Wine and Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes

Thanksgiving is the time of year where Americans give thanks for our many blessings and reunite with family members that, perhaps, we haven’t seen in a while.  It’s a time of rejoicing, remembering and relaxing accompanied by massive Turkey feasts that ensure we will be snoring on the couch by half-time of the annual shellacking the Detroit Lions will receive  in the first game of the day.  While turkey is the most popular centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, family traditions developed over the years result in no two tables containing the same selection of culinary delights, especially when it comes to the side items.  As a result, it can often be a challenge deciding what wine to serve with the meal.  Below are some suggestions that work well with some of the more popular dishes, but when it comes to pairing food with wine, keep in mind that there are no perfect answers and you can never go wrong with drinking what you like.

History and Tradition

Zinfandel is a grape that has historically been linked to America, mostly due to its long tenure in our nation compared with other grape varieties.  Arriving in New England in the 1830’s and eventually to the Napa/Sonoma area in the 1850’s, Zinfandel became the drink of choice for miners during the gold rush and was likened to a nice claret from France.  Great accolades for its time!  It even survived Prohibition as home winemaking was still allowed and Zinfandel was the number one choice of grapes.  Most experts who recommend Zinfandel with the traditional Thanksgiving meal stipulate finding one that is more on the fruity side and feel it is one of the most versatile styles for the entire meal.

Beaujolais is another great choice and if you like young, fruitier wines, it is very convenient that the current vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is always released on the third week of November.  Beaujolais is made from the light, red Gamay grape and those from the best 10 communes (called Cru Beaujolais) can often be compared to rich, structured and age-worthy Pinot Noir, another versatile choice for Thanksgiving.  On a day where full, rich dishes abound, your tummy may thank you for the lighter red.

Welcome your Guests

Enough with the history and tradition and where are my manners?  When family and guests arrive, they will no doubt be parched and looking for something to sip on and allow the conversation to flow more easily.  As a day of celebration, you can never go wrong with serving a little bubbly as an aperitif.  Sparkling wine goes well with many dishes on your Thanksgiving table and a Blanc de Noirs, which means “white wine from red grapes,” should do the trick.  The red berry notes from the Pinot Noir as well as the citrus and bread notes from the Chardonnay makes the recommendation below a fantastic choice.

Cranberry Sauce

You did remember the cranberry sauce, didn’t you?  You don’t want Grandma to give you the same evil eye you remember as a child when you accidentally knocked over her favorite antique vase that lasted through the Great Depression, right?  While cranberries themselves can often taste a little sour, the basic recipes in America result in a sweeter dish.  Any fruity wine with red berry attributes like Beaujolais and Merlot will work from this perspective, however, when eaten in the context of such an intense meal including turkey, dressing and other savory dishes, intensely flavored whites like Gewurztraminer or Riesling may work better.

Don’t have time or the patience to roast your own yams and go the whole 9 yards?  Try this simple recipe:

Braised Mashed Sweet Potatoes


  • 5 tb butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered & diced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 tsp salt


  • Combine all ingredients into a large saucepan or dutch oven
  • Cook covered over low heat stirring occasionally until potatoes fall apart when cooked (about 45 mins)
  • Off heat, mash sweet potatoes with a potato masher or put through a food mill
  • Stir in fresh ground pepper & add salt to taste

Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Viognier work well with both Acorn/Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato casseroles. Many recipes for these dishes call for roasting the squash or yams and the spice of a Gewurztraminer stands up to the earthy flavors that result. On the other hand, the acidity of Riesling will help cut the richness of the sweet potato. If the recipe calls for a significant amount of spice, try an off-dry (slightly sweet) Riesling instead to provide balance. Finally, the citrus and vanilla flavors from a California Chardonnay as well as its rich, creamy texture provide a powerful combination for both casseroles resulting in a mouthful of bliss. For Green Bean casserole, try a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Pumpkin Pie

Moving onto dessert, who can resist Mom’s good old-fashioned pumpkin pie?  An extra pie has always been prepared for me ever since I could say “Happy Thanksgiving!”  This traditional dessert is often filled with baking spices including sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger and that spells smooth, fortified goodness in the form of Madeira, Port or Sherry.  Other dessert wines like Semillon, Sauternes or Muscat may also work.

From our home to yours, we hope you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday!  Please let us know what traditional dishes and wines  you will be serving.  Cheers!


1 large can of sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
2 eggs well beaten
1 teaspoon nutmeg or ½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼-½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
Miniature marshmallows


Combine sweet potatoes and eggs
Mix in nutmeg (or cinnamon)
Combine milk and vanilla
Add milk and vanilla mixture to sweet potatoes and eggs with nutmeg (or cinnamon)
Pour mixture into a greased casserole

Bake at 325-degreed F. until set
Top with miniature marshmallows

Bake 10 minutes more until marshmallows are lightly browned

Yield: 6 servings

Good luck.

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Author:Ed Thralls

Social Media madman for Girard, Cosentino, Kunde, Cartlidge & Browne and Windsor Vineyards - certified specialist of wine, cyclist, winemaker - livin' the dream

3 Responses to “Wine and Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes”

  1. November 17, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Interested in wine.

  2. Contributor
    November 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    Hi Gini!

    I’d be happy to chat with you more about your interest in wine. If have a specific question about any wines we mentioned, please leave another comment or you can email us privately at



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