An Experts’ Guide to Building Your Thanksgiving Wine Library

Choosing a wine for Thanksgiving can be a challenge when you consider the sheer cornucopia of flavors—tart, buttery, spiced, sweet—you’re about to tuck into. Some consider the bird the star of the meal, naturally, but plenty of us choose to emphasize what we’re sipping instead. To help you build your Thanksgiving wine list, we sought advice from three experts across the country. Their unanimous counsel: The best tactic is to choose a variety of bottles that give your guests plenty of options while pairing well with each course. Here they share their recommendations for wines that are perfect whether you’re gobbling the appetizer, the main event, or dessert. 

WHAT TO PAIR WITH APPETIZERS: For the all important first course of the meal, we caught up with Elan Kotz, the owner of Orto in Baltimore, Maryland. Kotz believes that every meal, especially a festive one such as Thanksgiving, should start with prosecco. “It’s a great way to get cocktails off to a fun start,” he shared. “And prosecco is versatile with a variety of appetizers and cheese plates.”

Sancerre with oysters: According to Kotz, this briny gift from the sea, that’s a wonderfully extravagant and celebratory way to start a meal, is best complemented by a very crisp white wine, like a Sancerre by winemaker Sébastien Riffault. “But you can’t go wrong with Champagne, or even a chablis,” Kotz says.   

Italian rosé with a cheese board: This abundant spread is going to have a lot of varying flavors, and Kotz finds that a beautiful Italian rosé, specifically the Argosta Sparkling Rosé, is the perfect glass to sip. 

WHAT TO PAIR WITH THE MAIN COURSE: The main course, which traditionally includes turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings, has many competing flavors. Chris Hutchison, director of operations at Coles 735 Main and Eppings on Eastside in Lexington, Kentucky, recommends choosing three different sure bet wines that will satisfy a variety of palates. 

Pinot Noir: “In my opinion, the perfect answer for wine pairing for the main course is an old-world style pinot noir,” Hutchison says. If you want to stay true to the American nature of the holiday, choose his favorite, an Oregon variety. If you don’t mind hopping across the pond, a well-aged red Burgundy, pinot noir being the grape that is primarily grown in this region, will always perform well. Hutchison explains the bright and vibrant acidity pleasantly blends with the subtle flavor of turkey, while the fruit structure won’t overwhelm it. 

Syrah: Hutchison explains that pinot noirs are often light, in terms of viscosity and mouthfeel, so to please those who like a bit more body in their wines, syrah is an excellent go to. “The fruit structure is similar, but the acidity is lower, and the tannins higher,” he says. “Especially for those who prefer their turkey smoked, syrah is a good alternative.”

Viognier: One other thing you might want to take into consideration for the meal is the fact that some will simply prefer white wine. To that end, Hutchison recommends yet another indigenous French varietal. “To me, viognier is simply the perfect white wine,” he explains. “Close to the viscosity of a chardonnay (which is often a little much for me), medium acidity, subtle fruit structure of stone fruits, like peach or apricot, and balanced with the fragrance of white flowers, which become honeysuckle on the palate.”

WHAT TO PAIR WITH DESSERT: For the closure of the meal, some choose to go traditional (think apple and pumpkin pie) or pull out all the stops with a complex stunner. The team at Sage SRQ in Sarasota, Florida chose the latter. 

Sauternes with Rum Baba with Brunoise Fruit: Executive sous chef Brett Wagner opts for a Sauternes. “Due to its late harvest, and with the inclusion of botrytis, this wine produces a light acidic sweet flavor which will complement the pairing of the rum baba by cutting through the syrup coating and washing the mouth with a cleaner acid forward wine,” he explains. Wagner notes that this classic Sauternes wine works with almost all desserts due to its light yet complex beginning, middle, and finish.

Spanish cava with traditional dessert: If your guests would revolt should pie not be an offering, you could go with the Sauternes, or follow the course of tradition and end your meal the way you started it, with something bubbly. Executive chef Christopher Covelli and director of marketing and events J. Zachary Dauth both lean toward an Italian prosecco or a Spanish cava. Of course, you also can’t go wrong with a simple yet complex glass of tawny port. 

TSG Tip 384 from Elan Kotz, the owner of Orto in Baltimore, Maryland; Chris Hutchison, director of operations at Coles 735 Main and Eppings on Eastside in Lexington, Kentucky; The team at Sage SRQ in Sarasota, Florida. Orto is featured in The Scout Guide Baltimore & Annapolis. Coles 735 Main and Eppings on Eastside are featured in The Scout Guide Lexington. Sage SRQ is featured in The Scout Guide Sarasota.