If you are spending hours making the perfect turkey, spend a few extra minutes thinking about what wine will help it shine. The same reason that turkey dries out easily (it has a low-fat content) is the reason it pairs well with full bodied white wine or medium-bodied red wine that have strong acid and low tannins.
By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego
If I lost you after “white meat,” don’t worry! The below wine guide will make it easy to pick out the perfect wine to pair with your turkey. Some wines you’ll probably be familiar with and some are less known varietals, but they will all work well with your turkey dinner.
In addition to white wine that pairs well with turkey, you’ll also want to think about a wine that you can drink before dinner and throughout the meal until dessert. The right wine can bring out the best in your food, the acid levels and flavor notes making your meal extraordinary. Instead of just stocking up on one varietal, try a few of the below white wine options so that there is something for everyone.
Insiders tip: You can up the fancy factor by decanting the wine before dinner. Letting the wine breathe will help open it up, often making the wine taste more expressive. And, serving your wine in a decanter will add a beautiful look to your table, giving the dinner a more elegant vibe. Your dinner party guests won’t realize they are drinking two buck chuck if you serve it out of a crystal decanter!
Pinot Noir is a well-loved red wine that pairs with everything from turkey to Brussel sprouts. With a lighter, more acidic Pinot Noir, the wine won’t overpower your turkey and can carry you throughout your entire meal. While you might not think of Oregon as wine country, they grow exceptional Pinot Noirs, many of which are at an affordable price point. South America also has some fantastic, richer Pinot Noirs, especially out of Chile. For a classic turkey pairing, you can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir as a traditional accompaniment to turkey, stuffing, and all of your Thanksgiving favorites!
A bold Zinfandel is fruity and jammy, a low tannin red wine that pairs well with lighter meats like turkey. Especially with dark turkey meat, Zinfandel’s raspberry undertones balance the meal. Expect an intense array of flavors in the Zinfandel profile, including notes of tobacco or spice in addition to the full berry flavors. Zinfandel is synonymous with California wine, so you’ll have an easy time finding a red Zinfandel from the state.
Tuscan red wine Sangiovese is savory and deep, with musky leather notes along with bright red berries. While the tannins in Sangiovese might be a little strong, if you aerate the wine before serving, it should smooth them out. If you’re having trouble finding Sangiovese at the store, it might be because while Sangiovese is the type of grape, the wines are sometimes labeled by region instead – look for “Chianti.”
Gamay wines are perfect for turkey with lots of acid and low tannins. Gamay is a less well-known varietal, but you should have a good selection in a robust wine shop. Check out the Beaujolais Nouveau style of Gamay, which is fermented for only a few weeks before (conveniently for Thanksgiving) being released on the third Thursday of November each year. The light-bodied wine is easy to drink and pairs with a wide range of food, including turkey.
Tempranillo is the main grape grown in Spain’s Rioja region, also called Spain’s “noble grape.” With a pedigree like that, you can expect a ruby red color and notes of plum and strawberries. Its neutral profile means that it can multitask during your Thanksgiving dinner, pairing with turkey and all the sides.
Red Rhône Blend
For smoked turkey, consider a Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre that lends to a balanced and full-bodied flavor. Because of their complexity, the blend works great with smoked meat, yet is still light enough for poultry.
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon but feel like it’s too heavy to match with your turkey, try the lighter bodied Cabernet Franc. In addition to the namesake French wines, there are also great options in the United States, from California and Washington.
Syrah (or Shiraz)
For a spicy note, Syrah (or Shiraz) will add a little zing to your turkey. A hint of pepper in the wine will acts as a balance to the salty dishes on your table. While Syrahs from the Old World are the classic choice, there are some wonderful options from California and Washington as well. A hard-to-find delight is Sparkling Shiraz from Australia, a chilled, fizzy red wine that is a festive addition to your meal.
Dessert Red Wines
The wine you drink after your turkey deserves a note as well. Switch from savory to sweet with a Port dessert wine. The sweet wine is not all sugar, there are still layers of flavor and complexity in the Portuguese red dessert wine, offering a profound ending to your meal.Riesling
Rieslings can either be sweet or dry, and most people are more familiar with the sweet versions. A dynamic, dry Riesling is a great option for pairing for turkey since it’s crisp and refreshing. Especially if you have any spice on your turkey, a Riesling will cool it off and balance out your palate. Flavors of apple and honey will help you embrace fall while its acid pairs well with rich turkey.
A light and lively Pinot Gris is a classic pairing to roasted turkey. Flavors of peach and bright acidity will drink well on its own or with your poultry. You can find pinot from many different regions including France or locally from Oregon.
An oaked, full-bodied chardonnay works well with your turkey as well as traditional Thanksgiving sides. The buttery taste adds richness to a turkey that might have gotten dried out, and the mineral undertones will balance the flavor. Chardonnays can vary dramatically depending on where they come from, with American Chardonnays often being much more fruit-forward. The exception? Chardonnay from Napa Valley has a fantastic toast and vanilla flavor that works great with turkey.
Champagne and other sparkling wines offer a celebratory feeling that matches well with the special occasions that turkey tends to accompany. Open it up with that festive “pop” and watch your friends’ faces light up! For drier champagne, look for a Brut, or for a sweet sparkling wine, Moscato. Prosecco tends to be just a little sweet, and Spanish Cava actually goes through a very similar process as the traditional Champagne method so will be the most comparable wine at a lower price point. If you happen to be serving a fried turkey, sparkling wine will be your best pick for pairing, the acidity and bubbles cutting the fat and shining with the heavy dish.
Aromatic Gewurztraminer makes an enchanting accompaniment to your turkey dinner. Spice notes of nutmeg and clove will spell like the holidays with one sniff, and the off-dry fruit flavors will be a crowd-pleaser. While it is not one of the more well known white wines, you can share with your guests both the pronunciation (Ge-VURZ-tra-MEAN-er) as well as the origin of the name: In German, ‘Gewürz’ means spice and ‘traminer’ means grape.
Shake things up with Viognier, with a voluptuous body that makes a wonderful match to turkey. Honey flavors create a warm and easy pairing with poultry and the light, balanced profile will compliment without overwhelming the bird.
An aperitif wine is a European-style way to warm up your turkey dinner. Lillet Blanc, the French classic, combines white wine with fruits, citrus zest, and aromatic barks. The sweet aperitif wine can be served over ice for a fun and unusual Thanksgiving sip.
You’ve probably heard it said that the best wine to pair with any particular dish is one that you love to drink. For that reason, Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite white wine and adored by so many others, makes this list. Many Sauvignon Blancs actually pair very well with turkey, with light herbaceous notes. My favorite Sauvignon Blancs are from New Zealand, with tropical fruit notes that make you feel like you should be poolside. This, many wine experts would say, does not pair especially well with turkey. But, if you drink what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, and that is something to remember as you are spending hours cooking the perfect bird.
Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based blogger and freelance writer who writes about travel, food, cannabis, and relationships. Follow her @discovermichelle or visit https://www.eatdrinkbesd.com/. Her work has appeared in national magazines like Marie Claire, Forbes, Cosmo, Reader’s Digest, and Bustle.