The Best Wine Grapes for Thanksgiving


Wine grapes are deperately vying for your attention. There are over ten thousand varietals out there - that's fierce competition. It takes about two and a half pounds of grapes to make a 750 mL bottle of wine. If you split a bottle with someone, you've just consumed a pound of grapes. It's no wonder we get to know these varieties so intimately.

There's a lot of consumption around this time of year, and you've got tons of choices to make. Allow the mainstay wine grapes to help quiet the holiday din. These grapes tend to please everyone - from your wine expert cousin to your sister's boyfriend. You know, the guy who jokingly calls it Cabaret Franc.

You may hear the term 'international varieties' bandied about in the wine world. The term is not official, but generally refers to grapes that have found success far beyond their ancestral homes. These are the consensus grapes. Most of us can agree that they are drinkable and delicious. Holidays are rife with disagreements, but they need not extend to the wine in your glass.

Here are a few consensus grapes to keep the peace at your holiday table.


Chardonnay is the most popular wine in America and there’s no need to avoid it on Thanksgiving. It's instantly recognizable and not alienating to wine novices.

The grape hails from Burgundy, but it has found much success in California. Think Carneros and Russian River Valley. 

Chardonnay is not aromatic, so winemaking makes all the difference. Oaked examples are well-known and loved by wine lovers around the world. The spice and sweetness imparted by the oak - American or French - will help the wine stand up to the richer dishes at the table. Others prefer the fruit-forward crispness afforded by stainless steel aging. This could be the beginning of a holiday table disagreement. Proceed with caution.

If you decide on California Chardonnay, the Gallo Signature Series is great for bigger groups.

Pinot Gris

The term Pinot Grigio is instantly recognizable, but this is less true for Pinot Gris. It's the perfect grape for the newbie wine lovers at your table who've had nothing but Pinot Grigio for years.

Pinot Gris, as opposed to Pinot Grigio, generally refers to a wine made in the Alsatian style.  In Alsace, Pinot Gris tends to be a rich wine with a decidedly spicy character and enough residual sugar to be round and fruity if not downright sweet.

Many producers in the Pacific Northwest produce Pinot Gris in this style too, though in general they are fruitier than their Alsatian counterparts. With either example you’ll find a wine with rich fruit and an edge of sweetness that allows the wine to work well with the richer elements of the meal.

Try Oregon's Chehalem Pinot Gris for a real treat.


Riesling is instantly recognizable. It is fruity, aromatic, and high in acid. Germany is the classic choice, but consider a bottle from Australia or the Finger Lakes for some added fun. Having one grape from a few different regions can illustrate for your guests the impact of terroir, farming, and winemaking. From dry to sweet, there's a sugar level for everyone when it comes to Riesling.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to consider an aged Riesling. Wine lovers often forget that they can be held for quite some time. You'll know an aged Riesling when you take in its unique aromas - honey, smoke, and that unmistakable petrol note that is so well known and adored.

If you want to stick with domestic Riesling this year, Dr. Frank will do the trick.


Sure, Gamay is the wine grape - but what we're really talking about here is Beaujolais. It's chosen by many for Thanksgiving, largely thanks to the brilliant promotion of the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Released with much fanfare the third Thursday every November, Beaujolais Nouveau is billed as the first wine of the year - though that distinction no doubt lies with the folks in the southern hemisphere, who harvested in February.

Beaujolais Nouveau can be a fun wine; low in tannins, grapey and easy to drink. Some find notes of bubble gum on the palate. 

There are lots of easy drinking Beaujolais, but you can find more serious examples. There are ten cru Beaujolais that are known to age quite well and deliver superior quality. Ask for one at your local retailer. Moulin-à-Vent is a great example. Most everyone knows the name Louis Latour.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a finicky grape, but loves to grace a Thanksgiving table. Cool climate Pinot Noir is elegant and delicate. Hotter climate Pinot Noir is a jammy delight. Be sure to pair the latter with the richer dishes on your table. 

It has been thirteen years since the movie Sideways was released. As a result Pinot Noir is one of America's current favorites, and those who never knew red Burgundy was actually Pinot Noir finally understand.

If you're going with a classic Burgundy this year, Domaine A.F. Gros packs a real punch.


Syrah is believed to be one of the most ancient grape varieties, it simply will not thrive in warm climates. Until twenty or so years ago, Syrah was mostly found in the Rhone and in Australia (as Shiraz). Two decades is enough time for a grape to branch out, and Syrah has most certainly done that. Chile, Spain, Portugal and California have all taken up with Syrah. 

The licorice and mint notes distinguish Syrah from its counterparts. These are full-bodied wines that ride in on a wave of tannins, ready to cut through all of those heavy Thanksgiving dishes. The leather, tar, and black pepper notes make for great conversation around the table.

If you're leaning toward Australia, Yalumba is a great choice.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The word 'Sauvignon' comes from the French word for 'savage', or wild. The assumption is that Cabernet Sauvignon (and others who bear the name) vines grew wild at one time. These days, the Sauvignons are just wildly popular. From Médoc to Napa, most every red wine lover will sing praise for Cabernet Sauvignon. Its signature flavors are irrefutable and widely adored. Black cherry and black currant notes cascade over the palate in glorious rage. What's most fascinating about Cabernet Sauvignon is its distinct varietal aromas. They express themselves in different ways from place to place. While Napa is instantly recognizable, try another California region - think Lodi and Livermore Valley - for some value. If your guests are keen on Bordeaux, any of the left bank regions will do. If you really want to come out of left field, pull a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. The distinct menthol notes are unmistakable. Washington State has some stellar examples, too. We recommend Forgeron Cellars.

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