An Expert's Guide to Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

“There are two schools of thought on pairing wines with the Thanksgiving meal,” says Elisabeth English, owner of the chic concept store Current Vintage in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where you can pick up both a fantastic bottle of wine and a fabulous vintage frock to wear while you enjoy it. “One is to choose specific wines to complement the flavors of the table, and the other is to just drink what you like.” While English insists that there really is no right or wrong approach, she recently sat down with us to discuss recommendations for wines to sip with the traditional Thanksgiving fare. Here are her picks, from classic pairings to festive alternatives.

WHAT TO PAIR WITH APPETIZERS: Traditionally on Thanksgiving Day, the usual pre-dinner offerings include oysters and an assortment of cheeses. Here’s what English recommends sipping with each.

With oysters: Champagne or Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine. “Dry, crisp bubbles are the quintessential pairing for briny oysters. However, Champagne and sparkling wine are a perfect match for almost any food, and would be a delightful pairing throughout the Thanksgiving meal,” English says. “Look for Brut or zero-dosage for the driest styles, and a magnum or larger-format bottle makes for a fun celebration!”

With a cheese board: “White Burgundy or any crisp Chardonnay is the most versatile wine for a cheeseboard, and pairs especially well with both soft and hard cow’s milk cheeses,” says English. “Specifically, Chablis is a great choice,” she adds, noting the wine has the minerality to work with goat’s milk cheeses, oysters, and other appetizers.

WHAT TO PAIR WITH THE MAIN COURSE: Since the star of the Thanksgiving table can vary from roasted turkey to smoked turkey to ham to a meatless main dish, we asked English to offer suggestions for each option to enjoy alongside the standard sides.

With roasted turkey: Pinot Noir and Gamay. “These are both are food-friendly, crowd-pleasing varietals, and there are excellent options from California, Oregon, Burgundy, and Beaujolais,” English says. “A Carneros Pinot Noir from Napa Valley would be more fruit-driven, while a Cru Beaujolais (from the Gamay grape), such as Brouilly or Fleurie, is more savory, and often has a stony quality from the granite in the soil,” she explains.

With smoked turkey: Zinfandel. “An all-American Zinfandel is a fruity, bold choice for smoked turkey, with bottles at every price point,” English says. “A fine single-vineyard Zinfandel from a producer such as Ridge or Bedrock Wine Company would elevate your meal beautifully, but if you’re entertaining a crowd, there are many less expensive Zins that are great values.”

With ham: Rosé of Pinot Noir. “A dry but fruity rosé is the perfect pairing for Thanksgiving ham. We love Inman Family ‘Endless Crush’ rosé of Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. It is a flavorful blend of lush berry fruit and a fresh, lively finish,” English recommends, and adds that you could also opt for a sparkling rosé for greater contrast to the sweet ham flavors.

With a meatless main course: Riesling. “There is a Riesling style for just about everyone and every food,” English advises. “From vibrant and bone-dry to pretty, off-dry styles with lingering acidity, Riesling is a harmonious option for a smorgasbord of vegetable-based dishes and beyond.”

WHAT TO PAIR WITH DESSERT: We find that the final course can be particularly tricky in terms of wine pairings. Here, English shares what to serve with Thanksgiving’s sweetest traditional offerings.

With pumpkin and pecan pie: Moscato d’Asti. “Having just returned from the Piedmont region of Italy, my thoughts turn to softly sweet and frizzante Moscato d’Asti. These aromatic dessert wines are usually inexpensive, low-alcohol, and delicious,” English says. Looking for a specific recommendation? “La Spinetta makes a lovely, authentic style that is easy to enjoy,” she notes.

Current Vintage is featured in The Scout Guide Nantucket.