The Ideal Wines and Spirits to Pair With Every Course of Thanksgiving Dinner

Top sommeliers and mixologists help you craft a five-course food and booze pairing menu

November 26, 2019 5:31 am
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Thanksgiving with the family? You’re definitely going to need a drink. Or five.

But you’ll also want to stay relatively clear-eyed and provide some options for your guests. So we asked a few top sommeliers and bar professionals to give us an ideal wine and spirits drinking guide for Thanksgiving.

The rules we gave our experts were simple: We needed five drinks to correspond with five different phases of the meal, from the early moments when guests arrive through the main course and up until everyone’s half-dozing on the sofa post-dessert. The wines had to be fairly easy to acquire, and spirits needed be served neat, on ice or in very easy-to-make cocktails. And everyone had to end the night somewhat coherent.

Side note: Keep some non-alcoholic options around for drivers, kids and Aunt Sheila. (We get it, Sheila — you hate the Swedes. Put your pants back on.)

Your five-course drinking plan, as follows …

Kir is crème de cassis topped up with white wine or Champagne (Joan Ransley/Getty Images)
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As guests arrive

A Kir Royale. A small amount of Crème de Cassis in the bottom of a wine glass topped with Champagne makes for a really exciting and beautiful greet for your guests. It has darker berry flavors that get your ready for cranberry sauce and pie. – Amy Racine, Wine Director of The Times Square EDITION and The Loyal  

Monte Rio Dry White Zinfandel (Suisun, CA) is a very recent collaboration between Pax Mahle and Sommelier Patrick Cappiello. These wines are an homage to the commercial, sweet, innocuous white zinfandel that maybe our parents loved but made in a very dry style. It goes well with a spicy sausage stuffing. This is a great way to start upon arrival because the mild flavors won’t overwhelm the palate, the acidity will open the appetite, and since it’s the start of a long day of drinking, the modest alcohol (11% ABV) helps the cause. – John Slover, sommelier at Dirty French

I would recommend a welcome punch, something tasty and seasonal that guests can help themselves to while the host preps for the evening. – Erick Castro, Co-Founder of San Diego’s Raised By Wolves and Polite Provisions

2018 Pax Trousseau Gris Fannuchi-Wood Road Vineyard (Bottle Barn)

During appetizers

A refreshing, high acid white wine like Chablis gets the appetite ready, and still leaves you feeling light before hitting the main course. Suggestion: Joseph Drouhin’s Chablis is mineral driven, crisp and refreshing. – Amy Racine

Pax Trousseau Gris (Russian River Valley, CA): Focusing on Syrah, the winery has moved on to more unique grape varietals planted around Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley. It is made with a good amount of carbonic maceration that adds some more complex wild aromas and a deeper pink hue. Trousseau Gris doesn’t seem serious but has more body than you’d expect and would pair well with vegetables and appetizers. – John Slover

Champagne or pilsner would work well here. Something fizzy to whet the appetite, but with a light enough flavor and body to go with an array of finger foods. – Erick Castro

King Estate Pinot Noir (King Estate)

During the main course

Pinot Noir and any entree, whether vegetarian, turkey or almost anything else, always go well together. It’s light and fruity against earthy vegetables and game bird, and the little zing of tart berries pairs to cranberry sauce. King Estate’s Pinot Noir from Oregon is a great find that make Burgundy and California Pinot Noir drinkers happy. – Amy Racine 

Family owned and ambitious, Corliss sources grapes from some of the best vineyards in Washington state. The Corliss Cabernet Sauvignon is 97% cabernet sauvignon with a seasoning of petit verdot and is a dark beauty with bombastic fruit and soft, well-managed tannins. Drink with turkey and save a sip for cheese, but be careful: high alcohol alert! – John Slover

A hearty meal like this that only comes once a year requires wine. I have always been partial to Pinot Noir when it comes to Thanksgiving. It’s full-bodied enough to stand up to the richness of the food. – Erick Castro

Bertoux and other brandies go well with pumpkin pie (Bertoux)

With dessert

Tawny ports have a smoky, espresso, baking spice flavor profile that pairs well with any cake or pie (but especially pumpkin). It’s also an easy sipper that helps with digestion if you overdid it on dinner and want the drink to be the dessert. Sandeman and Warres make great 10-year tawny ports. – Amy Racine 

Giacomo Bologna – Braida Moscato d’Asti (Piemonte): This delightful Moscato is fruity, frizzante and 4.5% alcohol — very handy after drinking Corliss Cab. The orange blossom and peach flavors will be a great foil for apple and pumpkin desserts. – John Slover

I love sipping a spirit with my dessert after dinner. A nice brandy, such as Bertoux, served alongside a slice of pumpkin pie, is the perfect way to wrap up a decadent and festive feast. The spices of the pie and the notes of baking spice from the brandy are a match made in heaven. – Erick Castro

Related: Your New Thanksgiving Tradition Should Be a Post-Dinner Amaro

The end of the night

A fun thing to do is set up a boozy hot drink station where your guests can build their own warm drink to sip on while dozing off on the couch. My favorite is a pot of of cocoa left on low over the stove, with the option to add Myers Dark rum and/or Grand Marnier next to a buffet of whipped cream, marshmallows, cinnamon, orange zest and white chocolate shavings. Toddies and Irish coffees are another fun idea. – Amy Racine 

At this point I would switch to a crisp beer. Reissdorf Kolsch is one of my favorites in this style, or a digestif such as Amaro. I would drink Braulio, which will help digest a full belly. – John Slover

Post meal, it’s time for a cup of coffee to pick me up. Then from there I will likely pivot to a porter or stout. Something nice and heavy to help me post up on the couch and veg with the family. – Erick Castro


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