With the turkey ensconced in the oven, it’s tempting to dip into the cellar for your best bottles of Chardonnay and Cabernet, to measure up to the most-labored-over meal of the year. The trouble is, what generally accompanies the Thanksgiving bird on the table does few favors for those varieties. Traditional side dishes run a gamut of spicy, sweet, and fruity flavors that can render dry, tannic wines harsh and astringent (and even Chardonnay can harbor its share of oak tannin). Fresh cranberry sauce laced with cloves, spinach salad with pomegranate or dried cherries, spicy sausage and sourdough dressing, sweet potato casserole topped with a pecan and brown sugar crumble (god forbid, marshmallows) … all challenges to this country’s go-to white and red.
A simple guideline, though, opens up a world of choices beyond Chard and Cab. Whether it’s white or red, a wine just needs to be big on fruit and shy on tannin to play well with exuberant Thanksgiving flavors. On the white front, a whole category of wines has great complementary potential—the aromatic whites, which, in their best forms manage to be refreshingly dry and generously fruity at the same time. Varieties like Pinot Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer tend to deliver floral aromas and flavors of apple, pear, stone fruit, honeyed citrus…all friends to side-dish shenanigans.
And on the red front, it’s hard to think of a better partner than the West Coast’s fruit-driven Pinot Noirs. With season-appropriate cranberry and baking-spice flavors often built right into the profile, and earthy loam and mushroom notes lurking beneath, Pinot Noir is happy with the cranberry action on the table, as well as the mushrooms or giblets in the gravy.
Here are a dozen options to choose from.