The Best Wines to Pair with Turkey, According to Experts

Choosing wine for Thanksgiving can be daunting. These recommendations make it easy.

Published Nov. 5, 2021.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to your Thanksgiving menu. While your mind might be preoccupied with choosing your turkey or dessert recipes, you’ll also want to know which drinks you should be pouring for friends and family on the day. But choosing wine for the biggest meal of the year can be daunting.

First of all, don’t fret. Like all things food related, the final word on which wine is best comes down to the drinker. According to TJ Douglas, founder of The Urban Grape, “the best thing to do when you’re pairing for a bunch of different palates is go yummy first.” 

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But since different cuts of the same bird will taste very different—a plate of white breast meat will have a different flavor than a serving of dark thigh meat—they will most likely pair better with different wine varietals. So to play it safe on the big day, you’ll want to offer a selection of wines to help cover the gamut of pairings and preferences.

Here are a few suggestions to ensure that you’re stocked with the best wines to complement any Thanksgiving main dish, from roast turkey to smoked turkey to even a meat-free option.

The Best Wines to Pair with Classic Roast Turkey

“I love, especially with turkey, drinking lighter-bodied wines like Pinot Noir, or medium-bodied, Grenache-based wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Côtes du Rhône,” TJ said about must-haves for the Thanksgiving table.

Zinfandels are fantastic because they don’t have a ton of tannin, which is what makes wine more dry, so they’re really yummy.
—TJ Douglas, founder of The Urban Grape

Maia Fleming, wine director of the natural wine bar Rebel Rebel, advocates for looking at your Thanksgiving table from a global perspective. 

“This time of year is harvest season for the northern hemisphere, so that means China, it means France and Italy,” she said. “So I ask myself, in the northern hemisphere this time of year, what’s in season? Quince, squashes . . . wine is from all over the world, and it’s important to remember that. Keep in mind what seasonal produce you’re pairing them with.”

The Best Wines to Pair with Smoked Turkey

“For a nontraditional turkey dinner, I love wines from South Africa,” TJ said when asked about what to pair with a smoked meat. “The terroir and microclimate there is incredible; they have the oldest dirt in the world. It’s incredibly iron-based from all the volcanic activity back in the day, which lends the wine a kind of grilled meatiness, like a smokiness. South Africans eat braai [a traditional and regionally varied meal likened to barbecue], and their wines pair perfectly with those smoky, outdoor foods. So I would recommend a South African red, like a Syrah.”

Maia took a similar approach, also suggesting a Syrah. “I’ve recently become obsessed with Syrahs from the northern Rhône,” she said. “They have a sticky, cured-Moroccan-olive quality and a kick of spice, almost like a dark earthiness, and would work with something more intense in flavor.”

The Best Wines to Pair with Faux Turkey

Maia spoke from experience when it came to recommending the perfect meat-free wine pairing. 

“My entire family is vegetarian, and my brother always makes a Thanksgiving faux turkey. Richer-style white pairs well with that umami quality,” she said. “I would recommend the rich whites from the Jura region, which also pair well with all the veggies on your table.”

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Meanwhile, TJ recommended a wine that would pair with the drinker’s values as well as their palate. 

“If you have a table of tofu turkey, maybe some organic veggies as well, I think you start with something in the vineyard that’s biodynamically farmed—based on the lunar calendar and very self-sustaining—and there are so many coming out of Austria,” he suggested. “There’s a great grape varietal called Grüner Veltliner, which are medium-bodied and pair beautifully with savory flavors and vegetables, especially brussels sprouts, asparagus, and those hard-to-pair foods.”

Other Wines Worth Serving

So what, when it all comes down to it, are the nonnegotiables for these expert sommeliers? For a nonred option, TJ opted for a classic glass of bubbly. 

“I would do a champagne with a little bit of added sweetness like a dosage,” he said. “As for a red, I’m a sucker for a Napa Cabernet. It’s big and round and juicy, and while it does have some tannin, it’s superyummy. For my ultimate desert island wine, it would have about 10 years on it, just for that delicious softness.”

Maia, meanwhile, said that her must-haves all come from the same region. “I’m going to just give you a region: the Jura,” she said. “It has richer-style whites and lighter-style reds. They have oxidative Chardonnays that have a lovely mineral-driven quality to them, as well as the Crémant du Jura, which is the perfect kind of bubbly to start off the evening.”

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