Pairing Wine with the Thanksgiving Dinner with a Change of Seasons

We have recently returned from holidaying on the shores of Lake Erie where our family’s roots run deep into the sandy banks of Long Point Bay.  This has become an annual event for us and it’s always a pleasure to relax on the quiet beach amidst the rolling waves while the shorebirds gracefully soar high above.  We really had not been away for that long but as we unpacked the mountain of ‘stuff’ necessary for survival (and comfort), I did notice that a few leaves had begun to turn.

Autumn is arguably the most beautiful season of the year and the cool afternoon breeze is always a welcome change after the sweltering heat of July and August.  In the distance, the rustle of vibrant-coloured leaves creates an ever-changing canvas, which has an almost surreal effect on my wife Jacquie and I.  For a moment, I though time might be standing still as we sat in the backyard watching our children rake leaves into an enormous pile only to cannonball into the middle and resurface grinning from ear-to-ear. It’s beautiful here and the change of season always reminds us of yet another opportunity to gather with friends and family.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the weekend of October 8th and while synonymous with gathering and giving thanks, traditionally the second Monday in October represents the close of the harvest. To most families though, the Thanksgiving holiday is a time to gather around the table, to enjoy each other’s company, and to share a wonderful meal with a few bottles of wine.  With that, may I make a few suggestions to enhance your enjoyment of the occasion?

The customary Thanksgiving dish is turkey or ham or both, and that opens a wealth of opportunity for pairing wine with the meal.  But let’s uncork and pour much earlier in the day shall we – perhaps just after your guests arrive – a glass of Champagne anyone?  Now, in our house, things get quite busy and Jac likes complete control of the kitchen; a place that sadly, I am not welcome on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday for that matter…  Rather, if weather conditions permit, we head outside for a stroll through the gardens where Champagne and the crisp autumn air is a match made in heaven.  Unfortunately though, most people still reserve sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve festivities and otherwise deny themselves of its pleasures.  Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to pop a cork and raise a glass.

In terms of food and wine pairing, I think we are all familiar with the cliché:  red with beef and white with fish and poultry but it’s only a guideline, at best.  Instead, consider matching the wine with the flavours of the meal.  While the turkey itself is quite mild, Thanksgiving dinner is a smorgasbord of flavour intensities: stuffing, gravy, and the many side dishes can be quite rich by comparison.  Consider a wine to match these intense flavours such as Shiraz, Riesling, or new world Chardonnay.  On the softer side, choose a Pinot Noir or lightly oaked Chardonnay from Burgundy.

With the ham, again consider the overall preparation:  is the meat glazed with sweet flavours such as brown sugar, honey, or apricots, or will it have a tangy zest such as Dijon mustard?  The wine should compliment this element of the dish.  Sweet flavours call for an off-dry Riesling or light-bodied Gamay, whereas the mustard glaze combined with the saltiness of the meat works nicely with Ripasso, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir.

If serving a salad, rather than vinaigrette, which clashes with every wine, try creating a dressing using the wine as a base.  Natalie’s Food/Wine Matcher is a great place to discover the endless possible pairing combinations that are sure to improve your dining experience.

And what is a feast without dessert?  If you do elect to serve a dessert wine, do so prior to tea and coffee and remember that it must be at least as sweet as the dish.  Consider something fortified such as Maderia, Sherry, or 20-year Tawny Port.  You could also keep it seasonal and enjoy a well-chilled bottle of cranberry/maple syrup wine; a combination like no other!

A final word on the subject of temperature: No single factor is more important to the overall enjoyment of your wine than its temperature.  With the oven and stove running all day, the kitchen may be the warmest room in the house.  Consider storing your bottles elsewhere and never rapidly chill your wine in the freezer. Instead, a bucket of ice water will cool these bottles quickly and evenly.  Serve sparkling wine well chilled at approximately 6ºC and red wine at between 16 and 18ºC.  Keep your whites chilled at around 10-12ºC.  Fortified wine is traditionally served on the cool side though personally, I prefer mine at room temperature.

With autumn and all its splendour rapidly approaching, I hope that you do take the time to enjoy the season with family and friends.  If you decide to serve a few nice bottles, please take an extra moment or two and set the tone for a perfect day.



Tyler is the founder of North of 9 Fine Wine, a member of The Guild of Sommeliers, and the guy behind @TheVirtualTaste on Twitter.

Together with his collection of wine aficionados, the North of 9 Tasting Group assembles online once per month to sample and discuss wine from around the world. We endeavour to promote and educate those who enjoy a really good glass of wine through our non-biased ‘eTastings’.

Rarely will I publish a review of a wine that I did not enjoy. My taste is purely individual, as is your own. If I write about a particular wine, I do so because I also want you to try it.



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