Instead of pouring Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, try changing things up this Thanksgiving with one of these more unusual bottles.

By Markham Heid
October 24, 2019
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While any night is a good night to explore a new style of wine, Thanksgiving is an ideal opportunity to dabble in unfamiliar terroir.

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Why? For one thing, some of the most popular wine grapes—Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, to name two—aren’t ideal mates for traditional Thanksgiving fare. For another, a lot of under-the-radar grapes or styles—ones that may fail to shine on their own—positively sing when paired with Thanksgiving foods.

“I always look at the holidays as the best time to utilize my underdog varieties,” says Ashley Broshious, head sommelier at Zero Restaurant + Bar in Charleston. “Thanksgiving and the holidays are always full of such rich foods—potatoes, gravy, deviled eggs—so you need to find wines that can pair with anything.”

German Riesling is one of her favorites—especially Spätlese rieslings, which use grapes harvested at higher sugar levels, towards the end of the growing season. They feature some (but not too much) residual sugar, and their delicate sweetness is always offset by vibrant acidity, meaning they come off more palate-whetting than sweet. Broshious feels that Spätlese rieslings work beautifully with a wide range of Thanksgiving foods, and especially those with smoky or autumn-spice notes.

“Wines from the Jura definitely come to mind,” says Andrew Milliorn, wine steward at Mattie’s in Austin, referring to the tiny but increasingly trendy wine-producing region of eastern France. “Jura reds offer the funk that Gamay enthusiasts love, however they show different structure and bright red fruits.”

The Jura grape Trousseau pairs nicely with Thanksgiving eats, he says. “It has bright acidity to help cut through ham and turkey, but subtleness to go with stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the fixings.”

Here are 11 great, unconventional wines that are sure to delight your company this Thanksgiving. While some of these specific bottles might be tricky to track down, there are other great producers out there in each of these categories, too—just ask your local wine store.

Badoz Côtes du Jura Trousseau 2015 ($25)

This medium-bodied red offers all the bright acidity, fruit and funk Milliorn was talking about, along with an underlying backbone of earth and minerals. From turkey and cranberry sauce to green beans and sweet potatoes, a range of foods play nicely with this wine.
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Bénédicte et Stéphane Tissot Vieilles Vignes Poulsard 2018 ($38)

If you haven’t discovered the pleasure of the Poulsard grape, you and your Thanksgiving companions are in for a treat. Like Trousseau, this Jura grape tends to produce wines that are acidic and fruit forward. Wild cranberries and strawberries are up front in this superb and food-friendly wine.
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Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 ($11)

If you’re worried about mating a wine to your vegetable sides, “try something young and fresh with green notes of raw almonds,” says Jill Weber, owner of Philadelphia’s Jet Wine Bar. “That sounds to me like a young Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and Cesani makes one of my favorites.” This bracing Tuscan white is a delicious, affordable option.
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J.J. Christoffel Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2016 ($35)

Don’t let all those umlauts intimidate you. This sublime Spätlese is the perfect marriage of citrus and sweetness. While that combination may sound less than thrilling to American wine drinkers who have been programmed to seek out dry and oaky wines, sipping this Riesling with food is an eye-opening pleasure.
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Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese 2017 ($23)

Slate, citrus, and a touch of honey highlight this lovely, affordable Spätlese. Buy a bottle and test-drive it at Thanksgiving this year, and you’ll end up stocking up for next year—and for plenty of meals in the meantime.
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William Chris Vineyards Pétillant Naturel Sparkling Rosé ($25)

Most people drink sparkling wine before a meal as an aperitif. That’s a shame, because “these are some of the most versatile and food-friendly wines out there,” says Angela Gargano, wine and spirits director at Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch. She recommends looking for a domestic sparkling wine—and particularly a sparkling rosé—to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. “The bright acidity and full-bodied fruitiness of most sparkling rosé means that it will go well with all of the different flavors of the holiday,” she says. This one from Texas’s William Chris Vineyards is a beauty.
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Domaine de la Noblaie “Les Blanc Manteaux” Chinon ($20)

Many Cabernet Franc wines have a lovely floral quality and notes that are reminiscent of their more robust relative, Cabernet Sauvignon, Broshious says. But unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines won’t overpower the flavor of Thanksgiving foods. She recommends looking to France’s Loire Valley. This Chinon from Domaine de la Noblaie is an excellent value.
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Early Mountain 2017 QR Cabernet Franc ($45)

While a good Loire Valley Cabernet Franc may be easier to track down at your local wine ship, some lighter New World offerings are also great options, Broshious says. Several Virginia winemakers are producing outstanding Cabernet Franc. That includes Keswick Vineyards and this standout from Early Mountain.
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Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro “Monovitigno” ($24)

A mildly sparkling Italian red with Thanksgiving dinner? You’ll understand when you try it. “My surprise wine of Thanksgiving is always Lambrusco,” says Broshious. From holiday ham and sides to dessert, “I am always pleasantly surprised with how well it pairs from start to finish,” she adds. There are a range of Lambrusco styles. You want a darker, dryer pick made with the Lambrusco Grasparossa grape. This offering from Fattoria Moretto is a great choice for your holiday.
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Yangarra Estate Old Vine Grenache 2014 ($30)

If you’re looking for alternative reds to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, “you practically have to bring old vine Grenache into the equation,” says Milliorn. He recommends an Australian Grenache—one grown in sandy soils. “Aromatic, orange rind, spice and subtle fruit, these are remarkable wines,” he says. This cranberry-and-spice laden offering from the McLaren Vale region of Australia is an affordable stunner.
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Tank Garage Fast and Loose Red Wine 2018 ($52)

Adventurous red blends are a booming category in domestic wine. And while many (some would say most) are underwhelming, some are exceptional. Calistoga’s Tank Garage Winery is producing a lot fun, unconventional and absolutely delicious red and white blends. This succulent red—made primarily with Italian Teroldego but featuring a half-dozen other grapes—is a magnificent medley paired when with turkey and sides.
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