Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed something-or-other, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole and the obligatory pumpkin pie: chances are many of us will be eating some combination of (or variation on) that tried-and-true Thanksgiving meal.
In terms of wine pairing, there are some go-to, surefire winners for your Thanksgiving dinner. On the white wine side of things, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are always good standbys — their bright stone-fruit notes (and, in the case of the latter, the spice component) tend to work brilliantly with your typical Thanksgiving fare. There are plenty of examples of both being made in Germany, Canada, Australia and beyond.
For reds, generally a lighter and/or fruit-forward wine is the way to go — think New World Pinot Noir, Gamay from France’s Beaujolais region, American Zinfandel, Grenache-based blends from the Rhône Valley or Spain and so on.
But you can give thanks that when it comes to wine and food pairing (Thanksgiving and otherwise), there are no hard, fast rules — drink what you like with whatever food you like. Sometimes the best wine-and-food combinations are the ones where some thinking outside the box (or the bird, as it were) takes place.
For white wines, South African Chenin Blanc or Viognier-based blends from the Rhône Valley, Chile or B.C. will bring intense ripe stone-fruit flavours and an incredibly viscous texture that will be a home run at the Thanksgiving dinner table. For lighter options, the greener notes in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will work well with the more savoury dishes, while the acidity will cut through any fattiness coming with the turkey.
On the red side of things, an Italian Valpolicella (lighter-bodied), Merlot (medium) from pretty much anywhere or an Argentine Malbec (full-bodied) will fit the bill.
Pumpkin pie is where things can get tricky. It’s not as sweet as most desserts, and also brings that distinct clove/cinnamon/allspice component. The general rule for dessert and wine pairings is that you don’t want either of the two to be way sweeter than the other.
But rules are made to be broken. Thanksgiving (or any meal with a larger group) is the ideal time to break out that dusty bottle of icewine that’s been languishing on your wine rack, waiting for the right opportunity. And if you don’t have one of those kicking around (and don’t want to break the bank), give pumpkin pie a go with a more budget-friendly late-harvest wine, especially one made from the aromatic, spice-driven Muscat grape. Alternately, swing by the sherry section and grab a medium-sweet amontillado or oloroso from Spain, pop over to the port section for a tawny or go way off the beaten track and pop the cork on an Italian Lambrusco, a sparkling red that’s on the sweeter side and that will get the table talking.
Use your instincts, ask for suggestions at your favourite shop, but in the end don’t sweat the small stuff — the worst thing that can happen is your wine won’t pair with your delicious Thanksgiving meal.
Kruger Rumpf 2017 Weisser Burgunder Trocken (Nahe, Germany — $14.59, Liquor Mart and beyond)
This German Pinot Blanc has been de-listed by Manitoba Liquor Marts, meaning it’s deeply discounted — once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. It’s medium straw colour and clear, with fresh red-apple, peach and pear notes. On the palate, it’s light-bodied and dry — as more and more German wines are becoming — with those fruit flavours bringing loads of freshness; an underlying sweet orange and honeycomb note are a nice surprise as well. The original price of $20.84 probably scared off any curious but unsure imbibers, but for under $15 it’s a great deal. But buyer beware: there are still some bottles of the (too old) 2014 vintage out there. ★★★1/2
The Crossings 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Awatere Valley/Marlborough, New Zealand - $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Pale straw in colour and clear, this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers grapefruit, gooseberry, green apple, light herbal and almost briny, salty notes. It’s dry and light-bodied, with moderate acidity that highlights lemon-lime, grapefruit, light herbal and chalky notes on the palate before a medium finish. While it’s not earth-shatteringly complex, it should please most palates gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table. ★★★
Pearce Predhomme 2016 Syrah/Cinsault (Stellenbosch, South Africa — around $26, private wine stores)
A joint South African venture between Ontario wine guys Nicholas Pearce and Will Predhomme, this red blend offers all manner of cherry, herbal, resin, raspberry and blackberry aromas, as well as modest smoky and tomato-plant notes. It’s a medium-bodied red, with lots of up-front red-berry fruit flavours, as well as hints of mocha, savoury herbs and smoke that are enticing — especially with the dash of bright acidity and modest 11.46 per cent alcohol content. Chill this approachable (some would say "crushable") wine for 10-15 minutes and serve with your Thanksgiving bird. Purchased at Ellement Wine & Spirits. ★★★★
Castaño 2017 GSM (Yecla, Spain — $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Spanish blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Monastrell brings plum, caramel, dark chocolate, black cherry and raspberry aromas. It’s a ripe, full-bodied red, with up-front plum and blueberry flavours, as well as black cherry, mocha and light spice notes and some white pepper that comes through with the light tannins. The 14 per cent alcohol is noticeable but not overpowering, and the medium finish works well. Drink over the Thanksgiving weekend or in the next 18 months. ★★★★
Brunel Pere et Fils 2017 Brunel de la Gardine (Côtes du Rhône, France — $17.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Rhône Valley red is two-thirds Grenache, with Syrah and Mourvedre making up the balance. Aromatically, it offers modest plum, blueberry and caramel aromas, with hints of black cherry, violet and iron. It’s medium-plus bodied, bringing pleasant but simple plum and blueberry flavours, some secondary black cherry and milk chocolate, and is rounded out by light acidity and tannin and a medium finish. It’s a somewhat simple red that might just be accentuated by those savoury Thanksgiving side dishes. ★★1/2
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.