While I don’t subscribe fully to the conventional white=fish, red=meat pairing wisdom, there are typically complimentary elements between certain foods and wines that make their marriage a happy one. But Thanksgiving is one serious wine pairing hill to climb with its combination of textures, flavors and for lack of a better word, heartiness.
Full-bodied high alcohol reds are the first casualty at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Hearty reds don’t fare particularly well with poultry white meat or acidic foods like cranberry sauce and most salad dressings. Because of this, I would keep away from any higher alcohol (14.5%-16+ %) reds, typically Napa Cabs, Merlots and California Zins.
An exception to this conventional wisdom that allows for some latitude on this would be suppler, smooth Bordeaux style blends (sometimes called a Meritage) or Syrah based wines. These medium to full-bodied reds usually show more fruit and hide their acidity beneath a silky blanket so that they don’t come off as disjointed when pairing with your sweeter or more acidic side dishes.
Some good options from this group in the $10-$50 range include Beaulieu Vineyards “Tapestry” blend, St. Supery Elu Meritage, Qupe Central Coast Syrah, Bonny Doon’s Big House Red and Novy Rosella’s Syrah. There are also some nice QPR (quality price ratio) Aussies out there as well; Marquis Phillips and Peter Lehmann to name a couple. As a free bonus, you get the witty Peter Lehmann labels as a conversation piece.
Coming back into the wheelhouse of Thanksgiving reds though, my preference is to go with a lighter to medium bodied red with a nice fruit profile and balanced acidity. For this reason, Pinot Noir may be the ultimate red Thanksgiving wine. There is nothing I would rather have while stuffing my mouth full of dark meat, stuffing and cranberry sauce, typically all at once. For years (i.e. before Sideways, or B.S. as I call it) there were not many solid Pinots out there in the <$30 price range but that has changed.
I highly recommend Rutz Cellars, Copain L’Automne, Argyle and Calera for $15-$30+ options, and you can even get a decent bottle around $10-$15 from Castle Rock or De Loach. Russian River Pinots in particular have a nice cherry/cedar flavor profile and light touch in texture for integrating with your Thanksgiving table.
Finally, for an even lighter approach, you could go with a Rose’ of Pinot Noir or even a Demi-Sec (semi sweet) sparkling wine. Although this may be mistaken for a “white”, Demi-Sec sparklers are typically driven by red fruit, namely Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. I think a good sparkling wine, particularly a Demi-Sec like a Veuve Clicquot or Mumm’s, with their residual sugar, are a nice option to have on the table for the loud aunt you wish to gradually wean off her security blanket White Zins and wine coolers.
I am not a wine snob. I am not a wine snob. I am not a wine snob. Enjoy your holiday.