Editor’s note: Our resident wine-o extraordinaire, Marissa Reibstein, recently shared Part I and Part 2 of her amazing Wine Safari through Northern Spain. Today she is back with everything you need to know about buying wine for Thanksgiving feasting. So for this edition of Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines – The Best Shopping List. 

There is a lot to get stressed out about around the holidays – family, travel, entertaining, family…Which wine to bring or to serve should NOT be one of them.  Many of my friends and family call me this time of year with the question, “What wine do I serve at Thanksgiving? How do I pair with all these sides?! HELP!”

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines - The Best Shopping List

The tough thing about Thanksgiving wine pairing is that you’re serving a lot of different dishes: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, spiral ham, green beans, brussels sprouts, maybe even beef wellington (if you’re super ambitious like my mom).  There are a lot of different spices and flavors mingling so you want to find a wine that can stand up to all of that chaos (yes, I’m talking about the food, not the political dinner conversation).  You also want crowd pleasers as well as wines that will please the snobbiest relatives (ahem, me).

So below, I’ve put together my ultimate Thanksgiving wine picks.  It’s exactly what I’d send to my family and closest friends.   Every wine shop is different, but this is a handy checklist that you can just print out and bring with you.  Your local merchant will be glad to help!

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines -The Best Shopping List

PHOTO: Ben Rayner

Sparkling Wine or Champagne:

I feel strongly about this.  Every holiday should start with a little festive fizz.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a cork popping and glasses clinking when the gathering commences?  Exactly.  Everyone loves the bubbly.

If you want to go all out, get a bottle of champagne.  If you are on a tighter budget, I suggest a cava or a prosecco.  Any one will do.  You can add a bit of Saint Germain spirit to either for a little elderflower flavoring.  It’s really quite lovely.

One of my hostess secrets is adding a dash of Cappelletti to the sparkling wine.  It’s a beautiful red Italian liquor that’s like a combination of Campari and Aperol.  It makes for a very pretty drink.

If your family is like mine, you might want to get more than one bottle of whatever sparkling wine you choose.  Some folks love to drink bubbly all day/night long (again…me).  It pairs well with everything, and especially with a cheese plate and whatever appetizers you’re serving to start.

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines - The Best Shopping List

White Wines: Chablis/Beaune or Vouvray:

Chardonnay is one of those divisive wines, but it really doesn’t have to be.  My suggestion:  go French.  Specifically, go to Burgundy.  Chablis is chardonnay so it is a food-friendly wine and a crowd-pleaser, but it won’t make the oak-haters go mental because it’s not made in that buttery, oaky California style that is polarizing.  It is very fresh and dry with bright green apple acidity and nice mineral undertones. You could also pick a wine from Beaune. This Chardonnay will have a bit more body and flowery undertones but still won’t overwhelm.

Vouvray is just such a cool wine, trust me on this.  It’s not the most familiar wine to most folks, so you look super knowledgeable when you bring it or introduce your guests to it.  Vouvray is an appellation in the Loire Valley in France and the grape used to make it is Chenin Blanc.  Since Chenin Blanc is such a versatile grape, there are lots of different styles of this wine.  For Thanksgiving, you should opt for a “sec” or “demi-sec” selection.   “Sec” is the driest and “demi-sec” is just a little bit sweet (but the high acid in the wine makes sure it is very well balanced and not cloying).  If you have Riesling-lovers amongst your clan, this is a fun one to share.  Vouvray has aromas and flavors of honey, nuts, ginger, fig, apples and white flowers.  So yummy with turkey and all the fixings.

(Bonus white wine: Gewürztraminer.  So if you want to be a bit funky, get a Gewürztraminer from Alsace.  Talk to your wine merchant and make sure it’s a dry one because sometimes you can’t tell from the bottle.  This wine is very aromatic with notes of spicy ginger, lychee, rose, and honey.  I think it would pair so well with many Thanksgiving dishes but it doesn’t fit the overall crowd-pleaser criteria.)

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines - The Best Shopping List

Red Wines: Cru Beaujolais or Zinfandel:

Beaujolais is my NUMBER ONE holiday wine pick.  If you only serve one wine, it’s this.  Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy, but it’s a separate area and it is made from the Gamay grape.

There are three different levels of Beaujolais:

  • Nouveau (skip this one, it is too young and light to pair with Thanksgiving food)
  • Villages
  • Cru  – I think you should pick this one. The top-level Beaujolais is best, but if you can’t find one and you get your wine shop to recommend a nice Villages level wine, that’s good too.

Cru Beaujolais are light to medium bodied, full of glorious red fruit aromas and flavors like redcurrant and raspberry, and goes with poultry, beef, pork, vegetarian foods: literally, everything. They are easy to drink and can be served a bit chilled too, which will please the white wine drinkers.

*** Just to confuse you a bit, the Cru Beaujolais aren’t labeled that way.  They have the individual Crus listed on the label (there are 10 of them and each is a little bit different).  I’d suggest Brouilly if you want a lighter bodied choice; Fleurie if you want a medium bodied choice; or Morgon for the most complex and fuller bodied choice with a bit of earth and spice.

And, because I can’t write a blog post about Thanksgiving wines and include only French selections….my final suggestion is Zinfandel from California.

Zinfandel is definitely not a lighter wine like Beaujolais.  This is the wine to serve people who want their fruit-bomb, but with some spice.  It’s dark purple, very full-bodied, but usually with softer tannins and medium acidity.  The aromas and flavors are of blackberry, black cherry, currant, and plum, with black pepper, licorice, and typically some vanilla and baking spice from the oak aging process.  You can get some amazing Zinfandel from Napa and Sonoma (which really need our support right now), Lodi, Amador County (one of my faves!), as well as other parts of California.

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Wines - The Best Shopping List

Optional Sweet Ending: Moscato di Asti:  

If you want to bring dessert but can’t stand the idea of baking a pie, bring a chilled Moscato di Asti.   (Or maybe you just want to drink your calories instead of eating them, I feel you.) It’s lightly sparkling Italian dessert wine that is the perfect sweet ending to a meal, with aromas of orange blossom and honey.  But it’s not cloying or syrupy, so you can enjoy it with any dessert you’ll find in the spread, even apple pie.

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Marissa, a New Yorker with a serious case of wanderlust, loves traveling the globe discovering wine (and the food that goes along with it, of course). You know she's serious about the juice - how many other Brooklynites have a EuroCave wine cellar in their one-bedroom apartment? Marissa is a certified WSET Level 3 graduate in wines and when she's not swirling her glass she raises funds for the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community institution in Manhattan. Check out more of her Wine Wednesday features here!