Thanksgiving a Family Meal

  • Written By David Kline~“My personal background and 40 years in the hospitality industry have forged my diverse passions for food, wine, cocktails, education, history, theater, and music. My goal with each posting is to give insightful and entertaining topic substance with equal measures of honesty, humor, humility and history.” 


If past is prologue celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends will continue to provide future generations of Americans with the opportunity to connect with our shared history, make new memories and revel in one of the most socially acceptable excuses for personal gustatory gratification and excess known to humanity. In short, the Thanksgiving meal is the perfect venue to build bridges across family, traditions, culinary creations and wine possibilities.

A Little History

The melting got started in the pot in 1621 with the first Thanksgiving shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people and notable folks have added to the concept as the years rolled by. Ol’ Ben Franklin thought the North American Wild Turkey should be the national bird, but John Adams’ push for the Bald Eagle won out in 1782! Give Abraham Lincoln credit for proclaiming the last day in November a national day of thanksgiving, praise and prayer in 1863 though it didn’t gain legal holiday status on the next to last Thursday in November until FDR signed a bill into law in 1941.

Man’s indefatigable ability to consume large quantities of the bird while simultaneously destroying its natural habitats saw the turkey’s flocks dwindle to only about 30,000 by 1900. A genius exercise in taxation in support of ecological & wildlife salvation known colloquially as the Pittman-Robertson Act signed by FDR in 1937 and amended several times since helped prevent the bird’s extinction as have the latter-day efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation (Their motto: Conserve. Hunt. Share). The turkey is so ingrained in our cultural identity that it was enjoyed in foil packets by astronauts Neil Armstrong & Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin” for their first meal on the moon. For further cultural turkey validation look no further than your local Turkey Trot, bowling’s “turkey” and the venerable Wild Turkey Bourbon. Can I get an Amen?

Building a Bridge from Wine to Food

Now when it comes to pairing that special turkey bird with wine let’s pursue that building bridges theme a bit. The following are some pairing concepts that you can apply to any food dish and I’ll supply you with some turkey-specific wine options farther down in this posting. Caveats abound, so let’s look at the basics. In wine classes I always teach that there are few wrong wine pairings, but there are definitely better ones. You have to trust your own palate; drink what you like to drink. Know your audience, too; no point in serving wines to your guests that you know they don’t or won’t like – remember that they are your guests – even if they are family! Definitely make a holiday meal wine & food budget and stick to it!  

What to Avoid and How to Pick a Winner

For the Thanksgiving meal avoid wines that have high-alcohol, high-tannins or are heavily-oaked. The less oak, the better for this meal. For alcohol, think between 9%-13.5%. Go for medium to high-acid, fruit-forward, light to medium-bodied wines, with perhaps a touch of sweetness. For this meal you should be thinking crisp and bright sparkling, rosé or white wines and smooth and supple reds that are lightly dry on the finish. Even if a big & bold California Cabernet Sauvignon is your normal go-to wine of choice, you may find that a wine that isn’t so oaky, so massive and so dry is actually a better bird choice and more pleasant with the holiday dishes on the table.

Saving Certain Wines for Other Holidays

Thanksgiving, though a great gathering holiday, is not the meal to whip out your best wine cellar selections. Save those for Christmas or New Year’s Eve where more precise pairings can be made and the wines can shine. The Thanksgiving table is too busy with a diversity of aromatic, flavor and textural profiles to do your prized wines any justice. For large numbers of guests think value for volume. For volume and savings think of buying wine by the case or in 1.5L (magnum) bottles, too. Never hurts if you have some bottles left over, but it’s harsh if you run out and your guests haven’t had enough wine for their wonderful meal.

Crossing the Bridge

Bridge Pairing Concept – Think of the feast as a whole, how the dishes integrate (or don’t, as is often the case at Thanksgiving) and determine any dominant aromatic, texture and flavor profiles. For example, how is the bird prepared (brined, blackened, grilled, roasted, barbecued, deep-fried, smoked), key fats (butter, olive oil, etc.), spices, herbs or seasonings, side dishes (such as, simple green beans are good with Sauvignon Blanc vs. Chardonnay which would be better for a green bean casserole with mushrooms & cream) and rich desserts.

Profiles in Courage what works best and taking chances

Your ultimate choice is to cater to the dominant profiles or appeal to the broadest number of profiles. Very rarely, based on your food choices, will you find a wine that will play well with all of the dishes on the table or all of your guests, for that matter! It’s really about playing the odds and finding a wine that bridges most of the food choices, appeals to most of the guests and stays in your budget.

The Goal of a Well Paired Meal: Fun

The goal is for you and your guests to have fun with your food and wine so aim for pairings that reinforce harmony on the palate. (For example, the Chablis that works great with your roasted turkey may clash with your super-tart cranberries and the Syrah that works great with your cranberries may be too bold for your roasted turkey; but odds are better for you and your Syrah if your turkey is smoked or barbecued.) Are you starting to get the hang of this now? In most cases, your efforts are better directed at creating “bridges” with your wine choices rather than trying to force a wine to fit.

Now that you know Go Buy some wine!

Luckily for you and your guests there is a world of wine out there that will play well with the breadth of bounty on your Thanksgiving table. So many choices and so little space! Availability may vary by region/market. Don’t be afraid to seek the counsel of your grocery store wine manager or the staff at your local wine shop – they know their stock and are happy to share their passion helping you find a wine to fit your needs. Go with what you’re comfortable with or be adventurous and try something new with your Thanksgiving bird (or ham) – maybe a rich rosé, sensational sparkling or a grape you’ve never had before! Be fearless in your consideration of some of the following global grapes and wines in your quest:


  • Cava 
  • Champagne 
  • Cremant d’Alsace 
  • Franciacorta 
  • Moscato d’Asti 
  • Prosecco 
  • Sekt 
  • Lambrusco 
  • U.S. Sparkling


  • Albarino 
  • Chardonnay Unoaked/Lightly Oaked
  • Chenin Blanc 
  • Falanghina 
  • Gewurztraminer 
  • Gruner Veltliner 
  • Müller-Thurgau 
  • Muscadet 
  • Pinot Blanc 
  • Pinot Gris 
  • Riesling 
  • Pinot Grigio 
  • Rhone White Blends
  • Sauvignon Blanc 
  • Torrontes 
  • Viognier 

White Blends – White Bordeaux/White Meritage


  • Sparkling Rosé 
  • Cremant d’Alsace Rosé 
  • Brut Rosé 
  • Still Rosé/Rosado/Rosato


  • Barbera d’Asti
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Gamay
  • Grenache/Garnacha 
  • Lambrusco 
  • Malbec 
  • Pinot Meunier 
  • Pinot Noir 
  • Primitivo 
  • Red Blends –Red Bordeaux/Red Meritage 
  • Rhône Red Blends 
  • Salice Salentino 
  • Syrah/Shiraz 
  • Zinfandel


***Note that a dessert wine should be as sweet as or sweeter than the dessert…

  • Madeira 
  • Late-Harvest Riesling 
  • Tawny Port 
  • Sherry 
  • Sweet Moscatel

A Final Thought

We celebrate Thanksgiving with family, friends and strangers. The concept of giving thanks for the good things in our lives brings us all together at the same universal table.  Once we’re at the table with good food on our plates.  A good glass of wine in our hand. The good conversations come easily and similarities across family, traditions, politics, economics and culinary creations become more apparent than differences. Raise a glass (of whatever makes you happy) and give thanks for yesterday, today and the promise of tomorrow… DK

A note from Tripping Vittles….

My love of Thanksgiving has a large part to do with many holiday meals shared with David the  author of this post. His wine pairings were always fantastic. They were some of the best meals I have ever eaten.  Follow the link to see just one thing you can do with left overs. We were always a group of friends making food so it is fitting the left overs would be Ross from “Friends” famous Moist Maker . We have all now scattered to different sides of the globe. The  memories are still wonderful and will keep me smiling for a lifetime!

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