Blog: Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Dinner, Including Michigan


As our classic American holiday approaches the annual question is: What wines to serve with your family feast? Here’s the secret answer — whatever you enjoy! Seriously, choosing wines for your holiday table is fun. Let’s explore the options for a memorable and stress-free dinner (at least as far as the wines).

What better way to give thanks than with a celebratory sparkling wine? Bubbles pair well with just about any food and are a great way to welcome guests. Proseccos from Italy are wildly popular and range from dry to quite fruity. Excellent Spanish cavas are available for less than $15. Crisp and refreshing, they’re some of the best values on the shelves of your favorite store. Michigan sparklers are a wonderful way to celebrate the bounty of our Great Lakes state. If you’re not familiar with local bubblies you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. Champagne is always an appropriate celebratory wine. Its complexity and elegance are unparalleled.

For something a bit different try a Kir Royale. It’s easy, unique, and fun. To create this wine cocktail get a bottle of crème de cassis or a good-quality blackberry brandy. Add about a teaspoon of it (no more) into an already poured glass of bone-dry bubbly. The spirit will flavor the wine with an added berry flavor, and the touch of sugar will make the wine a perfect accompaniment to all the trimmings.

Appetizers preceding the main event offer a wide variety of aromas, textures, and flavors. An underappreciated food wine that works well with the offerings is Riesling. Rieslings range from bone-dry to sticky-sweet. For our pairing purposes, an off-dry style is the best choice given a sweet wine early on can overpower your tastebuds. Many Rieslings feature the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) sweetness scale. This label is extremely helpful in selecting your Riesling.

Rose´s aren’t just for summertime sipping. Incredibly versatile and value-priced, rose´s enhance most of hors d’oeuvres. Whether a classic version from Provence, a Spanish example, or a local bottling, a rose´ is an excellent choice. Choose a dry style for the greatest pairing flexibility.

On to the main course: Turkey is easy to pair with wine(s). Seriously. The challenge is choosing the style of wine for the entrée. America is all about choices.

Our first selection is Pinot Noir. This elegant red wine pairs well with turkey. Aromas of cherries, raspberries, and currants entice us to enjoy this versatile wine. Burgundies from France are elegant, earthy, and perfumed, while Oregon and California Pinot Noirs are softer, rounder, and fruitier. Pinot Noir is perhaps the best red wine made in Michigan.

For those who prefer a more robust red, white Zinfandel is a grown-up wine bursting with dark fruits. Known as “America’s wine,” this full-flavored red wine is the Thanksgiving big brother to Pinot Noir. Big, berry fruits and aromas of bramble and pepper are typical of this grape. These are big, brawny wines full of enticing scents and full flavors.

If you’re serving ham, options abound. Wines with a bit of sweetness and spice complement the popular honey ham. Rieslings are, once again, a great pairing, particularly if they are medium sweet. Gewürztraminer also is a superb choice, especially an Alsatian version. A lighter bodied Chilean Merlot or Carmenère also pairs well with a traditional ham.

It’s time for dessert. On the lighter side, a late harvest Riesling from a Michigan producer is a perfect match for that apple pie Mom made. For those guests seeking something with more substance, LBV Ports complement a variety of pies, including pumpkin, sweet potato, and pecan. The LBV means late bottled vintage. These wines are the value-priced version of true vintage Ports, which can be a bit pricey. If you do want to splurge, a vintage Port will cost about $100 or more.

So, there you have it, a minimum of two selections for each part of your American feast. While we were taught not to play with our food, please play with your wines! Try different pairings, and you’ll find new favorites. For more information, visit

Michael Schafer is a speaker, educator, sommelier, and certified specialist of wine. Known as The Wine Counselor, he is an adjunct professor at The Culinary Institute of Michigan at Baker College, and he created the Dorsey Schools’ beverage program. He is an international keynote speaker at spirits and wine events, and has authored articles for various publications, including Hour Detroit, Michigan Wine Country magazine, and Edible Grand Traverse. Schafer is on the board of directors of the Detroit Wine Organization, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding charities through entertaining education. 

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