Pairing Wine For Turkey Dinner

Posted by on Dec 1, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Pairing Wine For Turkey Dinner

As we discussed in the last blog, there are no real rules to food pairings. There are, however, some general guidelines which should help you find a perfect wine pairing for your holiday turkey dinner.
Turkey can be a very difficult food pairing, not because of the turkey itself, but because all the other flavors that are usually present at the table. So as a first rule, we always consider our guests and what they like to drink (ex: white, rose, red, and or sparkling) before making any decisions.

Next we need to consider the weight and richness of the food with the body of wine we are serving. That is, we want to achieve a balance—for example, a light-body wine would pair up best with dark part of the meat; conversely, a medium-body wine would pair up the light part of the meat.

Assuming that you have the weight in balance, next you should consider the flavor intensity of the food with the flavor intensity of the wine. The flavor intensity of the food is usually weak to moderate, but can change with addition of gravy or cranberry sauce; the flavor intensity of the wine usually weak to moderate, with some intense flavors based on what is being served alongside with the turkey.

One other thing to note is the level of sweetness and acidity present in the dishes.

With that all done, now we need to match or contrast the flavors of the food we are serving with the flavors of the wine. Here are some types of wines to consider.

White wines

As reminder, a warm climate region will usually have more fruit-forward wine then a cooler climate grape. Cooler climate grapes are sometimes great for pairing because of their higher acidity.

Chardonnay – The proverbial ‘blank slate’ grape because of its impeccable sugar/acid balance, Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety that soaks up the most subtle influences of region and technique like a sponge. It is rich, and popular worldwide. Even the slightest introduction of another grape will be easily noticeable on the palate.

Riesling – Hailing from Germany where it has been cultivated since the 1400’s, Riesling is unique in that it can retain its varietal identity while reflecting the individuality of its terroir. Rieslings run span the flavor gambit between bone dry skeleton to full-bodied nectar booming with sweet, fruit taste.

Sauvignon Blanc – Brought to America in the 1800’s where it was known as being a sweet style of wine, Sauvignon Blanc eventually lost favor with American palates, resurfacing in the wine community as more of a dry wine, sometimes under the name ‘Fumé Blanc.’ The varietal identity can be likened to grass, bell-pepper, or grapefruit.

Gewurztraminer – Known for being one of the strongest-smelling wine varietals, Gewürztraminer can often be identified by even the most novice wine enthusiast by its unmistakable aroma. It is notoriously difficult to grow, but their berries can achieve very high sugar levels making for high alcoholic content in dry versions. The main aroma from Gewurztraminer is one of fresh lychee fruit.

Pinot Grigio – a variant-clone of Pinot Noir, and sometimes used to add richness to it, Pinot Gris is a full-bodied wine known for being able to stand up to food without introducing competing flavors of its own. Pinot Grigio flavors can range from melon to pear and some even offer a subtle tropical or citrus fruit, often there is a honey or smoky flavor component as well.

Viognier – Defined by a potentially powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia, the distinctive Viognier perfume holds up even when blended with a large portion of other grapes.

Red Wine

As a reminder some of these style wines can be quiet heavy and full bodied, so be careful not to overpower your food pairings.

Pinot Noir – Hard to hard to grow; difficult to ferment; and enjoys one of the most complex flavors of all wine. It is full-bodied and rich, but not heavy; it is high in alcohol, yet neither acidic nor tannic, with substantial flavor despite its delicacy. The flavor you can expect is that of sweet red berries, plums, tomatoes, cherries and at times a notable earthy or wood-like flavor, depending on specific growing conditions.

Zinfandel – Popularized as a pink, slightly sweet wine. (Many fans think there is a ‘White Zinfandel,’ but there isn’t.) Zinfandel can be made light and fruity, or it can also be made into big, ripe, high alcohol style wines that resemble Port. That taste is that of ripe raspberry fruit with accents of pepper and spice. In many cases the fruit is complemented by a dusky, briary, brambly undercurrent that hints of bay leaves, sweet thyme, and basil.

Syrah/Shiraz – Syrah forms intense wines, with deep violet, nearly black color, chewy texture and richness, and firm tannins. The aromas that tend to be more spicy than fruity, and the taste is that of black cherry, blackberry, plum, bell pepper, black pepper, clove, licorice, dark chocolate and smoked meat.

Gamay Noir (Beaujolais Nouveau) – While frequently tart in their youth, wines made from Gamay Noir grapes can also be very fragrant and full of fresh fruit or floral aromas, and fermentation techniques can used to enhance the fruitiness even further. It tends to easily lose its varietal aroma and flavor identity when blended with another grape variety.

Other Wines To Consider

Sparkling Wines – It used to be that you would serve your sparkling wine with your appetizers, but because of the acidity and fruit flavors from some sparkling wines, they make a great food match and are quickly becoming more popular at the dinner table.

Rose – Typically a lot of Rose is made from Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Zinfandel. If you like any of these styles of wine, and would like something a little lighter and crisper, then this is a good option—and as far as the turkey dinner option goes, your best bet is dry.


Please do remember that you do not have to spend a lot to get some great wines. There are a lot of great wines for all the above in the $10 to $20 range.

Next blog we will discuss is wines to consider for your holiday ham.

About Dave Keighron

Dave Keighron has written 63 posts in this blog.

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