Tailor Your Turkey to the Wine
The bird is the word, but for some of us, wine is just as central to a stellar Thanksgiving spread. Instead of picking a recipe and matching a wine to it, this year, pick a style of wine and modify the feast to match.
No matter what kind of wine you’re pouring—medium- to full-bodied whites, fruit-forward, light- to mediumbodied reds or complex, rich reds—we’ve got you covered. Three of our favorite chefs have tweaked their stuffing and gravy recipes to match these styles, and also added wine-friendly sides.
Here’s how to tailor your Turkey Day feast to pair with the wines you love best.
Photos by Francesco Majo
Medium to Full-Bodied Whites
Don’t be afraid to use unexpected ingredients like splashes of wine or Bourbon along with dried fruit in your stuffing and gravy. They can add just the right amount of depth and flavor to your Thanksgiving meal when these wines are on the table.
“You might not realize it, but bacon and cherry stuffing with a bit of Bourbon is a natural pairing for a medium- or full-bodied white,” says chef, restaurateur and Food Network personality Marc Murphy.
“The herbaceous thyme and sage in these recipes, as well as the dried cherries, when combined lends well to the crisp acidity found in many white wines,” he says. “Adding a splash of dry white wine to the gravy is just the extra ingredient that ties this menu together.”
Never choose a wine that will overpower the combined flavors of your Thanksgiving meal. “A big, bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work in this case,” says David Lombardo, wine and beverage director for Benchmarc Restaurants (Landmarc, Ditch Plains and Kingside) in New York City. “The wonderful, subtle hints of rosemary, sage and thyme in the gravy and stuffing would be lost.”
The Stuffing: Bacon and Cherry Stuffing with Bourbon
1 loaf crusty white bread
1 pound bacon lardons
1 large white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 cup Bourbon
½ cup butter
6 sprigs of thyme
3 sage leaves
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
10 dried cherries, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes the day before and let sit uncovered overnight. Preheat an oven to 350˚F. In a large sauté pan, render the bacon until crispy, approximately 4 minutes. Once crispy, add the white onion and garlic, cook for 3 minutes, then add the celery and continue to cook until tender. Deglaze with Bourbon and reduce. Add butter and cook until melted.
Rinse the thyme sprigs with water and remove the leaves. Add thyme leaves, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper to the pan. Mix in the cubed bread and chopped cherries. Add the chicken stock to moisten.
Place some of the stuffing in the turkey and the rest in a baking dish. Place baking dish in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Serves 10.
The Gravy: Pan Gravy with Wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine, like a California
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
2½ cups chicken stock
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Rinse thyme sprigs with water and remove the leaves. Reserve.
Remove the roast turkey from the pan and set aside. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium-low heat. Add the white wine to the pan juices and deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape off any pieces stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Add the butter and melt. Add flour and cook until light brown, approximately 3–4 minutes. Slowly add the chicken stock and whisk together, stirring constantly to remove any lumps. Season with salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Serves 10.
“I recommend the 2012 Clos du Val Carneros Estate Chardonnay from Napa Valley,” says Lombardo. “While the hints of fresh oak and toasty vanilla will accentuate the bacon and Bourbon, the lively freshness of pear and Granny Smith apple will lift the stuffing to new heights."
Light- to Medium-Bodied Reds
If light- or medium-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir are crowd favorites, you’re in luck—they tend to balance out the weightiness often associated with jam-packed Thanksgiving dinner plates.
“Wines like Pinot Noir pair beautifully at Thanksgiving, because they’re not too heavy and work with so many flavor profiles,” says Victor Scargle, executive chef at Lucy Restaurant & Bar in Yountville, California. “When you have a lighter, fruitier wine, it can really balance out the meal,” he says. “These wines tend to have less alcohol content as well, which will ensure you keep the evening lively.”
With light- or medium-bodied reds, make sure to taste the wines well before you start cooking—yes, this is the fun part. Keep an eye on fresh herbs and earthy ingredients that match notes and aromas in the wines you’re planning to pour. “Based on the wine, you can add different herbs to the gravy to brighten the dish, like lemon thyme, or add depth, like marjoram or oregano,” says Scargle. “And you can incorporate items into your stuffing, like mushrooms or fennel, to match the qualities you find in a specific Pinot Noir as well.”
The Stuffing: Lemon Thyme Brioche Stuffing
¼ cup diced carrots
½ cup grape seed oil
1 fennel bulb, diced small
1 leek stalk, diced small
1 celery stalk, diced small
8 crimini mushrooms, diced small
1 loaf of brioche, cut into ½-inch squares
½ cup clarified butter
3 tablespoons kosher salt, to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon marjoram leaves
Preheat an oven to 325˚F.
Place the carrots and a splash of grape seed oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Cook until tender, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and remove from heat. Reserve.
Repeat the same process for the fennel, leek, celery and mushrooms, allowing for varying lengths of cooking time. Allow the vegetables to cool, combine in a large bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, toss the brioche squares with the clarified butter and toast them on a lined baking sheet in the oven until they’re golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Adjust the oven temperature to 400˚F.
Add the toasted brioche to the vegetables, mix gently and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Bake the stuffing on a baking sheet for approximately 8–10 minutes, until golden brown. Garnish with the fresh herbs and serve. Serves 8.
The Gravy: Turkey and Sausage Gravy
4 ounces butter
6 ounces flour
6 chicken-apple sausages, preferably Adele’s, cooked and diced
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
5 shallots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 bunches thyme
4 quarts turkey stock
2 quarts heavy cream
In a saucepan over low heat, make a roux by melting the butter and stirring in the flour until the raw flour has cooked down, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside.
Cook the sausages according to package directions and dice into small pieces. Reserve.
Add grapeseed oil to a medium-sized saucepot over medium-high heat and caramelize the shallots with mustard seeds, black peppercorns, coriander, fennel seed and thyme. Add turkey stock and reduce by half, approximately 20 minutes. Once reduced, strain mixture through chinois. Place liquid back in pot and stir in roux. Continue stirring over medium heat until gravy becomes thick. Finish with cream and diced sausage. Keep warm for use right away or refrigerate. Serves 8.
Anani Lawson, sommelier at Lucy’s Restaurant & Bar, recommends the Champ de Rêves 2011 Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley to pair with the turkey and sausage gravy.
“This wine is bright and lively, and will support the meaty character of the gravy,” says Lawson. For the lemon thyme brioche stuffing, Lawson suggests Deovlet’s 2012 Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County. “Its fresh cherry character with minerality and spice makes it a complete Pinot—a great pair with the aromatics of the stuffing,” he says.
When a big, bold Barolo, Bordeaux or California Cabernet is on your agenda this Thanksgiving, prepare to unleash your inner carnivore, and we’re not just talking turkey.
“Complex, full-bodied red wines, depending on their profile, generally call for something meaty, with a decent fat content to balance them out,” says Christopher Lee, executive chef at The Forge in Miami. “To match with the nuanced flavors and aromas in red wines, home cooks can add red meats to their Thanksgiving recipes, which could range from beef to even lesser-used dark game meats, like venison,” says Lee.
Since roast turkey is generally lean (and in some cases, downright dry), Lee incorporates beef-based kielbasa into his stuffing and utilizes giblets from the turkey, which have a high fat content, helping to enrich the gravy.
Another way to complement the often brawny flavors of full-bodied reds?
“Look for recipes with a touch of something sweet— ingredients like dark red fruit or honey,” says Lee. “By adding fruit, prunes in this case, it allows us to pair the dish with any wine that has a red fruit or smoky profile.”
The Stuffing: Sourdough Stuffing with Prunes and Kielbasa
6 cups diced sourdough bread
10 thyme sprigs
1 sprig rosemary
1 pound kielbasa, cut into ¼-inch-thick half moons
½ pound butter
1 cup diced onion
¼ of a whole fennel bulb, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, diced small
½ cup chopped parsley
2 cups rough-chopped prunes
4 cups beef stock
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
4 tablespoons salt and pepper
Allow the diced sourdough bread to sit uncovered on a baking sheet overnight.
Rinse the thyme and rosemary, remove leaves and mince. Set aside.
Preheat an oven to 375˚F degrees on convection setting.
In a large pan, lightly brown the kielbasa in the butter over medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, garlic and celery and allow to brown lightly (approximately 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Add the thyme, rosemary, parsley and prunes and stir in the sourdough bread cubes. Toss lightly, then add the stock and eggs. Using a folding motion, fold everything together until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the stuffing into a well-buttered baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 375˚F before serving. Serves 8.
The Gravy: Turkey Giblet Gravy
Giblets from the turkey
1 cup milk (or enough to cover giblets)
3 ounces vegetable oil
¼ cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup red wine (similar to what you’ll be pouring with dinner)
6 cups turkey stock
1 sprig sage
Place the giblets in a bowl or dish and cover with milk. Allow giblets to soak, covered, for 1 hour.
Place a medium-sized saucepot over medium heat. Once the pot gets hot, pour oil into the pot and add the onion, garlic and giblets.
Once brown, approximately 4–5 minutes, add the butter and flour to the pot and mix well. After 2 minutes, deglaze with the red wine, turkey stock and sage. Cook the gravy for at least 25 minutes uncovered.
When it has reached the desired thickness, remove the sage and transfer the mixture to a hand blender.
Blend until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl or gravy boat. Serves 8–12.
Gino Santangelo, sommelier at The Forge, recommends the 2010 Quintessa from Napa Valley to pair with the kielbasa and prune stuffing and giblet gravy. “With beautiful, bright black cherry notes for the palate, it’s the closest wine in taste to a Bordeaux,” says Santangelo. “It has a generous, supple mouthfeel with a silky texture, and the finish is rich with a lingering, fruity essence.”