This Thanksgiving, Stop Stressing About Holiday Wine Pairings

What’s the secret to a perfect holiday wine pairing? That there is no secret at all. • Photo by Lenn Thompson

I’m a wine writer, which means that I’m contractually obligated to write a Thanksgiving wine story every year. Okay, that isn’t entirely accurate—I’m not obligated, but it is expected. Look at any food magazine or website or even local paper and you’ll see headlines like “Pour These 4 Perfect Wines for Thanksgiving” and “This Year, Pair <INSERT WINE> at Thanksgiving.”

I use ‘<INSERT WINE>’ because you really could swap almost any grape or style in there and then go find that headline being used somewhere this year. I’m not joking. 

The idea of a perfect pairing, which I define as a wine-and-food match that elevates both the food you’re eating and wine you’re drinking, is a myth. There. I said it. Again. 

Those sorts of pairs do exist. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve explained my feelings on this topic year after year for my previous employers. Dear readers of Edible East End: it’s your turn to receive my only advice if you’re really that worried about Thanksgiving wine pairings (though I don’t think many of you are; I don’t personally know anyone who worries about these things). 

Are you ready? 

Drink good wine. I don’t care what grapes went into the wine. I don’t care where it’s from (though, as you know, I am partial to local wine for a myriad of reasons). Just drink good wine. 

Don’t complicate it any more than that.

I could end this column here and you’d have all of the information you really need, but it can’t hurt to go a bit deeper and explain why you should just drink good wine. 

Before we continue I should probably admit that “good wine” is, in fact, as vague as it sounds. What I consider good wine may not taste very good to you and vice versa. So for the sake of clarity, let’s just say “drink wine that you enjoy.”

Here’s why you shouldn’t complicate it beyond that—and my goodness, please do not stress about this:  

If you’re eating food you enjoy, with people you enjoy (or at least love, I know many of you are spending time with your families), the wine doesn’t really matter all that much as long as it’s wine that you like any other day of the year. 

There isn’t a single “perfect Thanksgiving wine.” It’s a myth.

Most of the classic “perfect” pairings are one-to-one—one food and one wine. Oysters and Champagne. Foie gras and Sauternes. Stuff like that. 

Are any of you eating just a single food on Thanksgiving? Of course not. 

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner is incredibly varied and diverse. On any given table, there will be turkey, stuffing—with or without sausage or maybe oysters depending on your family—mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts or green beans and cranberry sauce. That’s a myriad of textures and flavors—before we even consider the preparation variants on each.

No single wine or grape or style—no matter how amazingly food-friendly or delicious—make each of these taste better, while also tasting better itself.

Such a wine is Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot—except people are rightfully more skeptical of those mythic creatures. 

This isn’t just a blind opinion. Several years ago now I invited a dozen or so wine industry folks—winemakers, sommeliers, wine bar owners and so on—to a pre-Thanksgiving feast. I asked them to bring a bottle (or a few) that they thought would work well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. 

Guess what? There was a wide range of wines that found their way onto that table. Local and not. Sparkling and still. White and red and white. Bone dry to off-dry. 

It’s hard to suggest that a single dinner counts as exhaustive research, but the interesting thing was that I thought all of the wines were good with the meal. Why? They were all good wines and I spent the evening with good people eating good food and drinking those good wines. 

I won’t tell you what to drink on Thanksgiving (or for the winter holidays or Valentine’s Day or any other holiday). I will, however, tell you what I’m planning to drink. You can see many of them in the photo above. 

We host every year and in my house the wines we drink vary some depending on vintages and wines I’ve tasted and collected throughout the year, but they always fall into at least one of five categories: sparkling wine, rose, dry riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

Now that I think about it, the same can be said for most any meal that I host at my house for family and friends. You’ll find those wines on my Christmas Eve table. And on the table at New Year’s. Heck, you’ll find them on our deck for a summer barbecues, too (though local sauvignon blanc is in heavy rotation then too). I guess I follow my own advice to drink good wine, defined as wine that I like. 

Don’t like dry riesling or cabernet franc or pinot noir? Don’t serve them. Go with what you like, even if it’s oaky, buttery chardonnay and sweet red wine. 

Drinking wine that you like works—every time. No one has ever complained about the wines I pour at Thanksgiving. And if they complain about something you serve them, maybe don’t invite them back next year.