Wines help make the holiday

Edward Finstein

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, it’s time to start planning the traditional holiday feast. While the holiday is a wonderful time to give thanks with family and friends, it’s also a grand time to enjoy a glass or two of wine with the meal.

Here are some suggestions on what to sip while dining.

At the top of the list of Thanksgiving dinner entrees is turkey. It’s delicious and extremely versatile and economical, especially for large gatherings. The bones also make great stock for future dishes. Although the dark meat possesses a little more character than the white, overall, turkey is fairly bland in flavor. Sauces, seasonings, stuffing, and cooking procedures essentially dictate what the final flavor will be and what wine will ultimately work best.

glasses-262382_1280Simply seasoned, roasted, and unstuffed, chardonnay for the white meat and cabernet sauvignon  for the dark meat work well. Pinot grigio, merlot, trebbiano, and pinot noir will also do.

A stuffed bird is another story, adding much more character and flavor to the dish. In fact, one usually ends up matching the wine to the stuffing because it’s generally the stronger flavor.

For traditional herb or sage stuffing, try sauvignon blanc or cabernet franc. If Italian sausage is your passion, vie for Chianti, Soave, pinot grigio, or zinfandel. How about chestnut stuffing? A viognier or medium-dry riesling will do admirably.

A friend of mine loves to stuff his bird with an apple nut mixture. A medium riesling or medium vidal will do it justice. Got a hankering for mushroom stuffing? Then barbera is the thing to sip. And, if oyster stuffing is your weakness, then none other than a crisp, dry Muscadet or Vinho Verde should match it wonderfully.


If ham is on the menu 

Maybe ham is your choice of entrée for the holiday. Its primary flavor is somewhat salty, so fruity, crisp wines are called for. Gamay, Beaujolais, and zinfandel mesh nicely with the ham when it is simply baked. White wine lovers will enjoy gruner veltliner or riesling better.

Smoked ham is always a favorite among diners. The smokiness adds a nice twist to the ham’s sweet note, requiring a sweet note in a wine match. An oaky, “new world” chardonnay from Chile, California, or Australia will provide exactly what is needed. For something really different with smoked ham, why not give gewurztraminer a go? This aromatic white possesses both smokiness and fruit to marry with the ham’s character.

Perhaps something other than traditional turkey or ham is on the menu. For lamb, a red Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, or rioja are fantastic. I really like chenin blanc or barbera with roast pork. Roast beef requires a big, full-bodied red like a red meritage or red Bordeaux, while a spicier version of the beef will do better with a shiraz, syrah, or Rhone red.


For a seafood entrée  

What if seafood or fish is your choice for Thanksgiving dinner? Not a problem.

Oily favorites, such as oysters, mussels, calamari, or clams, really need a crisp, acidic wine to wow them. Therefore, Vinho Verde, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, dry riesling, Muscadet, or even bubbly could be your options.

Richer seafood, such as lobster, scallops, shrimp or salmon, especially in a butter or cream sauce, cry out for an equally rich wine, such as viognier, oaky chardonnay, oaky semillon, or pinot gris.


I haven’t forgotten about the vegetarians among you. Simply seasoned vegetarian entrees work beautifully with whites such as sauvignon blanc or Muscadet and unoaked reds such as gamay, Beaujolais, or pinot noir. For spicier versions, check out gewurztraminer, torrontes, dry Muscat, or medium-dry riesling. Richer vegetarian dishes need fuller, oakier reds, such as Bordeaux-style blends, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, or cabernet franc.

Whatever you’re planning to eat for Thanksgiving, there’s a wine match that will marry perfectly. Drink responsibly and enjoy.


© Edward Finstein,“The Wine Doctor,” 2015. The Wine Doctor is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. Contact him at,,,,

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