Better Feasting Through Wine: tips for holiday pairings

It’s always a challenge to find the perfect wine that goes with everything on a Thanksgiving table—but that never stops wine lovers from trying. Luckily, Willamette Valley wines have the perfect characteristics for food pairing: they’re high in acid, relatively low in tannin and moderate in alcohol, meaning they’ll complement your food without overpowering it. Here are some guiding principles for making the most of the wine on your Thanksgiving table.

It’s not the protein, it’s the sauce. While “red meat with red wine, chicken and fish with white wine” has become conventional wisdom, it’s actually the seasonings and sauces that are most significant when choosing an appropriate wine pairing. If you’re trying an unconventional Thanksgiving centerpiece such as a vegetarian dish, a ham, or pasta, consider whether you’re including a rich, creamy sauce or intense spice element when selecting wine, and be sure to mention it if you’re asking a wine professional for a recommendation.

Pinot is a staple for a reason. Our region’s flagship grape is is one of the most commonly recommended Thanksgiving dinner wines. Why? It has lively acidity to refresh the palate, with alcohol and tannin levels mild enough not to overwhelm delicate foods, and it often shows cranberry and spice notes that fit right in among seasonal side dishes.

But don’t forget to branch out. While Pinot is a terrific table wine thanks to its versatility, don’t forget the other Willamette Valley grapes that pair well with traditional Thanksgiving fare: Gamay, Chardonnay, Riesling, and even Grüner Veltliner and Syrah are all wonderful food wines.

Bubbles are your friend. Festive as sparkling wine may be, we hope you aren’t restricting your consumption to New Year’s Eve and anniversaries. The Willamette Valley has more sparkling wine than ever before, and it’s an obvious choice for holiday food pairing thanks to palate-cleansing bubbles and refreshing acidity.

Try a dessert wine! Our region has wonderful after-dinner sippers in many styles and from many grapes. If you haven’t tried pairing a late-harvest Riesling or Port-style wine with a slice of pie, you’re missing out.

Take a page from winemakers’ cookbooks. If you’d like to introduce a few new dishes into your holiday routine, don’t miss our Harvest Recipes, with winery-submitted dishes tested on harvest crews and winemaking families. 

Photo by John Valls