5 Thanksgiving Wine Strategies

4 glasses clinking above a roast turkey and table set for the holidays

If dinner is the star of Thanksgiving, drinks are the supporting player.

by Erin Henderson

Turkey may be the mascot of Thanksgiving, and you likely have visions of pumpkin pie dancing in your head, but you're certainly not welcoming your guests to your home with a glass of milk. At least not the ones over 19.

You've put a lot of effort and focus planning and prepping and cooking and timing and serving The Feast. But drinks need attention, too.

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Without the drinks – the welcome cocktail, the paired wines, the relaxing, after dinner tipple – the meal itself wouldn't be able to shine as brightly. Let's face it: there's a reason any movie scene taking place at the Thanksgiving table is set with the casually festive allure of scattered glasses and bottles strewn about. 

And your holiday wines deserve the same attention.

We've been helping hosts pull off delicious dinner parties for more than a decade; creating interesting menus and pairing great wines. We've learned a thing or two in that time, so follow our lead for stress-free strategies on serving holiday-worthy wine this Thanksgiving. 

four wine glasses clinking over a thanksgiving table

What to Offer

This is a festive dinner – not a bar. There is no reason to run yourself ragged trying to pick up everyone's favourite wine. 

Keep your selection streamlined. A sparkling wine to greet guests and serve with appetizers, and a red and white wine for the dinner itself.

I like to go by what I call my “3 Friendlies.” Crowd friendly, wallet friendly, and food friendly. These are bottles that most people will like, that also go well with most of what’s being served, and I can afford to serve several bottles of it throughout the evening.

A brut sparkling wine – perhaps a Crèmant from Burgundy or Luxemberg, is a delicious, food friendly option that comes in around $20. A mid-weight white wine from a cool climate that a nice stream of acidity, such as a Chardonnay from northern Italy will go well with both the buttery, creamy foods plus cleanse your palate of the fat. Finally, a light, fruity red wine with soft tannins will complement the meats.

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How Much to Offer

You never want to run out of wine. Ever. But especially not on a holiday, so do err on the side of generous.

Generally speaking, guests will have two drinks in the first hour and one every hour after that.

But for simplicities’ sake, estimating one bottle per person should be enough to get you through dinner and maybe even have a bit left over. 

Here’s an insider’s tip that will put you ahead of the game for future entertaining: buy a case of each. Thanksgiving is the starter’s pistol to the Season of Eating and Drinking, so even if you don't go through your stock this holiday, there's many more dinner parties to come. You will go through the bottles by the year's end, and maybe even save an extra trip to the wine store. 

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A white pumpkin on a plate, a cocktail in a clear glass coup etched with a gold rim. Blurry lights in the background

When to Offer It

I’m a big fan of starting my parties with a welcome cocktail, like our seasonal Apple Cider Sour. But if that’s adding extra steps to your already strained schedule, simply stick with the wines.

Greeting each guest with a glass of sparkling wine is festive and impressive (if you have the room, leave flutes and an open bottle on ice for a dramatic flair to set the tone). As the party wears on, bring out the whites and reds.

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How to Serve It

For larger dinner parties like Thanksgiving, where I might get distracted in the kitchen, or pulled into a conversation and won’t notice a guest has run dry, I set up a bar (somewhere away from the kitchen or dining room).

While walking around with a bottle for top ups is charming and attentive when you can manage it, it’s annoying to keep the wine out of sight when you can’t be there lickety split to refill someone’s glass when they’re cornered in a conversation about why they’re single – still.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Trying to find that one, perfect, Thanksgiving wine is impossible – trust us. You will just make yourself crazy trying to find it.

From Brussels sprouts to sweet potatoes, there are so many flavours and textures on the Thanksgiving buffet, there simply isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all bottle. As we note in Strategy #1, offer a red, white, and sparkling, and let guests pick their favourite.  

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A side view of beautifully set Thanksgiving table with candles, lights, and wine

Be Gracious

Thanksgiving is not the time to convince your Great Aunt Ida to abandon her beloved white wine in favour of something else.

Inevitably, your will have people in your crowd that will only drink red or only drink white. Arguing wine choices – just like politics and religion – does not make for party pleasantries.

Who cares if the Pinot Noir absoultely sings with the dark leg meat and cranberry sauce? Just pour Aunt Ida her wine preference and get back to having a good time.

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Pace Yourself – and Everyone Else

Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Considering most festive dinners of which we know begin in the afternoon and run well into the night, there's several hours of elbow-bending ahead. You don't want to be the amateur who passes out on the couch before the turkey is served.

Also, many of you will have more than one feast to attend, so arriving at the next day’s celebration with the booze flu is no fun for anyone.

Consider serving lower alcohol wines in the afternoon and reserving your big boys for the meal. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Prosecco are all naturally lower in alcohol, and will keep you fresh, bright, and classy for the day ahead. 

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*This article was first published in 2015 and has been updated in 2022. 





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