Pairing Wine with Food: What wines pair best with Roast Turkey at Thanksgiving?

Oven Roasted Turkey Breast
Oven Roasted Turkey Breast

You’re the “visiting team” this year for Thanksgiving, and you’ve been asked to bring the wine.  A panic sets in.  With all the choices, how do you begin to choose?

Let’s assume you don’t know the specifics of the stuffing and side-dishes ahead of time, but you’re pretty sure roast turkey will be served.

You’re in luck:  here are a shy-dozen varietals that pair extremely well with nearly all roast turkey recipes.

We’d recommend:

1)  Pinot Noir, particularly from Oregon and California

As a northwesterner, an Oregon Pinot Noir is often my go-to choice at Thanksgiving, and I’m never disappointed with this choice.  At recent Thanksgivings, we’ve enjoyed the wines from Erath vineyard, Cloudline and Argyle at our table; they’re all in the moderate range of $14-28 per bottle.

“My Thanksgiving Pinot Noir recommendation?  Hendry Pinot Noir is delicate and is a wine with flavors of plum and wild cherries in it.” (About $33.) – Chef John Besh

2)  Sparkling Shiraz

Bring a couple bottles of sparkling shiraz for an unusual and delicious treat.  Joshua Wesson, wine director of Best Cellars thinks it’s the perfect accompaniment for your holiday dinner.  “Dry sparkling Shiraz is breathtakingly spectacular with Thanksgiving dinner.  It hits every note and has something for everyone.”  And the bubbles are sure to signal the start of the holiday season.

3)  Shiraz (non-sparkling, i.e., still)

“My specific bottle recommendation is the Fruit Machine Shiraz ($8). Turkey is actually quite wine friendly and will pair well with many white and red wines. The problem is all the side dishes- sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, etc. You need something abundantly fruit, rich and supple textured. Aussie Shiraz is just the ticket.” – Efrain Madrigal, Wine Director, Sam’s Wines & Spirits, Chicago.

4)  Syrah

A good friend of mine has just started a new winery called Avennia, and they’ve come out with a terrific Syrah blend that’s winning some accolades in the Northwest.  We don’t have enough bottles of this just yet, but I’d happily uncork what few bottles we have with our rather large gathering this year.

“When most people think of wine from Washington State they immediately go to their Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, and the various regions throughout the state do an amazing job with those varietals.  But don’t forget the powerful Syrah coming out of Washington, Walla Walla in particular.  Amavi Cellars 2009 Syrah combines both dark fruit, like black cherry, blackberry and figs with mineral notes and earthy undertones.  A well balanced wine that will compliment any dish on a Thanksgiving table.” – sidedish magazine

5 & 6)  White Burgundy or California Chardonnay

Both of these chardonnays will pair well with most Thanksgiving turkeys and are a very safe choice.

7)  Zinfandel, especially fruity

Fruity zinfandels will help accentuate the savory dishes traditionally served at Thanksgiving, and amplify the fruits and berries.  Pairs well with cranberry sauce.

8)  Merlot

Yes, Merlot.  It may be the bane of Miles, the dispirited protagonist in the movie Sideways, but you know, he’s wrong.  There are some fantastic and affordable Merlot choices out there, and they pair quite well with roast turkey and stuffing.

9)  Gewürztraminer

Looking for something a little different this year?  Step away to the Alsace region of France and choose a light but slightly spicy Gewürztraminer.  Be sure to confirm with your winemerchant first (or online) whether the wine of your choice is sweet or dry, as Gewürtsraminer can range from very dry to very, very sweet.

10 & 11)  Reisling dry and/or Kabinett (a riesling made from the earliest harvest)

Varietals to Avoid with Roast Turkey

Just to help narrow the field, generally, we feel that tart and lemony wines won’t work very well with the subtle and savory flavors of Thanksgiving, nor do harshly dry wines.  We’d avoid these (otherwise wonderful) varietals with a main course of roast turkey:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio
  • Madiera
  • Malbec (pure malbec, not in a blend)
  • Chianti (dry)
  • Viognier
  • Vouvray
  • Rioja
  • Sancerre

But who are we to tell you what you can and cannot drink?  If you enjoy it – enjoy it, and don’t let us stop you.  It’s the holidays.

It goes to Eleven:  Brine your Bird!

Cooking the turkey this year?  Our advice is to plan ahead and brine it overnight in a cooler, with ice to keep it cold all night.  [Health note – be sure it stays cold!]

You’ll be rewarded with a much juicier and succulent final product.

This is part of our ongoing series on food & wine pairings here at BigOven.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy Cooking!

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