Serious Eats: Drinks

Thanksgiving Wine: Top Picks from Sommeliers

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At a restaurant, you can ask a sommelier to recommend a glass or bottle to go with whatever food you've ordered. At home, you might not have a wine expert on call. But this Thanksgiving, we've got your back. We asked a few top sommeliers for their wine advice, asking what we should be pouring alongside the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Here are their recommendations.

Michael Madrigale of Bar Boulud in NYC

What's the most important advice you can give about wine for Thanksgiving?

Don't sweat it. Enjoy the time with your family. Play Trivial Pursuit and talk about the how much you hate the Dallas Cowboys. Wine choices shouldn't be the reason for any undue stress for the holiday. There are so many different flavors on your plate at Thanksgiving that whatever you choose something is going to work with something.

That said, the trump card that works with every item on the Thanksgiving plate is Champagne and also rosé.

Lots of folks like to drink local or domestic wine for the holiday. Are there any domestic wineries you're particularly excited about these days?

The Pinot Noirs out of Oregon and California are really blowing me away....more so than ever. Tyler, Cristom, Hirsch, Wind Gap, Johan, Knez....I could go on and on.

What will you be serving with the Thanksgiving meal?

Champagne of course, namely Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru. Also, Northern Rhone Syrah, in particular 2010 Saint Joseph from Domaine Faury. It's elegant enough to work with Turkey and smoky and peppery enough to pair well with bacon flecked stuffing (and it's also an incredible value).

Rachael Ryan of Quince in San Francisco

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It's the sides that count. [Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Tell us: what's your best Thanksgiving wine advice?

To me, it's all about the side dishes. Everyone focuses so much on what to pair with turkey, but let's be honest here, the turkey is usually hidden beneath the mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn bread, etc. If you were having a piece of turkey alone in a darkened room, you could pair a wine to it, but the real challenge here is all of the competing flavors. Which is a great problem to have, by the way!

I usually would drink what I would deem a "flexible" wine—you want something with great acidity to balance out any fattiness or richness on the plate, that's full-bodied enough to stand up to the flavors on the plate, but not big enough to overwhelm them.

I'd suggest a cru Beaujolais with structure like a Morgon or Moulin-a-Vent, red Burgundy, Barbera from Piedmont in Northern Italy, or Pinot Noir from a cooler area of Australia or New Zealand. If you really want to geek out, I'm also a huge fan of the indigenous red varietals from the cool-climate Jura region of France: Trousseau and Poulsard.

What if we want to drink domestic wine? Any tips?

I always hear Zinfandel recommended, b/c it's the ultimate American wine or something, but I think we can put that one to rest this year. Isn't all wine made in America an ultimate American wine?

If you want to wave your American flag, I would go for a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, or Oregon. These areas are cool enough to let the brightness of the acidity show through, but warm enough to allow for fantastic ripe red cherry fruit character. Look for Copain, Anthill Farms, J.K. Carriere and Antica Terra. Arnot-Roberts also makes a killer Trousseau from Lake County—so pale and delicate, it almost drinks more like a rose.

If you wanted a fuller-bodied wine, I'd look inland towards El Dorado. There is some really interesting winemaking going on out there, especially for Rhone varietals like Syrah. The high elevation and cool autumns prevent the wines from becoming too juicy or jammy. Look for Donkey and Goat, La Clarine Farm, and Edmunds St. John.

Joe Campanale of Anfora and L'Apicio in NYC

What's the most important advice you can give about wine for Thanksgiving? What should our plan of attack be?

Since at Thanksgiving you're dealing with a lot of different flavors and different palates, I like to pick wines that are not only food-friendly but are easy to love. Wines like Hirsch Pinot Noir "Bohan Dillon" and Trinchero Barbera D'Asti are versitile red wines that pair with a wide variety of foods but are also wines that everyone can love. Also, who doesn't like Champagne? Thanksgiving is a celebration of friends and family so I say, have it with dinner! And try the Marie Courtin Champagne "Resonance"!

Are there any domestic wineries you're particularly excited about these days?

Where do I start? Broc Cellars, Ceritas, Arnot-Roberts, Lioco, Donkey & Goat, Wind Gap, just to name a few!

What will you be serving with the Thanksgiving meal?

My girlfriend and her folks love the wines of Alicia Lini in Lambrusco so we'll definitely have some of those, some great Riesling for my mom, maybe Merkelbach, and some Barolo for me!

Jessica Pinzon of Ad Hoc in Yountville CA

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[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Help! What wines should we be serving at Thanksgiving?

There's such a vast array of food on the table for Thanksgiving that serving wines that are highly versatile with food—with higher acidity and softer tannins, is always a great bet for working with a variety of dishes. Varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay (grown in cooler climates), Pinot Noir, and Barbera tend to work beautifully, just to name a few.

Another idea is to serve wines you've been saving. What better time is there to open a beloved wine that has a few years of age on it than with loved ones with a great spread of food in front of you? Champagne and older Cabernet Sauvignon are celebratory favorites that come to mind.

Lots of people like to serve American wine on Thanksgiving. Are there any domestic wineries you're particularly excited about these days?

I recently visited Spring Mountain Vineyard and thought the wines were all lovely. The Cabernets are plush, expressive and elegant and the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend is perfect for sipping and relaxing or with food. I love the Massican wines that are made by Dan Petroski in St. Helena, also. They are gorgeous old-world style white wines that are pure, focused, and delicious, made by a superb winemaker.

What will you be serving with the Thanksgiving meal?
'02 Ployez-Jacquemart Extra-Brut Champagne; '01 Weegmüller 'Haardter Herrenletten' Riesling Spätlese Trocken; 2008 Hyde de Villaine Carneros Chardonnay; 2009 Jean Foillard 'Côte du Py' Morgon; 2011 Vivier Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir; 1996 Dunn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I love all of these producers and am excited to share these wines with my family!

Yum! Can we join you?

Ehren Ashkenazi of The Modern in NYC

What's your most important Thanksgiving wine advice?

Since Thanksgiving can be a marathon of eating and drinking with many people changing gears between beer, wine and higher-octane spirits, it is important to keep the wine choices on the lighter side with plenty of acid!

Keep bubbles on hand to begin: Try the Brut Rosé from Domaine des Beaumard, a sparkler that is 100% Cabernet Franc, bright, slightly herbaceous and one that you can drink all the way through the meal.

For whites, I love Chenin Blanc with all things fall, especially a demi-sec (off-dry) style that lends itself well to many classic Thanksgiving dishes. Stick to the old world here; in the appellation of Vouvray, Philip Foreau is producing benchmark examples from his Domaine du Clos Naudin.

For reds, I look towards those that have a good balance of fruit and earthiness. Gamay plays this role quite well; look to the Beaujolias Crus to offer great value. Morgon is my go to—Gamay grown there tends to take on darker fruit tones with great structure and acidity. Jean Paul Brun produces a stunner that is spicy and laced with raspberry fruit.

Say we want to drink local wine on Thanksgiving. Are there any domestic wineries you're particularly excited about these days?

Justin Willett, winemaker and owner of Tyler Winery in Santa Barbara, is making amazing Central Coast expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Balance and purity are emphasized and they represent a restrained style that many should look towards as the benchmark for these varietals. He has also collaborated on a project called Lieu Dit with San Francisco-based sommelier Eric Railsback, focusing on Loire Valley varietals in the Santa Ynez Valley. The line-up of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc will change how you think about California wines!!

Thanks for all the advice! Now, tell us: what wine will you be serving at Thanksgiving?

I can drink Champagne throughout the entire meal and I am smitten with the Rosé de Saignée from Larmandier-Bernier. It is a rich, brooding example of Pinot from Vertus and will pair with anything the Thanksgiving spread has to throw at it!

Get all our Thanksgiving wine advice (plus beer, cider, and cocktails) here »

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