Go Big With Your Thanksgiving Wine Pairings This Year

Young African American woman drinking red wine with her eyes closed while having a meal on Thanksgiving day.

As Thanksgiving celebrations get smaller this year, the 2020 holiday season is the time to go big with wine pairings.

Every year, when the wine panel at the New York Times sits down to taste candidates for Thanksgiving wine pairings, they limit themselves to bottles $25 and under.

We dug back into the New York Times archive to discover that the $25 limit has been in place since at least 2006. Raise a glass to consistency!

There’s a good reason for the price cap, as the editors have repeatedly explained. The typical American Thanksgiving gathering tends to be a large affair with a lot of people. And more importantly, Thanksgiving tends to have a lot of different kinds of people, many of whom don’t regularly drink wine. 

The last thing you want at a large Thanksgiving meal is to spend a ton of money on wines that won’t be appreciated by a large number of the guests (in other words, it’s not time for Krug Champagne, or Domaine Comtes Lafon white Burgundy

In a normal year, the secret to great wine pairings for Thanksgiving lies in finding wines that will:

  1. Go well with the wide variety of foods, flavors, aromas, and textures on the dinner table, and
  2. Will please a wide variety of guests, including those who drink wine on a regular basis, and those who don’t.

After all, that’s what the Thanksgiving holiday is about: Bringing family and friends together for a once-a-year feast.

But this year, most of us will be limiting the number of guests at our Thanksgiving meal. And in many cases, American celebrants will be preparing a Thanksgiving feast for their nuclear family.

If ever there were a year to splurge on Thanksgiving wine pairings, 2020 is the one. Whether it’s just you and your significant other, or perhaps even the in-laws and a cousin or two in the mix, the 2020 holiday season is the time to go big.

The Best Thanksgiving Wines for 2020

Whether you’ve decided to splurge on a couple (or more) of $50-75 bottles of wine for your Thanksgiving feast this year, or whether you still want to keep it all under $25 a bottle, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as the “perfect” Thanksgiving wine pairing

The biggest challenge to finding the ideal wine for Thanksgiving is the fact that the foods traditionally served at Thanksgiving are inopportunely diverse from one another.

We’re not trying to knock the classic American Thanksgiving menu. We love, cherish, and crave it like everyone else.

But when you’ve got tart deviled eggs spiked with vinegar (high acidity), cranberry sauce with high acidity and sweetness, sweet potato pie topped by browned marshmallows (sweetness plus more sweetness), seven-layer salad with its heavy mayonnaise dressing, then the savory turkey and stuffing and rich, salty gravy and mashed potatoes…

You get the idea: It’s next to impossible to find a wine — red, white, or sparkling — that will go well with all these dishes. 

There are 3 rules-of-thumb that we use to face this seemingly overwhelming challenge of getting the wine pairing just right.

1. Make Diverse Wines Available Throughout the Meal

Since the aromas, textures, and flavors of Thanksgiving foods are so diverse, it’s a good idea to diversify the wines as well.

We recommend serving a sweet, sparkling wine, white wine, rosé wine, and ideally a light red wine at Thanksgiving. 

Not only do we believe that it’s best to offer all 4 categories to your guests, it’s also important to make them available throughout the meal. Which brings us to our next rule of thumb.

2. Pair the Wines with the People, not the Food

Maybe your spouse only likes sweet wine, while you only like oaky Zinfandel. 

Meanwhile, your brother-in-law is a Barolo wine snob with has his own preferences, and your sister’s only palatable option is gently-sparkling Moscato d’Asti.

You want to have wines on hand that everyone will enjoy. When you make your diversity of wines available throughout the entire meal, your guests can reach for the glass of wine that best suits their palate. 

3. Embrace Sweetness and Fruit in Your Thanksgiving Wines

One of the overarching trends in Americans’ wine tastes over the last three decades or so is a pivot toward extremely dry-style wines. 

A generation ago, Americans were not big wine drinkers. But when they did drink wine, they generally preferred for sweeter-style wines. 

We still see a trace of that in the classic “fruit bomb” and “jammy” notes of Californian Merlot and Zinfandel, for example. “White Zinfandel,” which is generally sweetened by the addition of sugar after fermentation, is another great example of this.

Because of the diversity of flavors and aromas and the broad spectrum of savory and sweet dishes on the Thanksgiving table, the holiday is a great moment in the year to embrace sweetness in sparkling and white wines and unrestrained fruit in rosé and red wines.

  • For your white, think sweet low-alcohol Riesling from Germany. 
  • For your rosé, look to California where many top winemakers make fruit-forward pink wines. 
  • And for your red, again turn to California for a boldly fruity Merlot or Pinot Noir or look to France for Beaujolais and even single-vineyard Beaujolais (the quintessential Thanksgiving red wine).

4. Don’t Stress About It 

The most important thing about your Thanksgiving wine choices is that you should enjoy selecting and sharing them. Don’t let the ideal of the “perfect pairing” ruin your night and your time with your family. 

Don’t waste hours on deep-dive research. Instead, rely on your local Boulder Wine guides to walk you through your choices. 

Don’t be shy about telling us how much you want to spend, and what kind of wine lovers will be joining you for your celebration. That’s the key to hosting an all-American Thanksgiving holiday: Democratic in its wine tastes, and with just enough sweetness to remind us of life’s blessings.

Shop our selection of Thanksgiving wines today >