Fine wine pairings for Thanksgiving, à la Trader Joe’s

Glass of red wine beside a roasted turkey on a dinner table
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Whether you’re picking up a bottle of wine to share with family at a Thanksgiving feast or just looking for something to sip over a bowl of leftovers on the couch, by god, pick a winner. As a sommelier recently pointed out in The New York Times, the wine market is booming, and wine is being produced in all kinds of new places nowadays. This means there are lots more highly quaffable wines available that lack centuries of history and the price tags that go with it. The thought of anyone suffering through terrible wine on Thanksgiving makes me want to cry, punch a wall, and vomit at the same time. There’s so much good-ass wine out there that’s ripe for the taking, and we just need someone to go and drink through all the bad ones to find it.

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That is exactly what I have done. Out of the goodness of my heart, I perused the racks of my neighborhood Trader Joe’s and purchased a lot of wine, which I then paired with Thanksgiving food for a taste test. Do you think I wanted to drink glass after glass of wine? Do you think I wanted to eat bowl after bowl of marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes? Do you think I wanted to go back to Trader Joe’s a second time after realizing I drank through all the wine without taking any notes for the purpose of writing this article? It was embarrassing! At least one TJ’s team member remembered me when I came back! But I did it for you, and I’d do it again. Here’s what I found on my second go around: the best reds and whites Trader Joe’s has to offer for your holiday feast.


White wines

Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, USA, 2019

This bottle of Fetzer costs $7.99 at Trader Joe’s in Chicago, IL.
This bottle of Fetzer costs $7.99 at Trader Joe’s in Chicago, IL.
Photo: Emma Terhaar

Price: $7.99. Gewurztraminer is a great Thanksgiving wine, and this inexpensive American example is no exception. It’s got a gorgeous golden color and smells of juicy Golden Delicious apples, lychee, and melon. The wine’s acidity makes the yellow fruit flavors pop on the palate. It’s a little bit sweet, which means that when combined with cranberry sauce and turkey, it holds its flavor and doesn’t taste the least bit bitter. The acidity in the wine cleanses your mouth between bites of green bean casserole. Because of its bit of sweetness and intense floral and fruity aromatics, this jolly Gerwurz can carry you through dinner and into dessert without skipping a beat. Recommended for fans of Riesling, off-dry Champagne, Torrontés, and Moscato.


Vignobles Lacheteau Vouvray, Loire Valley, France, 2019

I picked this guy up for $9.99 at a TJ’s in Chicago, IL.
I picked this guy up for $9.99 at a TJ’s in Chicago, IL.
Photo: Emma Terhaar
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Price: $9.99. This Vouvray gives off light scents of citrus, candied lemons, and fresh nectarines. Crisp, tingling acidity defines this wine, along with a bit of sugar to balance. It tastes of honey, smashed yellow apples, and farmhouse cider. Sipping it between gravy-covered bites intensifies the indulgent flavor of mashed potatoes and cheesy casserole. This is another wine that has enough sugar to pair with pumpkin pie as well as brined turkey and sweet potatoes, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking for one bottle to make it through the whole meal. Recommended for fans of funky hard cider, Moscato, and off-dry Riesling.


Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier, California, USA, 2019

This was the priciest wine of the lot, ringing in at $11.99 at my neighborhood TJ’s in Chicago, IL.
This was the priciest wine of the lot, ringing in at $11.99 at my neighborhood TJ’s in Chicago, IL.
Photo: Emma Terhaar
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Price: $11.99. This is the wine that Trader Joe’s wants you to buy for Thanksgiving. You’ll find it in an end-of-aisle display next to the cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, and other Thanksgiving staples. It makes sense: Viognier is a classic stuffy wine snob’s pairing for Thanksgiving. This blend takes advantage of the intense scent and heavier body of the Viognier grape while offering the acidity and crisp-as-lightning flavor of the Chenin Blanc grape. They combine to make a wine that smells like melon and juicy green pears, is heavy enough to stand up to a mac and cheese side dish, and tastes like Granny Smith apples and honeydew. While I think the previous two bottles featured, the Gewurztraminer and Vouvray (the latter of which is made of 100% Chenin Blanc grapes) tasted better with food, this wine doesn’t lose its flavor or taste bad when combined with Thanksgiving fare. I think this is a good option for anyone who’s looking for a dry white wine. Recommended for fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked new world Chardonnay.


Red Wines

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais, Burgundy, France, 2019

I nabbed this sucker for just $7.99 at the Trader Joe’s in Chicago, IL.
I nabbed this sucker for just $7.99 at the Trader Joe’s in Chicago, IL.
Photo: Emma Terhaar
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Price: $7.99. This is the lightest-bodied red wine you’ll find, so it goes great with a mix of dark and white meat. It smells like cotton candy, butterscotch, and bubblegum. While the wine is dry, it tastes of sweet red fruits and reminds me a little bit of Trix yogurt. There’s some barely perceptible tannins (the mouth-drying, astringent quality found in some red wines as well as in black tea), and a good deal of acidity that makes the gravy-covered dishes pop. When sipped between garlic mashed potatoes and other dishes, the wine loses some of its fruit flavor and starts to taste more savory and herbaceous. However, the almost synthetic fruitiness returns in a brief break from eating. This is a classic glug-glug wine (or, as the French say, glou-glou), meaning that it’s a refreshing all-day sipper that drinks really easily. Readers be warned: it’s 14.5% alcohol, so pace yourself. Recommended for fans of sangria, Lambrusco, and fruity rosé.


Caretaker Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California, USA 2018

I think this is a kick-ass wine for $10, which is how much it was selling for in Chicago, IL.
I think this is a kick-ass wine for $10, which is how much it was selling for in Chicago, IL.
Photo: Emma Terhaar
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Price: $9.99. This is a light- to medium-bodied red wine. It smells like cranberry juice and Hawaiian Punch mixed together. There’s also a savory, mushroomy smell and a bit of bitter tobacco. The notes of cranberry carry into its taste along with a lovely hibiscus tea flavor. The tannins are fine and smooth, making the wine another easy sipper. This wine tastes great along with cranberry sauce, and the savory notes in the wine also complement all the herbs and pungent alliums and garlic used in a typical Thanksgiving meal. Recommended for fans of dry, medium-bodied red wines like Chianti and Rioja.


Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California, 2019

Guys, run and buy this Zin before it sells out! I had the 2018 earlier this year and it was equally tasty. At Chicagoland TJ’s, it’s going for $5.99.
Guys, run and buy this Zin before it sells out! I had the 2018 earlier this year and it was equally tasty. At Chicagoland TJ’s, it’s going for $5.99.
Photo: Emma Terhaar
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Price: $5.99. This is a great price for this medium- to full-bodied red wine, and it’s probably the heaviest you’d want to go when eating turkey. It’s a rich ruby-garnet color, and smells super grapey, like grape-flavored Juicy Juice. There’s a bit of an earthy paprika and pepper smell to the wine as well. It tastes like ripe, plush red fruits and jammy plums. There’s some tannins but they’re really nicely integrated, making the wine soft and luscious. The tannins seem to make the green bean casserole and gravy more creamy and rich. This wine does a great job of maintaining flavor alongside each of the dishes on my plate. Recommended for fans of heavier red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

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DISCUSSION

noisetanknick
NoiseTankNick

Just enjoyed a bottle of that Fetzer Gewurz last week and made a mental note to pick up a few for T-giving. I’m not typically a white wine guy, but that one hit all the right notes. Sweet without being cloying and just the right amount of acid on the finish.

Also of course you gotta have a bottle of Beaujolais at the table. Is the Beaujolais ever very good? No! It typically tastes like exactly what it is, a very fresh wine with a thin character and a plethora of rough notes that make you think “Ah, this would probably be good if it had some time to age.” But it’s about the tradition.