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!

Pairing Wine with Food: Chardonnay

shutterstock_44202322Chardonnay is one of the most popular and versatile wine varietals in the world.   Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape that originated in the Burgundy region of France and is still the most popular white varietal grown in that region. 

Most white Burgundies are therefore chardonnays, but open a white Burgundy next to a chadonnay from California, Washington State, Australia or New Zealand, and you’ll find each bring vastly different flavor profiles, depending upon which region of the world they’re from.

Chardonnay is also a very important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including champagne.  The sparkling wine “blanc de blanc” (white from white) denotes a sparkling wine made entirely from Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay’s Superpowers:  Survivability and Malleability

The grape is known to be highly “malleable”, in that it not only thrives in many climates, but it takes on the characteristics of the local “terroir” (micro-climate, land and region) more readily than some other varietals.  In this way, it is more of a blank canvas than, say, a cabernet sauvignon or even a sauvignon blanc.

One implication:  if you’ve only tried a few different brands or regions of Chardonnay, you’re missing out on a wide variety of options and flavors.  Be sure to try a white Burgundy, a California Chardonnay, an Italian Chardonnay, an Australian and a New Zealand one over time.

Common Tasting Notes You’ll Read About Chardonnay

By far, the word “butter” stands out when reading the many tasting notes on Chardonnay.  To many of us, the mouth-feel and flavor of a very good chardonnay is reminiscent of butter:  rich, delicious, and savory.  You’ll see how this dominant note of chardonnay plays into our “ideal pairings” list, below.

shutterstock_51330409What foods pair well with chardonnay?

Chardonnay wines are generally medium to full-bodied white wines that are rich and complex.  They can be big and buttery in mouth-feel, or crisp, somewhat tart and young.  In the United States, California chardonnays are extremely popular and widely available, though some experts consider the most popular brands to be too sweet and/or overly “oaky”.  Italian chardonnays are also quite popular and are great choices to serve with pasta dishes with cream sauce, or risotto dishes.

One rule of thumb we have for you is that in general, foods that you might put butter on often pair well with a medium to full-bodied chardonnay.  (That is, if instead your dish would be complemented by putting lime or lemon on it, let it signal to you a more tart wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.)

For instance, great pairings to consider with Chardonnay are:

Great Flavor Pairings


shutterstock_113894317When a wine is called “oaky”, it’s because it’s been infused with a flavor from its aging and storage.  Many chardonnays are aged in oak barrels, and depending upon how old they are, whether they are seasoned, smoked or not, the wine will take on an oaky characteristic on the palate. 

On this subject, Chef Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux has said “Wine is an art, and oak is a frame, and if you have too large a frame, it detracts from the painting.”  Oaky chardonnays can be good paired with salads, cheeses, and lighter dishes. 

Pairing Wine With Food:  Other Articles to Follow

As cooks, we know that some foods just go well together.  That’s why we’ve recently introduced Menus, which let you create and share your favorite pairings on BigOven.  These menus can then go right on your calendar, be emailed to others, or put straight to a grocery list.  Create and share your own favorite food and wine pairings today – in particular, try creating a menu that pairs this Chardonnay “recipe” with another few dishes or notes, and help inspire other cooks with your ideas!   Just click on the “Create a Menu” button on the right hand side of the Chardonnay recipe page.

This is the first in our series of articles on pairing wine with food.  Want to see more on this topic?  Please “Like” this post, below.  Got a comment or a great pairing to suggest?  Please add it below.  Happy cooking! climbing in traffic

I was pleased to see the progress is making in climbing up the traffic ranks.  Marcelo Calbucci of Sampa keeps a ranking of the top Seattle "Web 2.0" startups; BigOven climbed 11 spots to rank #31 on the list for October. outpaced multi-milliondollar-backed startups like,,, and others for the month.  Several more interesting features are on their way over the coming months… stay tuned!

Ali G Invents the Ice Cream Glove

I just got back from the Keiretsu Angel Investors forum in San Francisco.  There, we heard pitches of all variety of quality. 

While the process is exhilerating and extremely well-run, the process itself is ripe for satire.  Ebullient startup CEO’s play Beat the Clock to explain their entire businesses (and industries!) in 10 minutes or less to a crowd with diverse expertise, and angel investors try to outdo each other with witty, self-deprecating introductions and reflections about their ascent into the multi-millionaires club.

Sacha Baron Cohen is famous for his character Borat, but before that, he had another character called Ali G. One of the funniest bits he did was a pitch of a couple fictitious business ideas — the Ice Cream Glove and the Hover Board. The satire is pretty rich, but believe it or not, I’ve got it on pretty good authority that some pitches really are this bad. – A Social Network About Food

Recipearchiveb3 is a growing recipe sharing network that I’ve been building up brick-by-brick. 

At present, the product portfolio includes award-winning recipe software for Windows, – a massive online recipe archive (160,000+ recipes), and free mobile companions for Palm and Windows Mobile.  All the products work together, to try to solve the "What to make for dinner tonight?" problem easier to answer for home cooks.

BigOven integrates seamless access to the archive with (optional) Windows desktop software.  You can search recipes by ingredient (e.g., use up those chicken breasts in your fridge).  You can drag and drop the recipe cards you want onto a shopping list, and boom! — a sorted grocery list is generated for you.  Or, if you’d like, you can drag recipes onto an Outlook-style calendar and plans meals in advance.

BigOven is profitable, and growing.  It’s also been a terrific sandbox for me to experiment around with various social networking concepts, such as peer-produced content, tagging, and more.  At this writing, we’ve got about 50,000 members, and have sold a great deal of desktop recipe software.