Thanksgiving is one of the most important American holidays, and food is an essential component of it. When friends and family gather around the table, the hosts typically serve turkey with a lot of complementing side dishes. And in many cases, the meal comes with a bottle of wine. But which turkey and wine pairing is the best?

To create a delicious turkey and wine pairing, choose a light wine. A white wine with crisp acidity and fruity aromas is best for light dishes. For more savory dishes, a red medium-acidic and low-tannin wine is a good choice.

The perfect wine for your meal depends on the meat’s seasoning and the side dishes you serve. To get a better understanding, we will talk about the most popular turkey and wine pairings in this article.

What is Turkey and How Does It Taste?

Turkey is a type of poultry and belongs to the category of white meat. In the United States, about 6 billion pounds of turkey meat are produced each year.

Chefs distinguish between the light breast meat and the darker meat of the tights and legs. The breast meat is succulent but has a neutral taste. Typically, it’s even less flavorful than chicken. The dark meat has a higher fat content and, thus, a richer, juicier flavor.

For wild turkeys, this distinction isn’t as clear as for domestic turkeys. Their breast meat is rather dark, too, and has a more intense flavor. You might even find it comparable to game.

Turkey and Wine Pairing Rules

Turkey has a neutral flavor. Without spices and herbs, it doesn’t taste like much. Thus, the seasoning and the side dishes are crucial when pairing turkey and wine. In general, white wine is the best choice for light dishes, featuring vegetables and thin sauces. In contrast, combine red wine and turkey with bold side dishes and savory sauces. Depending on the seasoning, even a sparkling wine can be a good match.

Let’s talk about some of the best turkey and wine combinations.

Roasted Turkey

The traditional Thanksgiving meal is an oven-roasted turkey. It gets its flavors from spices such as salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and rosemary that are spread on and under its skin. After roasting for about two hours, the meat is tender and juicy with a well-flavored, crispy skin.

The classic pairing for this preparation is a Chardonnay wine. This white wine combines a crisp acidity with a fruit-forward flavor profile and a medium body. It matches not only the herbal aromas of the roasted turkey but also the fruity flavors of a cranberry sauce. Pick an Old World Chardonnay, for instance, from France.

New World Chardonnay from the United States or Australia can be a good match for very intensely flavored roasts. When oaked, they have a fuller body that can stand even very rich preparations. They are great, in particular, if your meal has some smokey notes. These bottles are worth opening:

Staglin Chardonnay 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: United States, California
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 14.0%

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2017

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: United States, California
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 14.0%

Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: United States, California
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 14.5%

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2017

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Australia, Western Australia
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.5%

Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Australia, Western Australia
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.0%

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2018

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Australia, Western Australia
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.0%

If you prefer red wine with your Thanksgiving meal, there are some great options for you, too. With its light body and lively acidity, Pinot Noir is a delicious match for roasted turkey. It works with different seasonings, savory side dishes, and fruity sauces. Old World wines are light and refreshing with aromas of red fruits and subtle tannins.

American Pinot Noir is somewhat bolder. It offers intense aromas of black fruits and spices, and subtle earthy and herbal notes. Try wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Turkey Tacos

Originating from Mexico, tacos get more and more popular as a quick snack in the United States. They can be served cold or hot, with a variety of ingredients, and different seasonings. By the way, turkey tacos are a great day-after dish to use the leftovers of your Thanksgiving meal.

The turkey is usually flavored with classic taco seasonings, including garlic, cumin, chili, paprika, or black pepper. The right wine to complement this flavor profile is a fresh German Riesling with citrus aromas. Especially sweet Rieslings can counter the spicy heat of the tacos. Look out for Kabinett or Spätlese wines:

Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Germany, Mosel
  • varietal: Riesling
  • alcohol: 8.5%

Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling Spätlese 2016

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Germany, Rheingau
  • varietal: Riesling
  • alcohol: 7.5%

J.J. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2020

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Germany, Mosel
  • varietal: Riesling
  • alcohol: 9.0%

Alternatively, go for a Vinho Verde from Portugal. It’s light and fruity, but less sweet than Riesling:

Joao Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Portugal, Vinho Verde
  • varietal: Alvarinho
  • alcohol: 13.0%

Casa do Valle Vinho Verde Branco Grande Escolha 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Portugal, Vinho Verde
  • varietal: Alvarinho, Arinto
  • alcohol: 13.5%

JM Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde 2020

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Portugal, Vinho Verde
  • varietal: Alvarinho, Loureiro, Pedernã, Trajadura
  • alcohol: 10.0%

Turkey Burgers

Burgers are the cornerstones of every barbeque. Sure, Thanksgiving isn’t a typical occasion for a barbecue, but turkey recipes are not Thanksgiving-exclusive. And turkey burgers definitely are an excellent meal for a summertime barbecue.

While burgers are typically made of beef, turkey is a lighter alternative. Unfortunately, it’s also less flavorful. Turkey burgers are made from ground turkey that hasn’t been heavily seasoned. Thus, the toppings determine the dominant flavors of the burger, and your wine should match them.

Rosé wine is a delicious match for light, mild preparations with a mild seasoning. Pink wines with fruity flavors of red berries and herbal notes are just perfect. They complement the turkey without overpowering it. And especially wines from the Loire Valley are also light enough to be proper drinks for a hot summer day:

Charles Joguet Chinon Rose 2020

  • type: rosé, still, Vintage
  • origin: France, Loire Valley
  • varietal: Cabernet Franc
  • alcohol: 13.5%

Gerard Boulay Sancerre Rose Chavignol Tradition 2018

  • type: rosé, still, Vintage
  • origin: France, Loire Valley
  • varietal: Pinot Noir
  • alcohol: 13.5%

Domaine des Nouelles Rose d'Anjou 2020

  • type: rosé, still, Vintage
  • origin: France, Loire Valley
  • varietal: Cabernet Franc, Grolleau
  • alcohol: 10.5%

If you choose richer toppings like bacon or blue cheese, a Pinot Noir might be the better pick. As said, it’s on the light side so that it won’t dominate the overall experience. But it offers more earthy aromas that pair superbly with the savory toppings.

Cajun Style Turkey

The Cajun cuisine combines influences from Spain, France, and West Africa to an exquisite flavor experience. It’s famous for the variety of ingredients that are used to season meals. They include hot spices like cayenne pepper, chili, garlic, and herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme.

Cajun Style Turkey Dinner with Mashed Potatoes, Beans, and other Side Dishes

Cajun Style Turkey Dinner

Cajun turkey typically is prepared similarly to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey: After seasoning, it roasts for around two hours until the meat is tender and the skin is crispy. By that time, it has soaked up all the different aromas from the herbs and spices. The result is a delicately spicy dish that is best served with side dishes like sweet potato pone, coleslaw, and gravy.

When pairing Cajun turkey and wine, you have some interesting options. Actually, you can go for sparkling wines such as Champagne. With its fine bubbles, the French sparkler helps counter the meal’s heat by cleaning your palate after each bite. At the same time, its acidity can cut through savory side dishes. Its citrus aromas complement the Cajun flavors excellently, and with the rather low alcohol content, it’s the right choice for a long multiple-course meal.

The following Champagnes are of good quality, yet affordable:

Ayala Brut Majeur

  • type: white, sparkling
  • origin: Champagne, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
  • alcohol: 12.0%

Veuve Clicquot Brut

  • type: white, sparkling
  • origin: Champagne, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
  • alcohol: 12.0%

G.H. Mumm Brut Grand Cordon

  • type: white, sparkling
  • origin: Champagne, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
  • alcohol: 12.5%

If you prefer Prosecco over Champagne, feel free to pick the Italian sparkler. These bottles are worth opening:

Cinzano Prosecco

  • type: white, sparkling
  • origin: Veneto, Italy
  • varietal: Glera
  • alcohol: 11.0%

Ca' Furlan Prosecco

  • type: white, sparkling
  • origin: Veneto, Italy
  • varietal: Glera
  • alcohol: 11.0%

Fantinel One and Only Prosecco Brut 2017

  • type: white, sparkling, Vintage
  • origin: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
  • varietal: Glera
  • alcohol: 12.0%

If you like sweet wine, you should try ice wine and turkey. Its incredible sweetness is an awesome counterplayer to the Cajun-style heat. The fruity aromas like peaches or nectarines are a delicious add-on to the seasoning. And when served properly chilled, the wine’s temperature can cool down your palate.

For the traditional experience, try a German Eiswein. Alternatively, you can go for a Vidal wine from Canada or the United States. Here are some recommendations:

Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2019

  • type: white, dessert wine, Vintage
  • origin: Canada, Ontario
  • varietal: Vidal
  • alcohol: 9.5%

Tomasello Vidal Ice Wine 2019

  • type: white, dessert wine, Vintage
  • origin: USA, New Jersey
  • varietal: Vidal
  • alcohol: 12.5%

Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 2019

  • type: red, dessert wine, Vintage
  • origin: Canada, Ontario
  • varietal: Cabernet France
  • alcohol: 9.5%

Turkey Pasta

Turkey might not be the first ingredient that comes to mind when thinking about pasta. But you can use it for many dainty dishes. And an awesome pasta dish is another useful way to process your Thanksgiving Day leftovers.

Stroganoff is one of many great options. The savory sauce made from tomatoes, cream, onions, and mushrooms is a fantastic topping for pasta and turkey. Another delicious tomato-based dish is pasta with turkey-ricotta meatballs. Like Stroganoff, it’s a lavish meal with a creamy texture and fruity aromas.

A great combination of pasta with turkey and wine includes Chianti Classico. The high-quality Italian blend is medium-bodied with robust tannins and high acidity. With these characteristics, it’s perfect for cutting through the savory tomato sauce.

Castellani Chianti Classico Riserva 2016

  • type: red, still, Vintage
  • origin: Tuscany, Italy
  • varietal: Sangiovese
  • alcohol: 13.0%

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2019

  • type: red, still, Vintage
  • origin: Tuscany, Italy
  • varietal: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino
  • alcohol: 13.5%

Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2019

  • type: red, still, Vintage
  • origin: Tuscany, Italy
  • varietal: Sangiovese
  • alcohol: 13.0%

In case you prefer lighter pasta dishes, for instance with spinach, broccoli, or green pesto, your wine must be lighter too. Try a dry Italian white wine with crisp acidity like Gavi:

Villa Sparina Gavi di Gavi 2020

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Italy, Piedmont
  • varietal: Cortese
  • alcohol: 12.5%

Principessa Gavia Gavi 2020

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Italy, Piedmont
  • varietal: Cortese
  • alcohol: 12.0%

Villa Rosa Gavi Di Gavi 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Italy, Piedmont
  • varietal: Cortese
  • alcohol: 12.5%

Turkey Soups and Stews

Finally, turkey is a common ingredient for different types of soup. Whether you prefer a thin soup or a creamy stew, all of these variations are great leftover dishes. Typically, they contain vegetables such as bell peppers, peas, carrots, onions, or celery and spices like pepper, thyme, sage, and bay leaves.

When pairing a soup with turkey and wine, you have to make sure that the wine doesn’t overpower the soup’s flavors. Most red wines are too bold, even for creamy soups. The same goes for oaked whites from New World wine countries. But a Burgundy Chardonnay is an excellent choice. It’s acidic enough to stand even a savory stew without dominating it:

Joseph Drouhin Macon Villages 2019

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Burgundy, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.0%

Bouchard Pere & Fils Meursault (Domaine) 2017

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Burgundy, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.5%

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Premier Cru 2018

  • type: white, still, Vintage
  • origin: Burgundy, France
  • varietal: Chardonnay
  • alcohol: 13.0%

Slightly oaked Chardonnay from Canada or Oregon might be a good match too.

Final Words

With the right turkey and wine pairing, your Thanksgiving dinner will be an excellent experience for loved ones. And in this article, you’ve learned everything to create these pairings. Be aware that some people have a strong preference for red or white, sparkling or still wine. Consider buying a bottle of each to please all of your guests or try a wine that they haven’t known before.