Last Updated on
There is nothing like a fall. It’s the perfect time to enjoy delicious spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. And the cold weather gives you an easy excuse to keep the oven on all day long! Perfect for roasting turkey, right?
Perhaps one of the most quintessential fall foods is the Thanksgiving Turkey. It’s ubiquitous this time of year and it’s usually surrounded by all sorts of other yummy dishes. Which can, dare I say it, overshadow the turkey…
Let’s be honest. Turkey can be a bit, well, bland and boring. Especially if it’s dry. But turkey is your centerpiece. You can’t ignore it. And if you poured effort into, it’s going to stand out. So you ought to pick a wine that shines and sparkles beside it to highlight all the hard work you put into such a glorious bird. (Or conversely, pick a wine full of flavor to help liven up your Turkey!)
A Word on Thanksgiving Turkeys
Turkey can be cooked in a variety of ways, everything from plain ol’ turkey breast to sliced deli meat. Thanksgiving turkeys in particular range from oven-roasted with traditional spices to the deep-fried whole! We’ll cover all potential wine pairings for whole turkeys here.
If you’re desperate to avoid a dry turkey, try dry brining to keep the bird moist, crisp, and flavorful. Otherwise, a deep-fried turkey will be much more tender and juicy than your average roast. Smoking or grilling will increase flavor but leaves the
A Word on Thanksgiving Wines
If you are picking a wine for a full Thanksgiving spread, you need to focus on more than just the turkey. Remember that the real MVPs of the day are the sides. And with a table overflowing with flavors, you want to pick a wine that will blend in and refresh your palate.
Focus on lighter wines that will be refreshing rather than overly flavorful. You want each sip to prepare you for another bit, not exhaust you before you even made it to seconds!
What wines pair with Turkey?
Struggling to find the perfect wine for your turkey? You’re not alone. The key is to think about how it is cooked. Turkey itself is like most white poultry meat, low on fat and low on flavor. But when you add in certain spices or use different cooking methods, the turkey goes from average to mind-blowing!
So if you want to pair wine with your turkey. Think about how you cooked it and what spices you used. You’re sure to find a perfect match with this simple guide!
Oven Roasted Turkey
Traditional oven-roasted turkey is very easy to pair! It’s cooked much like a chicken, with a somewhat richer and darker flavor. Seasonings are usually savory: thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, lemon, pepper. And don’t forget the butter!
Red: Pinot Noir: 2017 Bold Pinot Noir (California) $25
A delightfully strong fruity wine is full of cherries, raspberries, blackberries, and vanilla. There is a hint of smoke like bacon, and a deep chocolatey undertone. But the real surprise comes in its surprising earthy and savory notes like bay leaves, juniper berries, and sage…all perfect ingredients for a turkey brine.
A word about Pinot Noir
Pinot Noirs are typically very light-bodied wines with strong fruit flavors, high acidity, and low tannins. Most Pinot Noirs also have vague hints of spice like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice…which exactly what we’re all looking for this time of year!
Why does Pinot Noir pair well with Turkey? Pinot Noir is light and acidic, so it doesn’t overwhelm turkey’s delicate flavor. The palate, in general, is fairly uncomplex, so you’ll be refreshed after every sip rather than swamped. It’s been a Thanksgiving staple for years!
Another option: Beaujolais
Released on the third Thursday of November of every year, Beaujolais Nouveau is always a festive (and perfectly timed) option. But you can find other versions of Beaujolais year-round as well. The flavors are light and fruity with notes of tart and sweet berries. Beaujolais also has high acidity, so it makes a good pair for Turkey.
White: Chardonnay: Chanin 2017 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay (California) $39
I always opt for slightly more expensive Chardonnay. Cheaper varieties lean heavily into vanilla and butter to the exclusion of other flavors. A little extra cash and you get a glass full of flowers and delicate white fruits.
Acidic Lemon, rich Nectarine, and soft Lily are strong on the nose, and they are followed by Gardenias, Jasmine and something minerally like Gravel or Chalk. Absolutely full of flavor with just a dash of Buttery Cream. Perfection.
A word about Chardonnay
Chardonnay is typically full-bodied and rich. Oaked varieties will be creamy, buttery, and a bit nutty, full of flavors like pineapple, vanilla, and papaya. The unique properties of chardonnay and its typical aging are what gives it that classic buttery texture and strong oak vanilla taste.
You can find unoaked Chardonnay wines from Chablis that are much lighter, brighter, and more acidic. These are aged in stainless steel and have more citrusy flavors like lemon and green apple, rather like a Chenin Blanc.
Why does Chardonnay pair well with Turkey? It adds flavor! Rich, buttery Chardonnay paired with butter-roasted turkey is a match made in heaven. The richer and heavier wine texture matches perfectly with turkey’s fattier dark meat. But since Chardonnay is more flavorful than many turkeys, it’s a good way to dress up the meal! (And add a little butter on the side.) Chardonnay’s bright flavors even make it the perfect turkey baste, so you can cook your turkey with it as well.
Another option: Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is a classic light, citrusy wine with high acid content. This makes it ideal for pairing with food. Especially light delicately flavored meats like a turkey! You’ll find many savory green notes as well as pure minerality, which makes for a refreshing sip between bites.
Sparkling: Champagne: Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Reserve Champagne $50
The addition of 40% reserve wines (the maximum allowed) provides a depth of flavor and lush texture that is well worth the higher price. Heidsieck’s Champagnes tend to be highly consistent, so you’ll always end up with a good bottle!
The flavor is ripe and tropical with apricots, mangos, and coconut. A few red fruit notes like cherry or plum. Nearly every bottle has a strong yeasty, toasty, brioche flavor. And some have a beautiful marzipan or cookie dough note as well. Luscious, elegant and rich.
A word about Champagne
Champagne is the world’s most recognizable sparkling wine. It’s made from many different grapes include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir. Of course, the flavors will vary between grape varieties and wine-making styles.
But, for the most part, Champagne has extremely high acidity (helped along by some carbonation) and strong citrusy notes of lemon. You’ll also find hints of cream, nuts or toast if it is made from Chardonnay grapes, and notes of apples or tropical fruits from other varietals.
Why does Champagne pair well with Turkey? Champagne is made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so you know it will pair well! Its sparkling acidity and sharp bite are so refreshing and crisp, without overwhelming the delicate flavors of your meat and spices. And the tiny hints of cream and toast go remarkably well with anything that’s been roasted. My best tip: Champagne goes well with salted foods…pair with a Dry Brined Turkey for maximum effect!
Grilled or Smoked Turkey
Popping your turkey on the grill or smoking it for richer flavor? You’ll add a whole new range of flavors to your bird-like charcoal and smoke, not to mention a much more tender bird! Of course, this means you need to rethink your wine pairing. Go with varietals that pair well with a little bit of smoke and spice.
Red: Syrah: 2016 Cedarville Estate Bottled Syrah
A strong, peppery wine with full-bodied dark fruit. You’ll note black pepper immediately followed by blueberries, plums, and deep red cherries. The oak lends a smoky flavor, followed by roasted espresso beans coated in dark chocolate. Medium tannins provide a strong structure. It’s a luxurious sip and full of savory spice like bay leaves and rosemary! It’s tough to stop drinking it.
A word about Syrah
Speaking of smoke and spice, you can’t get better than a Syrah! Syrah is a remarkably smokey, spicy red wine, with a heavier full-bodied texture. It will be dark, so dark it’s nearly black, with intense blackberry and currant flavors.
You’ll also get loads of spice and herb-like black pepper, cloves, licorice, mint, and chocolate. Need yet another reason to pair Syrah? It typically has a meaty flavor too, like bacon or smoked beef. Sometimes you’ll see hints of campfire or matches.
Why does Syrah pair well with Turkey? Syrah has all the characteristics you need to pair with a smoked turkey: dark fruit, hot spice, and smoke. I can’t think of a better wine for smoked or grilled food in general! The deep rich quality is also perfect for chilly winter nights. So warm up with your roast turkey and your smoked wine.
Another option: Côtes du Rhône
Côtes du Rhône comes in a huge variety. I’d recommend pairing with the AOC bottles as they are food-friendly and easy to drink. These wines are full of red fruits, sweet berries, and just a hint of spice to jazz things up! (Many Syrahs actually come from the Rhône valley too!)
White: Viognier: 2014 Penner-Ash Viognier $30
Soft and round palate with delicate white flowers like gardenias and lush rich peach, cantaloupe and papaya fruits. Tart, sharp acidity appears after a few sips with strong grapefruit and orange peel bursts. It’s simultaneously tart and fruity, balanced and just a bit savory on the finish. Lovely, bright, and easy to drink.
A word about Viognier
Viognier (pronounced “Vee-on-yay”) is a full-bodied heavy white, somewhat comparable to Chardonnay. It’s fruity with notes of oranges, peaches, nectarines, and honey. But you’ll also get some floral notes and the occasional vanilla or spice.
Most Viognier is fairly dry, though there are some bottles with a buttery, creamy, or oily texture which can give the illusion of off-dry wine. Like Chardonnay, you’ll get some oaked and some unoaked bottles.
The oaked Viogniers tends to be heavy with tropical mango, peach, and honey. Unoaked Viognier is still fairly heavy and full-bodied, but it will be comparatively lighter with tangerine, rose, and jasmine. Look out for “late harvest” varieties that will have an extra sweetness to them and go better with dessert.
Why does Viognier pair well with Turkey? Like Chardonnay, Viognier is a rich flavorful wine with hints of butter or cream, especially when oaked. This little bit of creamy texture adds so much to turkey’s flavor. And once it’s been oaked Viognier is very heavy, perfect to pair with a strong flavorful smoked turkey!
Another option: Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blancs also have a wide variety of options! Some are oaked and some are not, so you can find similarly buttery, vanilla-y varieties. These will often have more of lemon curd or butterscotch taste. Lighter varieties focus on fruits like passion fruit or quince or green apple or even bruised pear. Perfect for the fall or winter!
Sparkling: Cava: 2012 Alta Alella Privat Laietà Gran Reserva Brut Nature Sparkling Cava $36′
Strong yellow apple and ripe pear on the nose with a touch of minerality and salty sea breeze. It’s sharply crisp with flavors of nectarine, peach and sour apples followed by brine. It finishes on a crisp brightly acidic note with just a touch of salt.
A word about Cava
Cava is the cheaper, but just as a tasty version of Champagne! What makes it different? First, it’s made in Spain, not Champagne, France. Second, Cava is made from different grapes which create a much more yellow flavor: yellow fruits, yellow flowers, even yellow tea.
You’ll note Earl Grey’s bergamot and some hints of chamomile too. Cava’s texture is a bit heavier and oilier than most Champagnes. But the refreshing pop is still there!
Why does the Cava pair well with Turkey? Because Cava is just a bit heavier than most sparkling wines, pairs best with slightly more flavorful foods. It works like a charm with Smoked or Grilled Turkey especially with a twinge of something tart and yellow and bright to refresh the palate!
Fried Turkey is not for everyone. For one, it requires the right equipment and space. It’s also very rich and can’t be stuffed. But those who love deep-fried turkey celebrate its crispy skin, rich flavor, and very tender, moist meat.
Red: Chilled Zinfandel: 2015 Three Evangelho Zinfandel $36
A bowl is full of berries. Big bold fruit: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. A hint of pomegranate and raisins. Some faint savory notes of tobacco, cocoa and oregano herbs.
The best part? There is a strong spice component with threads of nutmeg, maple syrup, and vanilla intertwined throughout. Acid, tannins, and bodies are well-balanced for a superb finish and a fun, lively sip!
A word about Zinfandel
Zinfandel is one of the most classically fruit-forward and light-bodied red wines. It’s heavy on the strawberry, raspberry, and peach tastes with a good amount of cinnamon spice and bitterness like tobacco. Zinfandel is low in alcohol and fairly sweet, which makes it easy drinking and perfect to chill!
Why does Zinfandel pair well with Turkey? With a heavily flavorful bird like a fried turkey, you need something just a little sweet and just a little chilled to break through all that fat and juice. Zinfandel is perfectly fruity and light, and it chills exceptionally well. Besides, fried turkey is typically a Southern dish, so if you aren’t having an iced tea you might as well have a sweeter wine!
White: Dry Riesling: 2016 Julien Schaal Kastelberg Grand Cru Schiste Riesling $25
Punchy lemon acidity with bursts of apples, honeysuckle, guavas, and melon. Background notes of cinnamon, jasmine, and hay. A bright and sharp Riesling with tight balance, rich flavor, and crisp elegance. The finish is long and dry but with delicious notes of lemon zest and baked apple pie. I can’t imagine a better turkey wine to cut through fried fat flavor!
A word about Dry Riesling
Dry Riesling is often overlooked for its sweeter counterpoint. But dry Riesling can be a show-stopping number with strong notes of lime, apricot, white flowers, and a touch of honey.
There’s something of a waxy texture at times, but the sharp acidity, bursting fruit and dryness of the glass really shines through. To find one of these, pick a Riesling with higher percentage ABV (alcohol by volume) because it indicates most of the natural residual sugar converted to alcohol. You can find dry Rieslings from Alsace (France), Austria, and Germany.
Why does Dry Riesling pair well with Turkey? Riesling, in general, is a food-friendly wine. Dry Riesling, in particular, has high acidity, pure minerality, and a strong dose of tart fruits. This makes it the perfect wine for cutting through heavy fat…which is exactly what you have in a deep-fried turkey isn’t it!
Another option: Vouvray
Vouvray is a variety of Chenin Blanc that is a very classic variety. Unlike Saviennèires which is very distinctive and almost funky, Vouvray has very strong sour citrus notes with a classically floral nose.
It’s delightful at slicing through fat and juice with a refreshing crispness. And it’s perfect to pair with a more flavorful bird without getting overwhelmed or being overwhelming.
Sparkling: Rosé: Mumm Napa NV Brut Rosé Sparkling $24
Made with Pinot Noir grapes and just a touch of Chardonnay, the nose is full of combined peach and strawberry. The flavors are more diverse with darker notes of plum and raspberry, crisp minerals, and a bit of spicy toasty gingersnap. Creamy custard with a crispy, sparkling finish.
A word about Sparkling Rosé
You can find about a dozen Sparkling Rosés at any local wine shop. They are usually full of light red fruits like strawberries or cherries, and often with a hint of something sweet like cotton candy or sugared fruits.
Other keynotes will be honeydew melons or darker red fruits like rhubarb, raspberries, or even plums. There is usually a strong citrus zest as well, which helps sparkling Rosé keep from cloying and have a little bit of tart acidity.
The flavors, sweetness vs savory, will vary based on the type of grape used. (Savory: Tempranillo, Syrah; Sweet: Grenache, Zinfandel)
Why does the Sparkling Rosé pair well with Turkey? Remember that this is a Southern dish, and if the South does something right, it’s fried food. They understand that sweet drinks are the key to cutting fried food and keeping yourself refreshed between bites. Sparkling Rosé goes one step further, its carbonation makes it extra good at cutting through fat while the sweet flavors complement your turkey.
Southern, Mexican, or Asian Spiced Turkey
These are turkeys that have been seasoned with something new and different. They are typically a bit more flavorful, and certainly a bit more exotic. (I know we just covered fried turkey, which is a very Southern option. In this category imagine turkeys with BBQ or paprika and cayenne pepper instead.)
Red: Gamay: 2018 Joyce Gamay Noir
A bright red sipper. Raspberries, cranberries, and rose petals combine with strong earthy soil and wafts of smoke. You’ll note the earthy, minerally flavors as gravel and wet soil, with a touch of green grass. The minerality keeps this wine bright and fun while the earth and smoke enrich and deepen its fruity flavors.
A word about Gamay
Gamay wines are usually very food-friendly, light-bodied and chock-full of floral, earthy notes. You’ll get strong notes of iris, violet and wet earth mixed with oddly tropical flavors of banana and mango.
The nose has strong red berry flavors like currants, raspberries, and cherries, but they don’t translate into the palate. The high acidity makes Gamay perfect for pairing with food, and also easy to chill if you want something cooler.
Why does the Gamay pair well with Turkey? Tart and bitter flavors keep your palate refreshed between well-seasoned bites. And these savory notes really keep some of that overpowering spice in check.
Another option: Sangiovese
Sangiovese is a remarkably savory red wine with notes like roasted red pepper, thyme, tomatoes, leather, even silt. But it really shines with a bouquet that smells like dried flowers and a pot of potpourri.
You’ll get notes of dark fruits too, figs, plums, blackberries. The high tannins create strong structure in this wine that helps it stand up to heavily flavored foods, but the crisp high acidity keeps it from being overwhelming.
White: Gewürztraminer: 2014 Domaine Bott-Geyl Les Elements Gewürztraminer (Alsace)
Off-dry, full of lychee, rose, apples, dried apricots, earth, and toasted walnuts. The flavor is faintly sweet, with a bit of honey-covered peaches and orange cream soda. The spices are what really sing, just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon to round out the palate. Just perfect for a spicy dish or a heavily seasoned turkey!
A word about Gewürztraminer
Known as “the spiced wine,” Gewürztraminer is a heavily perfumed and aromatic wine from Austria. It has one of the most unique and identifiable bouquets you’ll come across. Rich with lychee, rose, and green melons, Gewurz (for short) has a lighter taste than its rose-gold color would indicate.
But the real power of Gewürztraminer lies in its powerful spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. It’s the perfect winter wine to warm you up, even if you do serve it cold. Many Gewurz are dry, though you may think they are sweet just based on the bouquet. Look for sweet ones labeled “late harvest” or “Vendanges Tardives.”
Why does Gewürztraminer pair well with Turkey? The luxurious winter spices that peek through Gewürztraminer’s fruity bouquet. These warm spices pair wonderfully with warm roast turkey, perfect for holiday feasting. But Gewurz’s sweeter, fruitier side also pairs wonderfully with hard-to-pair foods like Asian sauces, BBQ, and hot spice.
Sparkling: Crémant: Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc de Blancs N.V.
A delicious light sparkling Crémant with powerful lemon, green apple, and something like mushrooms or wet earth on the nose. The bubbles start out strongly acidic but they fade quickly for a gentle, creamy fizz. The palate is strong on lemon curd, toast, cream, and a faint nod to almonds. Delightfully refreshing and charming wine for a funkier turkey!
A word about Crémant
Crémant is essentially Champagne from anywhere in France other than Champagne. They use the same wine-making style and the same grape types, though they aren’t aged as long.
The lack of aging means Crémant doesn’t develop as deep or complex flavors (which is why it is cheaper!) Crémant is usually a bit more creamy and velvety, so it doesn’t have that same high acidity or citrusy zing that Champagne does.
Why does the Crémant pair well with Turkey? The key is in the silky smooth bubbles. With a heavily spiced or seasoned turkey, sometimes a slightly lighter, softer wine can actually even out the rough edges of a strong sauce. Rather than a bit of a burn that you might get from another sparkling paired with spicy sauce, you’ll end up with something soft and gentle to cut the flavor.
Deli Meat Turkey Slices
Once you delve into the deli meat or sliced cured turkey category, you want to stay away from reds. They’ll easily overpower the flavor of your turkey without extra spices to help it out.
Any of the white wines on this list will do nicely, though I am partial to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or even a Grüner!
Turkey has many naturally perfect wine matches, so you’ll have no problem finding a wine to your tastes. Consider how you are cooking your turkey. Think about what additional spices (or sides) you’ll be including and match your wine to those for more unique and surprising pairings. Most of all, enjoy a delicious turkey dinner with your dream wine!