How to pair your Thanksgiving menu and wine like a pro

  • Learning how to pair food and wine can be fun as well as delicious.

    Learning how to pair food and wine can be fun as well as delicious.

By Robin and Dan Tarragano
We Know Vino Wine educators
Posted11/19/2021 6:00 AM

As the name of this great American holiday suggests, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. We give thanks to our family, friends and good health, but how about giving thanks to our fermented friends, too.

Those stunning red, white, sparkling and rosé wines that we savor are definitely worthy of thanks as well.


So who do we have to thank for wine in the first place? Do we thank the birds and primates who, 60 million years ago, began eating grapes that had fallen and naturally fermented into alcohol? Maybe we should give thanks to the early cave men and cave women. They observed 10,000 years ago the birds and primates eating grapes and began to do the same only to find that their grapes had also naturally fermented, causing them to do the happy dance.

Either way, nature has been converting fermented grapes into wine for many millions of years, but today, pairing wines with food is still a mystery to many of us. Let's unravel that mystery of how to best pair that enchanting wine with the delicious selections on your Thanksgiving table.

The first step in creating great food and wine pairings is to throw out all the rules you may have heard in the past, such as "white wine only with fish" and "red wine only with meat."

Instead of rules, it's best to understand the concepts behind food and wine pairings. Knowing some basics will enable your food and wine to enhance each other rather than one overpowering the other.

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A key principle in food and wine pairing is considering the dish's seasonings, sauces and preparation. Whether your main entree is a traditional turkey, a vegan substitute, a salmon filet or another family favorite, focus on your dish's seasoning, sauce and cooking style. Is the character of your dish bold, spicy, mild, fruity, herbal or sweet? Each of these flavors will shine best when considering these few basic principles when pairing with wine.

Robin Tarragano and Dan Tarragano of We Know Vino Wine Educators teach Wine 101 and French Wine 101.
Robin Tarragano and Dan Tarragano of We Know Vino Wine Educators teach Wine 101 and French Wine 101. - Courtesy of the Tarraganos
Match the flavors of the food and wine

A traditional oven-roasted turkey with a mushroom gravy would be outstanding with a wine whose flavors have similar earthy notes, such as an earthy Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy, France.

For white wine lovers, a milder seasoned turkey (or tofu alternative) with a citrus-style baste would be excellent with a dry or off-dry riesling, which also offers hints of citrus.

Match the intensity of the food and wine

Bolder foods are enhanced when paired with bolder wines, and lighter foods appreciate lighter wines. Enhance a bolder entree such as smoked turkey with a bolder wine like a Syrah from Washington state that has a slightly smokey character. The principle behind this pairing suggestion is to have the wine stand up to the food's intensity. For those who prefer a flavorful grilled salmon for Thanksgiving, you will be amazed when pairing it with a light Pinot Noir, pinot grigio or lightly oaked Chardonnay. Since the cooking styles of salmon are so versatile, pair your wine to the seasoning and sauce used in preparation to create a phenomenal result.


Match the acidity of the food and wine

Acidic food pairs well with wines of higher acidity. Enhance a tomato-based dish like a Thanksgiving lasagna with an Italian wine like Sangiovese. Cranberry-based dishes pair well with sparkling wine. You want the acidity of the wine to stand up to the acidity of the food.

Pairing wine with sweet food

Traditional Thanksgiving gems like sweet potato casserole or pumpkin pie pair exquisitely with a sweet riesling or a sweet Gewürztraminer. It's important to note that when pairing sweet food with wine, your wine should be sweeter than your food since the sweetness in food typically diminishes the perceived sweetness and fruitiness of the wine.

The most important food and wine pairing principal is to have fun and experiment.

Cheers, bon appétit and have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

• Robin Tarragano, Sommelier, CSW, (Certified Specialist of Wine) and Dan Tarragano, NVWE (Napa Valley Wine Expert) of We Know Vino Wine Educators teach Wine 101 and French Wine 101. All classes are taught online. To learn more about classes, contact them at or visit

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