Give Thanks for Wine

Whether hosting a small gathering at home or online, our expert suggests wines to perfect your Thanksgiving meal.

Donnie Austin
Frog's Leap Zinfandel, left, and Max Ferd Richter Estate Riesling

Growing up in Indiana, our Thanksgiving would include roasted turkey, dressing, chicken and dumplings, green bean casserole, candied sweet potatoes, a copious array of desserts, Grandma Bea’s famous-to-me sweet tea, and football. Over time, the dishes and drinks have evolved, yet the experience around the table really hasn’t. We’re a little older, there are new takes on the classics, the beverages are more grown-up, and the Detroit Lions still lose a lot of games. 

Wine is a staple for us, whether it’s Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving. For some, it’s an occasion to share a special bottle or two, or maybe you just want to enjoy your favorite chardonnay. Keep in mind that you should drink whatever you want, and it’s more about who’s around the table than what’s on it. But there are some characteristics of wine that create a better pairing if you want to complement what’s on the table. 

Thanksgiving is known as the most difficult meal for matching wines because there’s a broad range of flavors and textures. What to avoid? A lot of tannin or alcohol. Tannin is the component you’ll often find in red wine that makes it feel astringent on your tongue and across your mouth. A lot of alcohol (north of about 15 percent ABV) will amplify spiciness, bitterness and the potential for intoxication. And since you’re spending a lot of time with your family and likely drinking more wine for the occasion, let’s lean toward lower alcohol content, right? Except for drinking bourbon with pecan pie. Some rules are made to be broken. 

What to look for? Wines with more acidity, like sparkling wines, crisp whites and juicier reds, match up better with foods and double as a palate cleanser. This is also a time to open bottles with some residual sugar (the sugar left over after fermentation), since you’re likely to have a mix of sweet and savory dishes. Riesling and gewürztraminer are go-to whites that typically have residual sugar, but they range from bone dry to super sweet. The lower the ABV on the bottle, the more sugar there is in the wine. For reds, pinot noir is lighter and generally food-friendly, while zinfandel has a long history with California winemaking, and its fruit-forward character makes it more approachable if the ABV isn’t excessive. 

Here are some recommendations for you to seek out or request at your favorite wine shop. If you can’t find them or they don’t fit your budget, look for other wineries or brands in these categories with a lower ABV. 

Sparkling Wines 

Argyle, Willamette Valley, Vintage Brut ($28) and Fantini, Abruzzo, Gran Cuvée Rosé ($22) 

Crisp Whites

Max Ferd. Richter, Mosel, Estate Riesling ($17) and Single Post, Mosel, Riesling ($13) 

Light & Juicy Reds

Evesham Wood, Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir ($27) and Ancient Oak Cellars, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir ($40) 


Frog’s Leap, Napa Valley, Zinfandel ($35)