Wines for Thanksgiving: for new traditions

There are so many wines that can be drunk with a Thanksgiving meal – why not be purposeful with your choice? I am always touting lesser-known wine varietals and regions, and Thanksgiving is a great time to seek out ones that may have personal connections to your own family.  Many of us who celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States do so with family traditions begun in other parts of the world, and there is always a wine for that!


One of the most commonly touted red wines for Thanksgiving dinner is Pinot Noir, preferably Burgundian. Its earthiness and acidity, as well as some pepper and smoke, and relatively light body make is brilliant for the meal. It basically acts as a good, tart cranberry sauce.

That description – earthy, acidic, spicey, lighter-bodied – also applies to a whole range of wines from around the world.

The German grape Spätburgunder is actually Pinot Noir, and the wines drink similarly. My ancestry is Polish and German, and Thanksgiving always included a red cabbage and apple dish made with tons of black pepper and vinegar – Spätburgunder (try Künstler) is perfect for that!

Do you have Central- or Eastern- European ancestry? That earthy, spicy, tart-fruit mix in a light/medium body can be found in wines made from Blaufrankisch/Kekfrankos, or locally-grown Pinot Noir. Look for Milan Nestarec of the Czech Republic, or producers from Hungary’s eastern border, like Meinklang. The Republic of Georgia is known for its very-full-bodied Saperavi, but wines made from the Otskhanuri Sapere or Aladasturi grapes are lighter bodied and spicier. Try the Aladasturi from Vartiskhe Marani.

Australia is not historically known for its lighter-bodied reds, but the current trends toward plantings of Nebbiolo and usage of whole-cluster fermentation are changing that. For a Thanksgiving splurge, look to Yarra Valley producers Timo Mayer, or Luke Lambert

From the Western Hemisphere, you can certainly find Pinot Noir, but also look for Pais – the Mission grape, introduced into Spanish missions across the “New World” in the 15th and 16th centuries. Winemakers from Mexico to Chile are embracing this vestige of their colonial past and creating some very modern wines and invigorating their wine industries. Two outstanding wines made from Pais come from La Casa Vieja in Mexico, and Cacique Maravilla in Chile.


The variety and diversity of white wines is, simply, stunning. It is also difficult to choose any one white wine that is “perfect” for Thanksgiving dinner. Though, if I had to, I’d probably pick an Assyrtiko for its saline nature, stone fruit flavors, and nice mouth feel. But, that applies to some Albarinos, Pinot Grigios, and more.

White wines are also a way to incorporate some new traditions into your meal, or expand on older ones. Those traditions don’t need to be based on one’s ancestry: why not focus on a favorite issue, idea, or hobby – in your favorite country or one you wish to visit?

“How about literature, history, and female winemaker all in one wine? Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a trifecta !”

Let’s start in Italy. Indulge an interest in Literature with a visit to Verona (and Romeo and Juliet) for some Soave. This is the perfect wine to step out onto your own balcony, chat, and sip. History? Travel South to Campania for Fiano di Avellino and trace the steps of Spartacus as he escaped from Capua and started the Third Servile War. This is your friend for brussels sprouts with lemon and parmesan! How about literature, history, and female winemaker all in one wine? Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a trifecta! Dante Alighieri wrote about Vernaccia in his Divine Comedy, and he stayed in San Gimignano for a time while ensconced in the Guelph disputes of the early 14th century – following the Guelf and Ghibelline disputes of the 13th century! Letizia Cesani makes this stunner – which is amazing with your Thanksgiving charcuterie, in particular lardo.

If you want to incorporate women in wine in your tradition, you might also want to incorporate Black women in wine. Ntsiki Biyela is South Africa’s first Black female winemaker. Her Aslina Chardonnay would be divine with your mushroom dishes, or some bacon-y beans.

Thanksgiving is also a great time for wines from… Turkey! Emir and Narince are my two favorite white grapes, and are fresh, light, and zippy. They are both excellent with food; ry with any of your vegetarian and vegan dishes – especially with eggplant. I love Vinkara’s Narince, and try Turasan for Emir.

I need to include Voskehat white from Armenia. I have had two, stunning examples of this grape – one from Karasi and one from Koor. Full bodied, super flavorful, great acid, and without real parallel. This wine will fit the whole meal – but would work best with roast meats or vegetables.

Whatever you decide to try, do try something new! Cheers to (new) family traditions!

Need more ideas? With these ideas in mind, we put together Jet Wine Bar Thanksgiving wine packs to enjoy with your holiday meal. Have a look!