What to Drink on Thanksgiving: Pinot Noir

published Nov 3, 2016
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Pinot Noir is a Thanksgiving dinner staple, and for good reason. Reliable and versatile, this red brings wild berry and cherry flavors to the party, often tinged with campfire smoke and hints of vanilla. And while there are myriad versions ranging from super-delicate to more fruity and lush, it’s a natural with white meat — not to mention conveniently available in every wine shop.

A Brief Introduction to Pinot Noir

Originally cultivated by French monks in the Middle Ages, Pinot Noir has long been held up as the king of red wines, thanks to its seductive fresh berry flavors and incredible ability to age. In recent history, Pinot Noir has become a fan-favorite in the United States, where it’s grown in cool regions of California and Oregon.

While no two bottles are exactly the same, Pinot Noir is defined by its light body, lively acidity, and low tannins. In human-speak, that means it feels light like skim milk on the palate, has the refreshing tang of good lemonade, and won’t leave your mouth with that dry puckery feeling. That trifecta makes Pinot Noir easy to drink, and an exceptionally good match with a range of foods.

The trouble with Pinot Noir is that the price ranges from $15 to $150, which can make finding a good value seem impossible. In truth, the $15 mark is a fantastic place to start, with options from all regions and in distinct styles.

Expert tip: Domestic Pinot Noirs are generally fruitier than their French counterparts, so if you love big reds like Malbec, try a California bottle. If you normally drink European wines, try something from Oregon or France, which will have more smokey, earthy flavors than ripe California wines.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Why Pinot Noir Is Great for Thanksgiving

The challenge for Thanksgiving wine pairings is matching a single wine with all of Thanksgiving’s flavors — especially combinations that wouldn’t normally be on the same plate. Aunt Jane’s creamy broccoli casserole, deep-fried turkey, maple-glazed vegetables, and sour cranberry sauce create a whirlwind of contradictory (although tasty) flavors. As a result, traditional pairing advice doesn’t apply because flavorful Thanksgiving sides are so powerful.

Instead of reaching for an equally powerful wine, the trick to food and beverage bliss is choosing easygoing, flexible bottles, and that’s where Pinot Noir fits in. The light body, good acidity, and low tannin trifecta (see above) makes these wines food-friendly and agreeable, meaning they won’t impede conversation or clash with anything on the table (even unwanted political discussions).

Pinot Noir also works because it satisfies both red and white wine drinkers. Hearty Cabernet lovers will enjoy its fruity flavors, while white wine devotees won’t be turned off by intense, mouth-drying tannins or too much oak.

5 Pinot Noirs to Try Under $20

Do you like your Pinot ripe and fruity or soft and earthy?