Tim Halloran's piece on Thanksgiving Reds can be viewed here.
Thanksgiving dinner, while delicious and nutritious (well, at least delicious) is not the easiest meal to pair with wines. So many different elements are present; there are savory/mild foods like turkey, gravy, yams and potatoes, crisp/acidic foods like cranberry sauce and salads, and hearty foods like ham and stuffing. Throw in a few other vegetables and you have a veritable cornucopia of flavors and textures to match.
Because of this, a number of wines don’t work as well as they would with a more straightforward meat-centric or fish-centric meal. A full-bodied Cab or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc will fare well with some of the foods but clash with others. A safer bet is to play the wines in the middle, such as fuller bodied whites or medium/light bodied reds. I will focus in this article on the white end of the spectrum.
Fortunately, the same fuller bodied whites that work well for a holiday dinner tend to represent better value wines for the dollar. And you know that when you are tasked to buy three or four bottles of wine, it’s nice to be able to attribute your frugal nature to recommendations from a wine site, so let’s get going.
Rhone varietals tend to have low price points and pair extremely well with most of the flavor elements of Thanksgiving dinner. MRV blends (Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier) complement poultry and hearty side dishes while also accentuating the floral and acidic elements of cranberry sauces and salads.
Domestic options include Cline, Bonny Doon and Miner, or for a great higher end option, try Tablas Creek. All have a number of white Rhone blends, most in the $8-$20 range. If you can’t find an MRV blend, Viognier (floral) or Rousanne (peaches and stone fruit flavors) will work well on their own.
Pinot Gris is another white deserving of your consideration for a value packed full bodied white. You may recognize the name as an alias for Pinot Grigio – but while it is produced from the same grape, the name Pinot Gris generally describes a completely different animal. While Pinot Grigio tends to be made in a simple, refreshing light style, Pinot Gris, whether produced domestically or in other regions like Alsace, tends to be more fully extracted and offers a great fuller bodied alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. A few good Pinot Gris include J (Russian River Valley), Sipp Mack (Alsace) and Zind Humbrecht (Alsace).
Speaking of Alsace, this region of France is a great source of two other fantastic holiday whites, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. While Germany is synonymous with Rieslings, I find the good quality Alsatians are more readily available at a lower price point. Either way, pay mind to the sweetness level – if buying German go for dry (Kabinett) or Spatlese (off-dry). Auslese would be too cloying and sweet to drink with dinner. If buying Alsatians, I recommend the drier offerings like Pierre Sparr, Trimbach or Zind Humbrecht.
Finally, Gewurtztraminer is another option produced both dry or off dry. Known as one of the few chameleon whites along with Riesling that works with Asian foods, Gewürztraminer can be a great Thanksgiving bargain basement wine, with simple domestic offerings like Columbia Crest, Hogue or Chateau Ste. Michelle (all <$10) or solid value Alsatians like Trimbach or Hugel. By the way, Hugel also offers a wine called “Gentil” which is a blend of five varietals including Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. It’s a great value at around $10 and a staple on my Thanksgiving table.