There is not much better in life than spending time with those we love, remembering all of our blessings, and enjoying a ridiculously delicious feast including Monterey wines. No question -Thanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday!
We want to help you enjoy your holiday even more. Here are some basic guidelines for selecting wines that pair perfectly with your holiday meal. Fortunately, wine grape varietals that grow abundantly in Monterey County happen to be the best wines to pair with this feast.
Beginning with Bubbles is the Best
Besides being festive, a glass of sparkling wine helps prepare your palate for the delicious and abundant meal to come. We’re seeing more and more Monterey County wineries producing bubbles. Caraccioli Cellars has won international acclaim for their Blanc de Blanc, Brut Cuvee, and Brut Rose (winning three of the four Gold Medals awarded to wineries in the United States by the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2022 (CSWWC). But it’s not only Caraccioli Cellars making bubbles; there is an increase in the number of Monterey wineries making sparkling wines. This evolution is logical as the most common grapes used in US Sparkling Wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the two most grown grape varietals in Monterey County.) Others include Folktale Winery, Hahn Family Wines, KORi Wines, Lepe Cellars, Odonata Wines, Puma Road, Scheid Vineyards Estate, Scratch, and Windy Oaks Estate.
Simply Served with Sea
Try a white wine that won’t overwhelm the rich, delicate flavor of the meat. It’s best to pair seafood with an equally delicate, light white wine, such as an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Albarino, or Viognier. (These all pair well with shellfish in general.) Most Monterey wineries produce a Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin Blanc is a bit harder to come by, but the trip out to Chalone Vineyard (near the Pinnacles National Park) will not only give you access to their delicate Chenin Blanc, but you can also see the oldest producing vines in Monterey County, Chenin Blanc planted in 1919. Both Albarino and Viognier are rising in popularity. Try any of I. Brand & Families or Joyce Vineyards.
Your salmon will pair well with a dry, crisp Riesling and Pinot Noir. One of the most versatile varietals to pair with seafood is Riesling, and in Monterey Wine Country, we have a variety of Rieslings from which to select, from dry to late-harvest dessert wines. Pair your seafood with a Riesling that’s on the dry side. Scratch Wines offers a “screaming dry” Riesling as Sabrine Rodems, winemaker and proprietor, describes.
What’s Thanksgiving without turkey?
This big bird offers a lot of flexibility. It can be paired with a white wine such as a Chardonnay. Make sure to choose one that is unoaked or fermented in stainless. (This means a Chardonnay that didn’t spend a lot of time during the fermentation process in oak barrels. An intensely oaked Chardonnay can overwhelm even robust dishes.) Chardonnay is our largest crop, and we grow more than any other county in the United States. Almost every local winery produces its unique expression of the fruit.
Turkey also pairs exceptionally well with the fruity, high acid, and low tannin Pinot Noir – the kind of Pinot Noir we make in Monterey County. Try serving your Pinot Noir a bit cooler than other reds – 30 minutes in the refrigerator before drinking will help. And almost every winery produces its version, and they are all scrumptious. Monterey County is one of the largest growers of Pinot Noir in California. Wine Spectator magazine has ranked the Monterey Pinot Noirs, specifically Pinot’s from the Santa Lucia Highlands, as some of the best Pinot Noir in the state, so you need not look further.
Some of our emerging varietals pair exquisitely with your turkey. It’s exciting to see an increase in Gamay production with Caraccioli Cellars, I. Brand & Family, Lepe Cellars, Joyce Wine Co., and Odonata. J. Lohr also makes a Valdiguié, a Gamay clone (in a beautiful crafted bottle).
We also grow various Rhone varietals, including Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. These varietals all pair well individually and when blended together in a GSM. These varietals are commonly found in local tasting rooms, as Rhone varietals love growing here as much as we do.
If you happen to be frying your turkey, you’ll need something with high acidity to cut the fat and salt. The ideal answer is a dry sparkling wine.
Low Tannin Wines are Needed
In general, stay away from a high tannin wine for this feast. What are tannins, you ask? Tannins are naturally occurring elements that make your mouth feel very dry. Red wines have more tannins than whites, and Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be high in tannins, whereas Pinot Noirs tend to be lighter. High-tannin wines would overwhelm the delicate flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Veggies are Vacant of Vices
We’re in the “Salad Bowl of the World,” so Monterey wines would naturally achieve pairing perfectly with our local vegetables. Grilled vegetables are commonly found on our table, including green beans, golden beets, potatoes, zucchini, and squash which all pair well with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Asparagus has a reputation for being a wine-challenged food in that it doesn’t pair well, but we’ve found that Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio can adeptly manage the flavors of asparagus.
Veritably a Virtuous Vegan
What if your cousin just became a vegan? Instead of turkey, vegans and vegetarians can substitute “tofurky” and other savory and creamy side dishes. Typically, a light and fruity red, like Pinot Noir, has enough acidity to cut through all the fat and richness of side dishes while complementing your cranberry-topped “tofurky.” If you want to serve a white wine, go with something dry or off-dry (slightly sweet) and with bright acidity, like a Riesling. Although not all wine is vegan, in an informal poll we’ve conducted with Monterey wineries, most seem to be. You’ve still got some time to visit local tasting rooms and sample the broad palette of Monterey wines to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. For a map of the tasting rooms, visit
Decadent, Dazzling Desserts
As a rule of thumb for dessert wine is that it should be at least as sweet as the dessert. If you’re serving some pecan pie or pumpkin pie on the sweet side, look for a late-harvest wine. Many of our local producers make late-harvest wines, including Bernardus, Scheid Vineyards Estate, Scratch, and Testarossa Vineyards.
What to Do With Family & Friends
Along with a great feast, Thanksgiving also means visiting friends and family. A fun way to spend your time is to visit local tasting rooms. Most wineries are child- and dog-friendly, so it can be a fun experience for the entire family. Go for a local hike in the morning and spend a few afternoon hours at a tasting room!
To learn more, visit Montereywines.org or follow us on your preferred social media channels. You can also send an email if you have any specific questions [email protected].
On behalf of the entire Monterey County wine industry, we wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!