Thanksgiving Wine Pairings 101

The countdown to Thanksgiving has officially begun. You've ordered your turkey and plotted your menu down to the finest details, and have enlisted the help of others to shore up your blind spots (Aunt Jane's famous green bean casserole, anyone?). Until the big day, you can sit back and relax. But wait: What about the wine?

When it comes to holiday entertaining, many people are confident in their skills to deliver a delicious, enjoyable meal to their friends and loved ones, but when it comes to preparing holiday wine pairings, they retreat into their shells, intimidated by their local wine shop and its resident snob. On the other side of the spectrum, people just don't care so grab a headache-inducing jug of table wine from their grocery store, which isn't touched throughout the meal.

Fret not. Pairing wine for Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) is only as stressful as you let it be. The two things to remember when it comes to Turkey Day is to first, pick wines you'll enjoy, and barring that, pick lighter wines that lighten up the meal, rather than partner with the tryptophan and starch that'll knock you out. No need to worry about what dish each wine will pair with. Shop for the occasion, not the random plate that finds its way to your table. If you need more guidance on Thanksgiving wine pairings, though, read the tips below:

Crowd-pleasers: As far as celebratory reds go, you can't go wrong with this year's batch of Beaujolais Nouveau. Fruity, young and fresh, they often have notes of cranberry with an acidity that opens the palate. Try to seek out smaller producers, who ultimately make a better, more concentrated product, which will top out at $15 or so. If you're seeking pleasing (and inexpensive) white wine, Washington chardonnays are light and unoaked, allowing clear, crisp fruit and minerality to show through.

Budget-conscious: Great boxed wine does exist, if you look for it. Found in 3 liter bag-in-a-box varieties from $20-$30, these bad boys should help you get through your entire meal. They might, at least; they are the equivalent of four bottles. If you're self-conscious about pouring glasses from a spigot, there's an easy solution. Class up these wines by filling up a carafe, pitcher or decanter and serve it from the table. Make it a part of your centerpiece!

For the family wine snob: Sonoma Coast pinot noir is a classic expression of juicy, approachable berries. Great deals can be found in the $20 range, and unlike big, oaky California cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir has the finesse to pair with all parts of the meal. White Sancerre from France's Loire Valley can also be found for around $20. Made from sauvignon blanc, it is light-bodied and fresh, with a light grassiness that pairs perfectly with food.

For the budding oeno-geek: Grower Champagnes are now largely available at reputable wine shops carrying smaller independent producers. Available at as little as $30, they are also an unsung value compared to the larger, more well-known Champagne houses. Made by grower-producers who don't sell their grapes to the Champagne houses to be blended, grower Champagnes are expressive of the land they come from and are incredibly tasty, to boot. As far as adventurous whites are concerned, "orange wine" has been a huge trend in the wine world. Imbued with a deep amber/orange hue due to extended contact with its grape skins, orange wine is unlike many wines you've probably tasted. Possessing tannins--the chemical in wine that provides structure, body and richness--and weight, orange wines can be herbaceous and savory, as opposed to fresh and light.

Photos by quinn.anya and Dinner Series (Flickr)