Talking Turkey—and Wine

Bruce Nichols, owner of The Wine Store in Naples, offers expert advice and recommendations for the perfect Thanksgiving wine pairings

Bruce Nichols, owner of The Wine Store in Naples, serves only American wines for Thanksgiving
Bruce Nichols, owner of The Wine Store in Naples, serves only American wines for Thanksgiving.

What’s best to pour with turkey and all the trimmings? We turned to an expert, Bruce Nichols, owner of The Wine Store in Naples for advice. “The short answer is almost any wine can work,” he says. “Given the dizzying number of dishes with the cornucopia of flavors on your Thanksgiving table, pairing the perfect wine means just about any wine can work. If there is an exception, I would say big tannic reds like young Cabernets can be a difficult pairing.” A hopeless fan of Burgundy, Nichols says this is the one day of the year he bows to tradition and serves only American wines. His recommendations follow.

The Opening Act: To start, serve a sparkling wine as guests arrive and gather. “This year I’ll be popping the cork on Napa Valley’s Chandon Winery By the Bay, a Blanc de Blanc, to freshen the palate and start the conversation.”

The Wine Storre in Naples. Courtesy of The Wine Store
Courtesy of The Wine Store

The Whites: Sauvignon Blanc has become a crowd favorite that goes well with many dishes, including the range of Thanksgiving offerings. It can be a fickle grape, showing diverse styles depending on where it’s grown. Bottles from New Zealand are popular, but “I find them overly acidic and too grapefruit-y for many foods, particularly turkey.” 

He suggests Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc for its stone-fruit and creamy, subtle citrus flavors and a refreshing minerality that will stand up well to side dishes and white and dark meat. “Vegetarians will appreciate how masterfully this varietal complements the standard side dishes,” including green beans, brussels sprouts, and asparagus. 

The seemingly mandatory white to grace Turkey Day is Chardonnay—and with good reason. “If you stay away from the over-oaked, butterball style that is thankfully beginning to fall out of favor with American wine drinkers,” says Nichols, “you’ll find most Chardonnays paired with turkey and the trimmings get along just fine.”

White wine pour

His choice: another gem from California’s Central Coast, Au Bon Climat, a blend from five vineyards in Santa Barbara, where cool ocean breezes allow for a long, even ripening season, ideal for growing Chardonnay.

The Reds: Nichols’ quintessential Thanksgiving red wine pairing is the juicy, fruity style of the Gamay grape. It is appreciated by those who prefer light, less tannic wines. “Sweet and savory, if there’s a better wine combo that goes with turkey and cranberry sauce, I haven’t found it,” though sadly, he says, Gamay, the main varietal popular in Beaujolais, does not have the following in the United States it does in Europe. “One of the top examples is Lieu Dit Gamay, produced in miniscule amounts in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara; it fits the bill perfectly,” he says.

Thanksgiving Wines. Courtesy of The Wine Store
Thanksgiving wines. Courtesy of The Wine Store

For the star of the holiday meal, he says Pinot Noir makes a magnificent “can’t-go-wrong” wine for food pairing. With red fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry, savory spice, herbs, and smoky overtones, Pinot Noir and roast turkey with the trimmings are brilliant together.

“My go-to Thanksgiving Pinot this year will be Three Sticks from Bill Price, of Kistler [Vineyards] fame, picked from different vineyards on California’s cool-climate Sonoma Coast,” says Nichols. “With its sweet and tart cherry and red-fruit compote flavors wrapped in an earthy shell of baking spices and herbal notes, you may find yourself alternating sips of wine and bites of gravy-drenched slices of turkey. Second helpings are in order!”

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