If you follow conventional wisdom and the most basic of wine pairing "rules," turkey is most commonly paired with a white wine, but red wine drinkers shouldn't despair. The popular bird is rather versatile and lends itself to pairing with a variety of different wines. In general, your selection of spices and cooking method can really help direct what wines will pair best with your chosen turkey entree. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the spicier you go, the sweeter the wine should be to help cut down that heat.
White and Sparkling Wines for Turkey
A variety of white and sparkling wines will work well with any turkey dish. You can find excellent wine pairings for everything from Thanksgiving dinner to turkey sandwich leftovers.
Chardonnay and Chablis
When in doubt, a Chardonnay is often a safe bet with most turkey dishes. A roast turkey main course encrusted with herbs would pair nicely with a Chardonnay. Note that the flavor profiles can differ greatly if the wine is from California where heavy emphasis on the use of oak is common. Look for wines commonly referred to as "oak bombs," which is a reference to how buttery a Chardonnay tastes. A heavily oaked or buttery Chardonnay can be overpowering for some wine drinkers if that is not your personal preference. For a more crisp, almost fruity Chardonnay, consider a Chablis, which is a French wine made with Chardonnay grapes. Other Bourgogne wines, or "White Burgundy" wines, are also made with Chardonnay grapes in France.
- A highly recommended option, endorsed by some food and wine writers, including Serious Eats, is Fritz Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($25). This Russian River Chardonnay is from California and has nice spice notes and hints of hazelnut. It's great with the creamy side-dishes often served with a roast turkey or Thanksgiving dinner.
- For Chablis recommendations, Food & Wine offers their top five picks, including the Louis Michel Premier Cru Montmain Chablis (around $20). Produced in all stainless steel, it's an excellent wine to showcase the characteristics of a premier cru Chablis.
Riesling or Gewürztraminer
Use turkey in a number of spicy dishes like chili, tacos, and meatloaf. With any turkey dish with Asian spices or pumped up heat, you'll find wines like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer may be your best bet. Because these wines come in different sweetness levels, you can play off the heat in your main course, or personal preference on sweetness levels. If you're unfamiliar with German Riesling, resources like Wine Folly have comprehensive sections devoted to the nuances of each wine and its various styles.
German Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are often considered the best, but you can also find good options produced in other places, including Washington, France (Alsace), and New Zealand.
- Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington teamed up with Ernst Loosen, a very well respected name in German Riesling, to produce Eroica. The wine combines the best of Old World and New World Rieslings, as evidenced by its continued ratings of over 90 points. The 2013 Eroica vintage ($22) received over 90 points from Wine & Spirits and The Wine Advocate.
- For a really good Gewürztraminer, consider Wine Enthusiast's highest rated 98 points Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Vendange Tardive Grand Cru Clos Saint Urbain Gewürztraminer ($70) from Alsace, France.
Never underestimate the versatility of a sparkling wine or Champagne. Sparkling wine with a Thanksgiving dinner is definitely a winner -- including a deep fried turkey! Saveur gives recommendations on their top Champagne picks, including the Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee ($60), which has received multiple 90+ ratings.
Rosé and Red Wines That Pair With Turkey
If you don't prefer a white or sparkling wine with your turkey, opt for a lighter red wine or rosé which will also pair well with a variety of turkey dishes. BBQ or grilled turkey, like turkey burgers, work well with a number of varietals. The main thing to remember with red wines is to avoid heavy tannins and high alcohol options.
This light and fruity red is made from the Gamay grape and is conveniently released in France during the third week of November each year, making it popular for Thanksgiving dinner. Beaujolais Nouveau can also be a great wine to accompany cold turkey, like turkey sandwiches or a turkey salad -- especially ones with cranberry and other fruit elements. If you serve a turkey breast with a good mustard sauce, or a turkey broccoli bake, for dinner one night, consider a Beaujolais Nouveau as well.
The wine's release is a celebrated event in France, called Beaujolais Nouveau Day, with many parties and even fireworks. It's released exactly at 12:01 a.m. and the wines are meant to be drunk young, rather than aged. Ratings on each year's vintage can vary widely. The popular wine app, Vivino, lists some of their top picks from the 2014 vintage, including the Maison Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau ($10).
Pinot Noir is another lighter red wine that is rather flexible with turkey dishes. If you're cooking a turkey breast with herbs or a Marsala sauce, Pinot Noir is a good option. Mustard or Parmesan cheese based sauces are also worthy matches or Pinot Noir. Consider a turkey burger with a Dijon mustard and Parmesan cheese crust to go with a nice glass of Pinot Noir.
There are quality Pinot Noirs found in a number of wine regions, but some favorites come from the cool California and Oregon coasts. If you're looking for California Pinot Noir, look for specific designations like Russian River Valley or Central Coast. Try Fog Dog ($35) from Joseph Phelps winery in California. Joseph Phelps Insignia Bordeaux blend is known around the world, and this Pinot Noir comes from his Freestone Vineyards along the Sonoma Coast. Vintages were consistently rated around 89-93 points, and it displays a nice blend of fruit, toasty oak, and an earthy finish.
Zinfandel is an ideal option for Thanksgiving dinner and other turkey dishes, especially those with heavy sauces. The most important element to remember when picking a Zinfandel is to watch its alcohol content closely. Zinfandels can range from lighter and lower alcohol options to full "alcohol bombs". Since turkey is already known for the sleepy side-effects of tryptophan, the last thing you want to do is serve a high-alcohol wine, otherwise your dinner guests will be knocked out before you plate dessert.
Sunset Magazine recommends a lower alcohol Zinfandel like Runquist Massoni Ranch from Amador County in California. Jeff Runquist's 2010 "Z" from Massoni Ranch ($24) was awarded a gold medal at the 2012 California State Fair.
More Wine Pairing Resources
Pairing wine with turkey dishes can be challenging, as the choice of wine can really depend on whether it's dark or white meat, seasonings, cooking style, and more. Use a Thanksgiving dinner wine pairing list if you're struggling with Thanksgiving dinner. For more assistance with the subtle nuances, like cooking styles or spices, use Wine Folly's guide to pairing wine with chicken and poultry is an invaluable resource to get you going on the best wine pairing for your specific turkey dish.