Tips for choosing your Thanksgiving wines

Well, its the day before Thanksgiving. Where did the time go? Is the turkey big enough? Will it be dry? Will Aunt Edna insist on bringing that awful molded jello? One thing not to worry about: what wine to serve.

Before we get to the main event, what about beforehand? I love bourbon, but it can be deadly during a marathon event like Thanksgiving. I’m looking for something that is low alcohol, refreshing and zippy.

Keeping in the wine “spirit,” think about vermouth. Most often thought of as gin’s sidekick in a martini, vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with various botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, spices). But it can also stand on its own. Popular in Spain, which is where I'm writing from this month, sweet vermouth (that’s the red one) can be poured over ice, then add a splash of soda and the citrus of your choice. In Spanish, “Tomar un vermut,” literally means, “taking a vermouth.”

For something a bit fancier, try an Americano: equal parts sweet vermouth and Campari with a splash of soda, all over ice. Garnish with half an orange slice and add a lemon twist.

Now to dinner. At the typical Thanksgiving feast, there are too many dishes to try pairing wine with each. Instead, pick one red and one white to enjoy with the entire meal.

But which to pick?

While the meal may be heavy, turkey actually has somewhat of a delicate flavor. You don’t want to overpower it with a wine that’s too big. Look for something fairly low alcohol, 14 percent or less. And look for something with a good amount of acidity, which will play nicely with the food and help cleanse the palate between bites. The alcohol content will be listed somewhere on the label. A description of the wine’s flavor profile, including the amount of acidity, should be part of the tasting notes on the back label. Better yet, ask your favorite wine purveyor for suggestions, or about a wine that you’d like to try.

How much to buy? More than you might think. Assume one bottle per person, and adjust the proportions between red and white according to your guests’ preferences. That way you won’t run short, and you can always give away any unopened bottles as parting gifts (this has never actually happened at my house).

The classic choice for a red is pinot noir. Light bodied and fairly low in tannins, pinot has a varied flavor profile that may include strawberries, raspberry and spices. For white, avoid anything that is too “oaky.” Albariño, a Spanish white grape with floral aromas and fruity flavors that finishes with refreshing acidity, would be a good choice. If you want a compromise between red and white, throw in a couple bottles of dry rose.

At the end of the night, after the meal has been decimated and the guests have waddled home, pour yourself a final flute and save the wreckage in your kitchen until morning. Happy Thanksgiving!

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Contact him at

Share This Story