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Thanksgiving wine pairings

Maura Friedman

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Pairing Southern staples: Which drinks pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner or just making sure not to show up to your host’s home empty-handed, selecting an appropriate wine is almost as important as perfecting the turkey and side dishes.

But when there's such a range of potential dishes that may be part of a typical Southern Thanksgiving — turkey, spiced sweet potatoes, rich green bean casserole, sweet gelatin salads — the idea of pairing wines to a particular dish may seem like a daunting task. Never fear: there are plenty of versatile wines that can stand up to all those disparate flavors eaten together on the same plate.

Some more advice: This wouldn’t be the best time to break out a nuanced wine, like that Bordeaux or Napa cabernet that you may have been cellaring for the better part of the past decade. More importantly, drink what you like and what you know your guests will enjoy. The wines listed below are merely suggestions.
White wines: Lean towards dry and aromatic
You can play fast and loose with most white wines for Thanksgiving, as turkey, vegetables and starchy sides are complementary towards many white grape varietals. While California chardonnay may have broad appeal to different generations, these oaky butter bombs prove too intense for Thanksgiving fare. A crisp sauvignon blanc or chenin blanc is a welcome respite from the richness of the meal, as they both bring much needed acidity to the party. If you’re worried that the sweetness of your sweet potato casserole could cause that sauv blanc to taste more like lemon juice, look to Germany or Alsace for dry riesling or gewurtztraminer. These whites have floral qualities that take well to spices, especially hot and warm flavors from peppercorns and cloves, and provide a much needed richness that can stand up well to dishes ranging from cornbread dressing to dark meat turkey.

Suggested Wines
2016 Flint and Steel Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, CA
2015 Dr. Pauly Noble House Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Red wines: Viva España
Following the same theory, choosing the proper red wine for turkey day all comes down to versatility. Steer clear of wines that may overwhelm some of your dishes; that bottle of 2005 Opus One might obliterate the subtleties of deviled eggs or turkey breast. Red wines from Spain, such as garnacha and tempranillo, however, are bold, yet restrained and can easily pair with nearly any dish that may appear on your dinner table. Moreover, Spanish reds taste great on their own as well as when paired with food, so there's no need to select separate wines for cocktailing and the main meal. Reds from Rioja are readily available no matter where you may live, and they carry a fantastic value. If you’re buying in large quantities, you can find delicious reds for under $18 per bottle.

Suggested Wines
2014 Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha, Campo de Borja, Spain
2012 Marques de Murrieta, Rioja, Spain
Beer: Farmhouse ales for the win
Although more wine is sold for Thanksgiving than any other holiday in the United States, there’s no reason not to include beer on your Turkey Day menu. Let’s face it, Uncle Ralph might not be much of a wine drinker, but he will jump at the chance to have a cold beer paired with dinner instead. Beer can also be a bit easier to pair with food, especially since so many seasonal brews can be found on the market. Oktoberfest-themed beers will work, but we urge you to try a saison or farmhouse ale instead. They’re light enough to work with cheeses or salads, but carry delightful bitter notes that can provide a delicious contrast to rich or spiced foods. Or try a simple, versatile brown ale. Most brown ales evenly balance hops and malt, and rarely threaten to steal the show from the dish with which they're matched.

Suggested Beers
Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Ale
Back Forty Truck Stop Brown Ale

Photo Credit (White Wine): Matthew Joannon/Unsplash
Photo Credit (Red Wine): Maura Friedman
Photo Credit (Beer): Maura Friedman


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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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