Sommelier Turkey Day Sips
If you're scratching your head as to what to pair with your Thanksgiving feast, you're not alone. With any number of sides and an equally diverse (and frustrating) range of palates, Thanksgiving can be a daunting meal to plan beverage pairings.
But it doesn't have to be.
To that end, Wine Enthusiast has gathered the top tips from the country's best sommeliers, as well as ideas for pairing with sides, beer and Sherry. We also give you our picks for our favorite turkey wine: Pinot Noir.
Sommelier: Jeff Andrus, sommelier, Del Frisco's
Wine recommendation: Robert Foley Vineyards Charbono
Pairs well with: "This wine never fails to delight and intrigue. Its huge, dark, candied berry aromas, dense textures and spicy character delight serious red wine drinkers. Its light, almost non-detectible, silky tannins enamor the less frequent red wine drinkers in the group. What’s especially exciting about this wine is how well it pairs with items containing sweet components, like cranberry sauce, candied yams and sweet glazed ham. Not only does this wine excel with Thanksgiving foods, it has the ability to become even more explosive in its aromas."
Sommelier: Sean Meyer, Estate Sommelier, Destination Winery
Wine recommendation: NV H. Billiot Brut Rosé Champagne
Pairs wells with: "There are few things in the world of wine I’m more thankful for than a well-crafted rosé Champagne. The perplexing juxtaposition of richness of flavor with the delicate texture given by acidity and fine bubbles makes it delightful as an apéritif and for most of what graces our Thanksgiving table. Turkey? Check. Cranberries? Sure! Wild Mushroom Stuffing? Yes, Please!"
Sommelier: Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier and co-owner, Somm Selects
Wine Recommendation: Marcel Lapierre Morgon Beaujolais Cru
Pairs well with: "Lapierre's Morgon Gamay exhibits flavors of tart red cherry, fresh cranberry, dried roses, crushed rocks and dried herbs, which fit perfectly with roasted vegetables. At my home this means red beets, onions and roasted squash. The body of Cru Beaujolais is on the lighter side with bright acidity, low tannin structure and very earth driven flavors balanced with a very creamy texture. This unique lighter structure and balanced fruit allows the flavors of the vegetables and the wine to be experienced in their purity without either the food or wine dominating the experience."
Sommelier: Dwayne Savoie, The Setai South Beach
Wine recommendation: Felton Road Bannockburn Vineyard
Pairs well with: "While many Thanksgiving turkey recipes are best suited for white wines, lighter reds like Pinot Noir have a distinct red berry characteristic that mimics the turkey’s traditional accompaniment, cranberry relish. This Pinot Noir in particular pairs easily with various fragrant spices and light side dishes, such as sweet potatoes."
Sommelier: Jake Daniken, Mercat a la Planxa
Wine recommendation: Alvaro Palacios “Finca Dofi”
Pairs well with: "The wines of Priorat are very spicy and full-bodied, and they pair excellently with the traditional stuffing and slow-roasted turkey. This wine is a blend of Garnacha, Cariñena and some Cabernet Sauvignon to round it out. The predominant sweet and spicy notes from the Garnacha help complement the flavors of fall spices on stuffing while at the same time match up to the sweetness of cranberry sauce."
Sommelier: Dan Mages, Head Sommelier, Urban Farmer
Wine recommendation: 2009 Hawks View Cellars Pinot Noir
Pairs well with: "The Hawks View 2009 Pinot Noir pairs exceptionally well with plum glazed turkey and plum gravy. The wine’s intense cherry fruit layers nicely with the plummy sweetness of the turkey gravy, while the wine's racy acidity and pillowy tannins enrich the elusive flavor of a turkey's five-spice rub. The Pinot's cherry fruit also pairs favorably with a bright cranberry-fig chutney, and the wines earthy qualities enhance and elevate the nuttiness of a chestnut, prune and pancetta stuffing."
Thanksgiving evokes different images and feelings for everyone. With so much food and family involved, personal preferences regarding the great feast run strong, and many of those feelings are all or nothing. Of all the traditions synonymous with the holiday (aside from turkey, of course), one of the most divisive, love-it-or-hate-it dishes is pumpkin pie. If you happen to be a lover, or even an accepter, then you might just be a natural fan of the beer style known fondly as pumpkin ale.
Pumpkin ales are perfect for the fall season, providing crisp carbonation for hotter days and excellent length and warming characteristics (especially those with higher alcohol) for cooler nights. The aromas of these brews are usually strong, spicy, and inviting; open one up, take a big whiff, and transport yourself to the taste of pumpkin pie, fresh from the oven on Thanksgiving night.
Good beer… what more should we be thankful for?
92 Alaskan Pilot Series Pumpkin Porter (Pumpkin Ale; Alaskan Brewing Co., AK). This is a welcome new addition to Alaskan Brewing’s Pinot Series lineup, and worth searching out. It pours a dark-brown, almost black, color, with subtle amber flecks when held against light. The pumpkin-pie spice aromas are front and center, alongside incredibly attractive notes of roasted malt and charred pumpkin slices with caramelized sugar on top. With over 11 pounds of pumpkin added to every barrel, the gourdy flavors are abundant, and the creamy mouthfeel is complemented by assertive baking-spice, molasses and sweet-smoke flavors that carry through to the long finish.
abv: 7% Price: $8/22 oz
91 Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin Ale; Elysian Brewing Co., OR). This is a well-balanced and layered pumpkin brew that offers all of the pumpkin-pie characteristics one expects without being overdone. Over seven pounds of pumpkin go into each barrel brewed, and it shows with upfront notes of mashed pumpkin flesh accented with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and allspice. The malty backbone complements the sweet pumpkin-pie flavors in the medium-weight mouth, but ample carbonation and moderate hop bitterness keeps the palate lifted and inviting. A toasted pumpkin-seed accent unfolds on the long, spicy finish.
abv: 5.9% Price: $9/12 oz 6 pack
90 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Pumpkin Ale; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, DE). This pours a gorgeous, clear burnt-orange color with a small off-white head that quickly fades. The spice aromas—nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—immediately waft from the glass, with the rich, bready malt and roasted-pumpkin core providing a solid backbone. Toasted malt and gourd flavors lead on the medium-bodied palate, with brisk carbonation that keeps the mouthfeel lifted and clean. The spice notes return on the finish, alongside accents of brown sugar and faint hop bitterness.
abv: 7% Price: $9/12 oz 4 pack
Despite the impression that Sherry is a drink consumed only by little old ladies, the finer versions of this wine are actually exquisite—and make perfect food companions, especially Thanksgiving.
Sherry hails from southwestern Spain, outside the town of Jerez de la Frontera. It is fortified with brandy when the fermenting juice is still slightly sweet, and is made in four principal styles: Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Amontillado.
The most common mistake when it comes to serving Sherry is waiting until after dinner, when other fortified wines and stronger drinks work best. The silky flavors and complex palate impression deserves a food companion. Sherry goes well with ham, chorizo sausage and many shellfish recipes, as well as post-prandial plates of dried fruits and nuts.
The driest, most saline style of Sherry, it’s generally made from high-acid Palomino grapes grown in chalky white soils called albariza. Finos are tank-fermented white wines that spend their entire fortified existence under a blanket of yeast called flor, which protects the product from oxidation. Finos usually contain 15–16% alcohol, are best served well chilled, and are dynamite when paired with salty snacks like peanuts, potato chips, cured olives and fried seafood.
Recommendation: González Byass NV Tio Pepe en Rama (San Francisco Wine Exchange; $25) is a specialty fino made from a selection of top barrels from the bodega’s two oldest fino soleras. The current release is the fourth edition of en Rama, slang for a wine in its most unrefined, delicate state.
This flinty style is, in essence, fino made in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanillas, like finos, incorporate the same winemaking and aging-under-flor techniques, which preserve freshness and promote salinity. Because manzanillas are the lightest of Sherries, they pair exceptionally well with raw seafood.
Recommendation: Equipo Navazos NV La Bota de Manzanilla 42 (European Cellars; $50) is the sixth release in a limited series of almacenista manzanillas (basically one barrel of specially selected Sherry purchased from a small producer; in this case, Miguel Sánchez Alaya). Taken from its solera this past February, it’s ideal with mackerel sashimi and Southeast Asian dishes.
There’s no guarantee that a flor blanket will hold, and in cases where it doesn’t, amontillado is the result. Amontillados take on a brown hue, due to extended contact with air inside the solera barrels. And rather than the crisp, saline flavors of finos and manzanillas, amontillados deliver oxidized notes of nuttiness, sautéed mushrooms and a richness best described as umami. Usually about 18% abv, perfect pairings include medium-bodied soups or flavorfully sauced white meats like pork, pheasant or rabbit.
Recommendation: Bodegas Dios Baco S.L. NV 20 Yr. Baco Imperial Amontillado(Colección Internacional del Vino; $80) delivers a blast of walnut and caramel aromas in front of a racy, nervy palate. Flavors of dried apricot, salted peanuts and toffee are offset by firm acidity, making this amontillado versatile with many foods.
Whereas amontillado is a Sherry in which the flor breaks up naturally, an oloroso sees the cellar master intentionally destroy the flor to promote oxidation. Olorosos can be sweet or dry in style, depending on whether the wine includes Moscatel (sweet), or is made strictly from Palomino grapes (dry). Like with amontillado, where the abv is usually around 18–19%, olorosos can withstand decades in barrel, which creates extra richness and complexity.
Recommendation: Gutiérrez-Colosía NV Sangre y Trabajadero (De Maison Selections; $30/375 ml) is a complex, full-bodied oloroso aged at least seven years in a solera prior to bottling. The bodega, which dates back to 1838, is located in El Puerto de Santa Maria, the third town in the “Sherry Triangle,” along with Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Pair this and other fine olorosos with the same foods as an amontillado.
The wildcard of Sherry, palo cortado begins its existence under flor, then loses that cover while tracking toward amontillado. Along the way, however, something mysterious happens, and the wine grows richer and more regal, like oloroso. The name, palo cortado, is derived from a cross traditionally drawn on the barrel’s exterior to note that it’s doing its own thing and isn’t amontillado or oloroso, per sé. Palo cortado is an elegant style of Sherry best enjoyed on its own.
Recommendation: Bodegas César Florido’s Peña del Aguila Chipiona (De Maison Selections; $65/375 ml). According to Mitchell, the wine director at Stella! in New Orleans, Peña del Aguila is a “breathtaking” palo cortado from a 38-year-old solera that delivers a level of quality that “isn’t possessed by any other house I’ve tasted.” With intricate flavors of roasted nuts, fine wood and vanilla, this potent Sherry (21.5% abv) is a wine for connoisseurs.
Pairing with Sides
The Wine: White Burgundy
Common choices tend to be Gamay, Gewürztraminer or Zinfandel, but why not veer left when everybody else veers right and serve white Burgundy? With its ample acidity, it will upgrade even the driest bird.
The Wine: New World Riesling
A fresh, dry Riesling gifted in minerality and stone fruit flavors should amount to more than a hill of beans at the Thanksgiving table, accentuating their crisp, snappy crunch.
The Wine: Loire Chenin Blanc
Cornbread stuffing often sneaks in hints of cumin, cayenne or curry. A dry or off-dry Chenin Blanc will tame these beasts and marry well with the pecans and cranberries.
The Wine: Sparkling Blanc de Blanc
Comforting no matter what the occasion, a dry Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, crafted from Chardonnay grapes, should offset this staple’s butter and cream.
The Wine: California Chardonnay
A rich, powerful Chardonnay will play nice alongside a bite of sweet potatoes topped with ample butter.
The Wine: Rioja Tempranillo
When it comes to the gravy boat, reach for this Spanish stalwart. The leathery smoke and oak will elevate similar tones in a gravy made from the greasy, smoky pan drippings.
The Wine: Oaked New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
It may be the only time of year you eat Brussels sprouts, or you may love them. Either way, a Sauvignon Blanc will work wonders with this divisive dish, the creamier the better.
The Wine: Côte-Rôtie
Breadcrumb stuffing means a lot of things to a lot of people—sometimes it’s plain, sometimes there’s sausage, sometimes there’s oysters. Break out an earthy Rhône made from Syrah.
The Wine: Bual Madeira
Pray for a light hand on the marshmallows, but either way, pour a Bual Madeira, as sweet in brown sugar and nutty caramel as the questionable dish. There. We said it.
The Wine: McLaren Vale Shiraz
An Australian Shiraz thick in jammy cassis and spicy raspberry is the way to go here; it will stand up texturally without clashing with the sauce’s sweet-and-sour overtones.
The Ultimate Thanksgiving Wine: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is back in a big way. Prime evidence is the influx of bargain supermarket brands adding the variety to their lineups. While these cheap choices are meant for glugging, savor premium Pinot Noirs, rife with delicate aromatics, rich textures and elegance, over Thanksgiving dinner and beyond.
Here are 10 top-rated Pinot Noirs from around the world to buy now. Pour some on Thanksgiving, and save some for later.
96 Louis Jadot 2012 Echézeaux. Hugely dense, packed with ripe and generous black fruits, this is a fine and solid wine. It’s already showing its serious side with complex tannins and a dark, brooding texture that also brings out the wood aging. The fruit, a gorgeous array of perfumed black plums and damsons, is developing well, just hinting at how it will be. Drink from 2022. Cellar Selection. —R.V.
abv: 13.5% Price: $280
94 Albert Morot 2012 Aigrots Premier Cru (Beaune). At the south end of the magnificent range of Beaune Premier Crus, Aigrots has the richness and structure of nearby Pommard. With dense tannins, it shows concentration and ripe red fruits that are cut by acidity. It has considerable potential and shouldn’t be enjoyed before 2018. Cellar Selection. —R.V.
abv: 13% Price: $72
94 Sineann 2013 Yates Conwill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton District). This superb site—adjacent to the famed Resonance vineyard—delivers impressive concentration and purity of fruit. Deep flavors of raspberry, red plum and sweet cherry are balanced by refreshing acidity. Young and primary though the flavors are at this point, this clearly has the depth and complexity to be cellared over the next decade. Cellar Selection. —P.G.
abv: 14.5% Price: $42
93 Ata Rangi 2012 Pinot Noir (Martinborough). This looks to be among the best vintages for this wine, or at least one of the most flattering to taste young. Stunning floral notes emerge from the glass, wrapped in ripe black-cherry scents. On the palate, it’s slightly plummier, but still retains those exciting rose-petal nuances and folds in hints of spice and earth. Despite the evident suppleness, there’s a sense of weight and structure that suggests ageability as well. Drink 2015–22. Cellar Selection. —J.C.
abv: 13% Price: $69
92 Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley). This is an impressive effort, especially considering it’s the winery’s mass-production cuvée. All in proportion, it’s built upon an acid/mineral base, with tangy, just-ripe berry fruit. It feels quite delicate, yet has the persistence and structure of a more substantial wine. Aged for 10 months in one-quarter new French oak, it’s worth tucking a few bottles away for a long-term look. Cellar Selection. —P.G.
abv: 13.5% Price: $32
92 Franz Keller 2012 Schwarzer Adler Pinot Noir (Baden). Sweet spice and dried lavender accent blackberry and cherry aromas on this lush, lavish wine. It’s rich in body and fruit, but nuanced by shades of granite and dried leaves, as well as a nervy streak of acidity. Supple and warm on the palate, it finishes with a fringe of soft, delicate tannins. Editors’ Choice. —A.I.
abv: 13% Price: $25
92 Garnet 2012 Pinot Noir (Monterey County). Bacon fat and cream soda meet with a flash of patchouli on the nose of this stunning deal from winemaker/author/blogger Alison Crowe. Cherry cola flavors and luscious red fruits get lifted with smoke and plum-skin bitterness, all set against decent tannins and fresh acidity. Best Buy. —M.K.
abv: 14.2% Price: $15
90 Francis Ford Coppola 2012 Votre Santé Pinot Noir (California). A charming, aromatic, medium-bodied and light-colored offering. It has nuances reminiscent of cherry, herb and walking through a pine forest, along with a tangy texture and fresh finish that lingers. Best Buy. —J.G.
abv: 13.5% Price: $14
90 Luis Felipe Edwards 2011 Marea Pinot Noir (Chile). Fresh tomato, plum, herb and spice aromas are authentic. A medium-bodied palate is lifted and elegant. Flavors of woody spice, light herbs, raspberry and red plum finish racy, with hints of cocoa and white pepper. Among Chilean Pinot Noirs, this is at the top of the field. —M.S.
abv: 14% Price: $25
89 Erath 2012 Pinot Noir (Oregon). This is a fine budget bottle, with an aromatic mix of tart berry and pine needle. There’s a streak of chocolate around a supple, smooth wine that carries its tangy fruit through a satisfying finish, with just a suggestion of tanned leather. Editors’ Choice. —P.G.
abv: 13.5% Price: $19