5 Budget-Friendly Wines to Pair with Your Thanksgiving Feast, According to an Expert

Thanksgiving is hectic enough as it is. The last thing you want is to be lost in the wine aisle or struggling to select bottles within your budget at the local wine shop. To avoid all that, we've asked an expert for his top Thanksgiving wine picks.

a group at dinner cheering with glasses of red wine
Photo: Getty Images

Richard Vayda is the director of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. He's rounded up his top five budget-friendly wines to have on your Thanksgiving table this year. These reds and whites range from slightly sweet to bone dry and take you on a trip around the world, from New Zealand to Chile to Washington State. All but one costs under $20, although prices may vary depending on where you're shopping. What they all have in common is a friendly disposition, aka they're all very drinkable. These wines will go with most dishes in a Thanksgiving spread.

"The holidays—maybe especially Thanksgiving—typically bring out the heavier dishes and larger meals," says Vayda. "If you are trying to keep things lighter, including with your wines, but still want some great food and wine matches, here are a few ideas."

1. Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia, Jim Barry, 2019
Rieslings are typically lower in alcohol and run the range from dry to sweet. They are very friendly wines with many different foods, including dishes like stuffings made with apple or pear. Off-dry wines take the edge off of saltiness. This one is slightly sweet with notes of citrus and lavender. It clocks in at 12.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) and is likely readily available at the nearest wine store to you for about $19. Generally, wines that are considered "high alcohol" will have an ABV of 14% and higher.

2. Chardonnay (unoaked), New Zealand, Kim Crawford, 2020
Like chardonnay, but often find it too heavy? Look for low-oak or unoaked examples from areas where the fruit gets riper, like New Zealand, giving the wine more body to better match the holiday meal, but not overpower it. This $19 bottle has an ABV of 13.5% and flavors of citrus, nectarine and passion fruit. It goes particularly well with a slice of turkey that you've dragged through cranberry sauce.

3. Beaujolais-Villages, France, Dominique Piron, 2020
Just like classic Beaujolais, this Beaujolais-Villages, made from the gamay noir grape varietal and with 13.5% ABV, is a go-to for Thanksgiving. The bright berry fruit with cranberry notes is a natural turkey accompaniment, and it has a good acidity to provide a nice foil to fattier sauces. All that for $18.

4. Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile, Ritual, 2018
Pinot noirs from cooler climates like Chile's Casablanca Valley work well with most Thanksgiving feasts. They have slightly more savory qualities, but are still juicy and light with notes of ripe red fruits as well as earthy undertones. Plus, if you're in a warmer climate or will be in a dining room packed with people, this wine can be served slightly chilled. It has 13.5% ABV and comes in at $23 per bottle.

5. Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Washington State, 'The Expedition,' Canoe Ridge, 2020
Merlots from more northern areas like Washington State offer more richness, but will not overwhelm the food (or the drinker). This merlot is blended with a little syrah, and has some tannins to it, giving it a mouthfeel similar to a slightly strong cup of tea. It has notes of black currant, mint and eucalyptus, and goes great with the darker turkey meat, as well as more heavily flavored dishes. At 14% ABV, this wine is the strongest on the list. Buy a bottle near you for about $18.

These wines are excellent choices for sipping during your Thanksgiving meal. They should be easy to find at your grocery store or wine shop, and are relatively affordable too. When considering wines for Thanksgiving, most importantly, go with what tastes good to you.

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