Whether you’re celebrating virtually or in-person with a smaller, more intimate gathering this year, your holiday feast deserves to be paired with the very best. So, we’ve asked three experts for their pick of the top wines for Thanksgiving and every other meal worthy of the festive period. Read on for their inventive recommendations on elevating appetizers, classic centerpieces, and even takeout—making you feel like you’ve hired your very own sommelier.
Pair Sparkling Wine with… Appetizers
When it comes to appetizers, sparkling wine is a perennial favorite because its signature high acidity and carbonation make pairing it with a vast range of flavors (think caviar, miniature quiches, fine cheese, and even peppermint candy canes) a breeze. While champagne is a traditional holiday bubbly, Mark Guillaudeu, Advanced Sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurant Commis in Oakland, California, recommends Italian Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna.
“Look for wines that have a cork and cage,” he says. “Most of the higher-quality, and consequently, drier styles of Lambrusco will be sealed under cork—and true, high-quality Lambrusco is an absolute delight.” For the very best pairings, Guillaudeu also advises looking out for bottles with the words Sorbara or Salamino on the label.
Try: 2019 Paltrinieri “Radice” Lambrusco di Sorbara or 2019 Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce
Pair Gran Reserva Rioja with… Turkey
“Serving a red wine for Thanksgiving can work well,” says Guillaudeu, “but I’d recommend going for something savory and earthy. Bright, fruity wines can end up clashing with all the spice going on in the dishes. So, instead, opt for a Rioja—ideally Gran Reserva or Reserva.”
These reds, which originate in Spain and are made primarily from the Tempranillo grape, are aged for a minimum of five years and explode from the glass with earthy, savory aromatics. They make a dramatic counterpoint to roasted poultry and the sweet, fruity side dishes that traditionally accompany them. And their bold tannins and exotic aromas, especially notable in the wines of top producers like La Rioja Alta and López de Heredia, offer a striking contrast, while still elevating—rather than competing with—the flavors of the meal.
Try: 2000 La Rioja Alta S.A. Gran Reserva 904 or 2010 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva
Pair Viognier with… Goose or Duck
“The citrus notes of Viognier go beautifully with poultry,” explains Jienna Basaldu, a San Francisco-based Advanced Sommelier. She recommends serving Condrieu—the classic expression of the Viognier grape from France’s Northern Rhône Valley—with goose or duck-centric feasts.
While Condrieu is a white wine primarily known for its rich, nutty notes and its ability to age fantastically, it’s also well-structured, allowing its floral scents to stand up to rich centerpieces without overwhelming the palate. This unique combination means it makes heavy dishes seem lighter, while elevating more delicate accoutrements.
“Yves Gangloff Condrieu is a really fun and unexpected pairing,” Basaldu adds. “But the wine has the body and flavor intensity to not be overpowered.”
Try: 2018 Domaine Yves et Mathilde Gangloff Condrieu or 2017 E. Guigal Condrieu La Doriane
Pair Chardonnay with… Seafood
Munro recommends rich, oak-aged classics like Burgundy stalwarts Corton-Charlemagne and Meursault, which complement creamy sauces and elevate the delicate sweetness of winter seafood classics like lobster. But adds that, when served alongside simpler preparations—such as lightly poached white fish, raw oysters, or steamed shellfish—the wine’s richness offers a luscious contrast to the briny notes of seafood.
Try: 2015 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru or 2016 Coche-Dury Meursault
Pair Pinot Noir with… Ham
For a centerpiece of ham, Munro recommends a Pinot Noir from villages in the Burgundy region, such as Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny. “Try something from the excellent 2005 or 2000 vintages, which have finesse and fruit,” he advises.
This pairing works well because the earthy undertones of Pinot Noir provide an excellent contrast to the sweet-and-salty flavors of a classic ham, while its moderate tannins cleanse the palate without overpowering delicate glazes or side dishes.
Try: 2005 Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis or 2000 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny
Pair Rhône Syrah with… Lamb
Known for smoky, earthy complexity Syrah is the perfect match for holiday lamb preparations, according to Basaldu. The trick, she says, is finding a wine that parallels the savory tones of lamb and cuts through the richness of classic cuts.
“Côte-Rôtie is low hanging fruit on this one—pun intended,” Basaldu says. “The wines express classic Syrah flavors of black pepper, Kalamata olive, dried sage, and perfectly ripe blueberry, which are harmonious with the gamey, fatty nature of lamb.” Wines from the Saint-Joseph subzone offer tremendous value for hosts—averaging about $30 per bottle—while neighboring Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage bottlings offer more complex, dazzling expressions of Syrah.
Try: 2015 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage or 2017 Aurélien Chatagnier Saint-Joseph La Sybarite
Pair Cru Beaujolais with… Takeout
Great wine pairings aren’t exclusive to white-tablecloth meals. So, whether you’re eschewing traditional gatherings by going for an “anticenterpiece,” or ordering in after a late-night celebration, a classic Cru Beaujolais is the ideal match.
Made from the Gamay grape, these lightly colored and low-tannin wines are juicy and bright. They pair seamlessly with exotic spices and aromatic ingredients—perfect for taming fiery chiles and accentuating aromatic ingredients in dishes ranging from Thai curry to Szechuan specialites, and even pizza or Mexican cuisine.
Look out for Beaujolais wines that are labeled with a village, or “cru,” such as Morgon, Régnié, or Chenas. This indicates that the grapes were grown in a single region, offering drinkers a snapshot of the area’s terroir and higher quality in general.
Try: 2018 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon or 2018 Domaine Julien Sunier Régnié
Banner image: Alamy