Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Tips for Cabernet Lovers

Add Simple Ingredients to Classic Thanksgiving Recipes and Make Your Favorite Red Wine Sing

One of the most challenging parts of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t making sure that the turkey doesn’t dry out—it’s finding the best Thanksgiving wine pairing with all those different flavors on the table. When an endless array of contrasting flavors converge, wine pairing can feel like a game of chess you’ll never win. This is especially true when your favorite wines are California cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay—the two wines I’m always creating food pairings for in the Jordan kitchen. If you love the king and queen of grapes in America and plan to serve them with Thanksgiving dinner, here are my go-to Thanksgiving wine pairing tips for making all your traditional recipes more wine-friendly. The biggest piece of advice: focus primarily on adding simple ingredients to classic side dishes to elevate your cabernet sauvignon pairing. I’ve been using these hacks for years at the Jordan family Thanksgiving dinner to ensure all their favorites sing with Jordan Russian River Chardonnay and Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Tips

1. Don’t focus too much on the bird. Turkey with a fuller-bodied red wine is a challenging Thanksgiving wine pairing. You can, however, make Thanksgiving turkey more cabernet-friendly by adding a few ingredients. Bring out cabernet sauvignon’s earthy notes by sprinkling the turkey with porcini powder during the last hour of roasting. Turkey stuffed with a cabernet-friendly dressing (see next tip below), also brings savory, complex flavors to the delicate white meat, helping it stand up better to a fuller-bodied red wine.

jordan winery thanksgiving table with cabernet sauvignon wine pouring into a glass

2. Increase the dried herb, smoky and meaty flavors in the dressing. A handful of ingredients can turn your favorite Thanksgiving dressing recipe into a beautiful cabernet sauvignon pairing. Add fresh chopped rosemary, thyme and basil—all three elevate the classic dried herb notes in an elegant cabernet. Grilled or sautéed onions are also a great bridging element for pairing with cabernet. When you caramelize onions, flavors transition from sweet to umami—that savory taste helps the food stand up to the tannin in the wine. Black olives are my other secret weapon for cabernet sauvignon food pairing. Salt-cured olives seem to have the effect of softening the perceived astringency of red wine’s tannins. Olives are also high in monounsaturated fat; both protein and fat soften tannins. Add some raw, smoky bacon to the dressing before baking too; the bacon complements the toasted oak notes in the red wine.

Jordan Winery Meyer Lemon Zest and Hazelnut Mashed Potato in a bowl

3. Add bridge ingredients to your favorite mashed potato recipe. Meyer lemon zest brings out the citrus notes in chardonnay and makes the potatoes taste lighter. Toasted hazelnuts elevate the wine’s barrel-aged nuances. Cabernet lovers can add ingredients like mushrooms and grilled shallots to play off the red wine’s earthy and barrel-aged notes. Incorporating creamy butternut squash to mashed potatoes also enhances the mouthfeel of a round, barrel-aged chardonnay. For Thanksgiving gravy, brown gravy recipes made with beef broth are a better match for cabernet sauvignon. Adding sautéed mushrooms to brown gravy further elevates this Thanksgiving wine pairing. View all three of my wine-friendly mashed potato recipes.

jordan winery sherry shallot cranberry sauce thanksgiving side in a bowl


4. Use Epicurious’ Shallot and Dried Cherry Compote Cranberry Sauce recipe for your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. There’s no need to create a new wine-friendly cranberry sauce recipe when Epicurious has already done the work for us. A traditionally sweet cranberry sauce over-accentuates the alcohol and tannin in the wine, making it taste hot and unbalanced. I love serving this side dish because it’s the best cranberry sauce recipe I’ve found for Thanksgiving wine pairing. It’s perfectly balanced and not too sweet. It’s got great acidity, which complements the acid in the wine. The dried cherries elevate the fruit in medium- to fuller-bodied red wines like cabernet sauvignon. In my experience, younger cabs pair best here, so I’d suggest the 2013 or 2014 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

Jordan Winery Blackberry Cobbler next to a bowl of blackberries

5. Serve blackberry or black cherry desserts for the best cabernet wine pairing. Making cabernet or chardonnay shine with pumpkin pie is no cakewalk. The sweetness and spices are too overwhelming for these oak-aged wines. But, low-sugar blackberry cobbler is another story. In the Jordan kitchen, we tend to use a third less of sugar than a typical recipe calls for. With our blackberry cobbler, it can stand up to Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon because the dessert isn’t so sweet that the sugar overpowers the berries, and when the fruit is the star, it elevates the fruit in the wine. You want the natural sweetness of the blackberries to shine through and complement cabernet’s dark fruits. View our Blackberry Cobbler recipe.

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