2018 Hogan Chenin Blanc.
Pinotage is perhaps the most well-known red variety. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, this grape can produce, big, rustic wines that may not be the most well-suited for the Thanksgiving meal. (Save these for heavier fare later in the holiday season.) But many producers have found ways to show the softer side of Pinotage, with wines a little lighter in style and showing plum, raspberry, florality, and earthy tobacco with restraint. Try the 2018 Ashbourne Pinotage. Also, look for other single variety selections such as Cinsault, which exhibits bright red fruit character and subtle earthiness. Try the 2018 A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras Cinsault.