What Wine Should You Serve With Turkey?

Though Zinfandel might be the all-American grape, there are better wines to put on the table.

Andrew Haynes

This story was originally published in 2016.

“A lot of people like to drink Zinfandel for the holidays,” said Lorena Ascencios, the head wine buyer at Astor Wine & Spirits in New York City. “Especially for Thanksgiving, because it’s considered the all-American wine. Some people like to be more loyal to American wines during the holidays, and I think that’s totally fair.”

Despite its reputation, however, Zinfandel might not be your best bet for the holiday. “Technically, I don’t think it works so well with Thanksgiving cuisine,” Ascencios said. “Zinfandel can be quite inky and rich, and also a little more tannic. When it comes to food pairing, you want to pair like with like.”

For turkey, which is neither terribly rich nor oily, she often steers her customers towards a utility player like Pinot noir. “Pinot noir is not a rich, full-bodied wine,” Ascencios said. “It’s a natural match with turkey, chicken or any kind of light meat.” Though softer than Zinfandel, Pinot noir still has that acidity you want to cut through the fat of sides and gravy. “If you don’t have a wine with acid, that’s just going to be a conflict with your food,” Ascencios added.

There are also plenty of domestic options, which are considered friendly, fruity and better suited to Thanksgiving than the big, mineral versions from Burgundy. Ask your local wine store to suggest a bottle from California and Oregon, which are the country’s two main Pinot noir production centers.

Truth be told, no wine that’s going to address every single flavor of Thanksgiving, Ascencios said. How do really account for turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes? But even if you can’t win with a single varietal, the point with Pinot noir is that you’ll never lose. Serve slightly chilled.

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