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Though prepping for Thanksgiving might make you want to guzzle a whole bottle of vino before the guests arrive, choosing the best wines to serve with the meal shouldn’t induce the same level of panic. We’ve rounded up a few wine gurus to offer expert suggestions on the best bottles under $20 that complement everything from turkey to trimmings to pumpkin pie.
Before the Feast
Start the afternoon off on a festive note without overstimulating everyone’s stomachs. A bright, citrusy white like Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($13.99) from New Zealand or Estancia's crisp Pinot Grigio ($9.99) is a spectacular cocktail hour tipple alongside light snacks like smoky almonds or herbed goat cheese crostini.
At the Table
“Dishes like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cranberry sauce or anything maple-glazed are incredibly difficult to pair with dry wines.” says Kimberly Koharki, Director of Programming at New York’s Astor Center. “The sweetness in those dishes will completely overwhelm any fruitiness in the wine, making it seem overpoweringly tart and astringent -- the toothpaste and orange juice effect, if you will.”
Rather than crisp, minerally whites or understated reds, most wine experts look to richer, fuller-bodied wines for Thanksgiving dinner. Chardonnay might just be the best wine to match the meal across the board. It’s refreshing and light but has enough warmth to stand up to the variety of flavors piled onto the plate.
Anne von Hoffmann, proprietor of Angelbeck’s Wine in Montclair, New Jersey, recommends asking your local wine merchant to point you in the direction of un-oaked Chardonnays, like the buttery-tasting bottlings from Josh Cellars in northern California ($13.99).
If you’d rather stay away from Chardonnay altogether, wine and spirits educator Kim Leonard of Stew Leonard’s Wines recommends the Terre di Talamo Vento Vermentino ($15.99), a Tuscan white that has “more body than a Pinot Grigio but is not as oaky as a Chardonnay.” Its balance of acidity and richness holds up well to the mix of sweet and savory flavors in a Thanksgiving meal.
On the red end of the spectrum, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are traditional, tried-and-true turkey pairings -- the former for its earthiness and lighter-bodied cherry notes and the latter for its deep, extra-juicy sweetness. McManis Family Vineyards in California makes both a Pinot Noir ($12.99) and Zinfandel ($11.99) that Hoffman loves for their versatility.
If you like your stuffing with extra black pepper or are incorporating a smoky element into your spread, like serving ham or grilling your turkey, wines with naturally spicy undertones, like South Africa’s Six Hats Shiraz ($9.96), can stand up to the extra hit of flavor.
Room for Dessert
After dinner, instead of breaking the mood with a little Irish coffee, why not try a dessert wine alongside your pumpkin pie? Portugal’s Moscatel de Setubal ($12.99) is one of Leonard’s favorites for Thanksgiving dessert pairings. Its warm fig and almond flavors enhance clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg-spiced treats without being cloyingly sweet on its own. Or if you're in the mood for bubbly, Mionetto ($14.99) makes an affordable, pleasantly dry prosecco.
WATCH: How to Truss a Thanksgiving Turkey