Taking Sides: Wines for Thanksgiving

by Kylene Keith and Merrill Maiano

If ever there were a food lover's holiday, Thanksgiving would be it. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie-we get hungry just thinking about it. Of course, a Thanksgiving meal wouldn't be complete without a little something to wash it all down. With so many dishes, it might seem daunting to pair just one wine with everything. Luckily, you don't have to. Instead of trying to match the multitude of flavors present in a Thanksgiving meal with one type of wine, we suggest having a variety of wines at the table. Think about the dominant flavors in each side dish and what wine would complement them. We've provided a few of our favorite recipes to help inspire you.

Ris Lacoste's 1789 Sausage Stuffing
The pork sausage, bacon, and ham in this dish need a wine that will accentuate those meaty, smoky flavors. However, you don't want a wine that is too powerful and overwhelming for the rest of the dinner. A red Spanish Rioja would be a great match because the spicy, smoky nuances are supported by ripe fruit flavors. The long period of oak maturation that Riojas endure make them complex and inviting wines for a Thanksgiving meal that incorporates exotic spices and stronger flavors.

Julia Child's Plain Mashed Sweet Potatoes
A Spatlese or Auslese Riesling from Germany has the ripe fruit flavors and round texture to match these buttery potatoes, but a dry finish that cleanses the palate. The crisp acidity in this wine will cut through the richness of a hearty Thanksgiving meal with especially rich trimmings and creamy sauces. Another way to approach this dish is to complement it with a full-bodied wine with an equally creamy texture and luscious fruit flavors. An American Viognier fits the bill exactly with an intense floral aroma, plus a lush mouthfeel that will mimic the creaminess of the sweet potatoes.

Alex Stratta's Cranberry and Ginger Sauce
Cranberry sauce is a tough one when it comes to choosing a wine pairing. A tart and tangy dish needs a light-bodied red wine with good fruit concentration, soft tannins and plenty of acidity. Try a French Beaujolais or an American Pinot Noir. Fresh and juicy red wines that have not been aged in oak are great choices for any traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Pamela Morgan's Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Sauce
This alternative to the old standard calls for a dessert wine that will not only enhance the flavors of the dessert, but also serve as a proper cap to a wonderful meal. A Hungarian Tokaji Aszu typically delivers flavors of apricots and golden raisins with a nutty finish that will complement the pecan praline sauce. A Tawny Port is another dessert wine that would be a great finale to this meal. It also has a nutty character, but with a rich and luxurious texture that is sure to stand up to the cheesecake.