You have two issues when matching wine with the traditional turkey dinner — first, a wine that will go with turkey, and second, a wine that will have a chance to stand up to all the trimmings and various side dishes. Needless to say, this is not an easy task.
Ideally, it would be nice to find one bottle to match with everything. In reality, that’s next to impossible. Of course, much depends on what all the side dishes are — and it seems that every family has a different assortment of “traditional” sides.
Generally speaking, it’s safe to assume that you’ll have roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. The turkey and cranberry sauce are fairly consistent across the nation, but the stuffing is where things start to get wild. Many families go with a very simple recipe — made from stale bread, onions, and herbs — while others serve stuffing anointed with sausage, cranberries, oysters, apples, bacon, chestnuts, raisins … the possibilities are seemingly endless.
That said, trying to come up with a list of perfect wines that will match with everything will not be done here. However, I can assure you that every wine suggested here will definitely go with the absolute basics — roast turkey, simple stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and some might even meld with the cranberry sauce. That’s because every one of these wines was tested — and tasted — with turkey roasted with a mild hint of rosemary and thyme (and other herbs commonly used with poultry), Stove Top turkey stuffing (unadulterated, right out of the box), cranberry sauce (Ocean Spray, from the can), baked potato, baked sweet potato (not candied), and creamed pearl onions (just butter and cream, nothing else). This “standard” meal offered a simple laboratory for the wines, and if a wine worked with this “Thanksgiving lab”, it should work well enough for your variation on Turkey Day. Enough gibble-gobble, let’s get on with the wines …
1. Mas Carlot Marsanne Roussanne
Yes, I’m sure there are people out there a little upset that the first-recommended wine is French. Well, get used to it — there happen to be a number of French wines on this list. Don’t worry, there are also several American choices, for those who want to keep the patriotic spirit of Thanksgiving (though, it’s doubtful the pilgrims or the American indians had any American wines on the table back in 1621 … in fact, chances are that any wine at that first meal would have been French).
This is a relatively unusual blend, especially if you’re used to varietal wines such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. However, these two Rhone Valley grapes work well in unison to match with nearly everything on the table, offering a citrusy, spicy flavor, good acidity, and ample body to stand up to the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, onions, and even the cranberry sauce.
2. Ponzi Pinot Gris
This is the first recommendation of several American wines, and like the Mas Carlot, it matches perfectly with just about everything on the table, and has the flexibility to go with many variations of stuffing. Crisp and clean, with good ripe fruit — apple, white peach, and a touch of limey citrus. This particular Pinot Gris is from Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley (pronounced to rhyme with dammit, as in “Willamette, dammit!”), and if you can’t find this particular brand, I highly recommend Pinot Gris from either Oregon or the Alsace region in France as outstanding choices for Thanksgiving.
3. Atwater Estate Riesling
Another American wine, this one from New York State. A touch of perceived sweetness adds a surprising zing, waking up both the turkey and stuffing. That same sweetness stands up perfectly to the cranberry sauce — no small feat. This is not only a fine match for Turkey Day, but is also a particularly good choice for the very casual wine drinkers — i.e., the ones who are graduating from white zin and Yellowtail. Supplier: Atwater Estate
4. Hedges Cellars CMS White
Yet another American wine, this is another unusual blend, made from 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Chardonnay, and 2% Marsanne. Interestingly, a wine made only from any one of these varietals would likely be a good candidate for turkey, so mixing them all together also seems to work nicely. The nose is slightly closed at first, but eventually opens up to emit ripe pear, white peach, and a hint of spice. The palate is very similar — lots of ripe peach, some pear — and has a decent level of acidity. It matches best with the white and dark meat turkey, is hit and miss with the rest.
5. Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc
Crisp, clean fruit with good mouthfeel, this is a Sauvignon Blanc that is mostly devoid of the “gooseberry” / “cat pee” aromas that turn so many people off, while still holding to typical Sauvignon Blanc character. Its citrusy flavor matches quite nicely with the white meat, and has enough acidity to hold its own against most of the accompanying foods.
6. Cru Beaujolais – your pick
OK, in this case we have two recommendations — La Roilette Fleurie and Georges Duboeuf Chenas — as their similar flavor profiles were equally complementary to nearly everything on the table. In fact you’ll probably be safe in going with any of a number of Cru Beaujolais bottles. Although every Cru has a distinct character, all are share certain elements in common that make them perfect for the Thanksgiving feast: bright cherry flavors, mild tannins, ample acidity, and the ability to meld well with foods — rarely will a Beaujolais overpower a dish.
7. Ballentine Chenin Blanc
Despite its youth (2004 vintage), it has a slightly oxidized, cooked pear thing going on, which is remarkably reminiscent of a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It works very well with the white meat, creamed onions, and sweet potato, and hold up well enough against the cranberry sauce. If you can’t find this at a local retailer, it is available for online order from MyWinesDirect.
8. Domaine des Echards Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune
Fresh, bright cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors and smooth texture match well with the turkey and stuffing, and, not surprisingly, goes well with the cranberry sauce. Like Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir is often an ideal match for turkey, and though this particular bottle is under twenty bucks, I suggest that — if you can afford to do so — you spend on the upper end ($40 ++) for a Premier Cru or higher level red Burgundy. It will be well worth the ducats, should match perfectly with the bird, and might even be life-changing. And after all, it’s a holiday, and you’re with the people you love most … what other excuse is there to spend big bucks on a wine?
9. Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc “Starmont”
This one’s a crowd pleaser, with bright ripe white citrus, melon, and spice flavors on the palate, all held together with ample acidity, with none of the typical grassy / gooseberry character. Notes of apple and spice make it taste more like a Chardonnay than a Sauvignon Blanc, and help it to match with more complex stuffing recipes.
10. Dezzani Dolcetto d’Alba
Light- to medium-bodied, very fresh and bright. The aromas and flavors are dominated by black cherry, but also include a hint of mint and rosemary, melding marvelously with the herb-roasted turkey and stuffing. Who knew an Italian wine from Piedmont would be so good with the bird?
So there you have it — ten wines to try with Thanksgiving dinner. You can download and print a handy shopping list here, which includes a simple listing of all of the above wines, as well as a few other suggestions that didn’t quite make the cut.