By now, your Thanksgiving preparations may nearly be set. You are on top of the menu, who’s cooking what, seating, tasks for the children. But what about the wine?
This is the easy part of holiday planning, with just a few guiding principles to keep in mind.
If you’re having a big party, don’t worry about matching wines to dishes. The feast is too complicated, with too many different sorts of foods to worry about that. Instead, the goal is to select versatile, energizing wines, the sort that won’t weigh you down but will provide refreshment and pleasure with anything you serve.
In practical terms, that means wines with relatively low alcohol content, 14 percent maximum but better around 12 or 13 percent. It’s a long day, and not everybody wants to nod off on the couch.
You also want wines with lively acidity. That often makes the difference between bottles that can snap you to attention and a flat, fatiguing wine. The aim is refreshment and pleasure more than complexity and contemplation, though if you can find it all in one inexpensive bottle you’ve got a treasure.
Finally, you want a white and a red, and plenty of both. People will have their preferences, no matter how opinionated you might be about what they ought to be drinking. For wine, Thanksgiving is a time to indulge others rather than to proselytize.
Plan on one bottle per each wine-drinking adult. That sounds like a lot because it is. Most likely you won’t finish them all, which is fine. As with food, too much is better than not enough. You can give bottles away with leftovers or keep them for another time.
Stemmed glasses are great, but if you’ve invited a crowd, you may not have enough. No worries, tumblers or juice glasses will be fine. I personally would not choose single-use plastic cups because of the waste factor, but if you need to do that, I will caution against using flimsy plastic stems, which are spills waiting to happen.
I’ve chosen 20 bottles, all under $20, that would make terrific Thanksgiving wines. I found them in New York retail shops, but if you live elsewhere you may find a different selection. Use these bottles as a guide for the type of modestly priced wines that are just right for the holiday.
These choices are based on the expectation of a big crowd. If you are having an intimate Thanksgiving dinner party, drink your best bottles if you wish. But for a large group, wine is an area for keeping costs relatively low.
You can add a sparkling wine or a rosé if you like. If you prefer to start with cocktails, New York Times Cooking has some great suggestions. Cider is also a great option, and especially wine and cider blends, which are exceptionally refreshing and low in alcohol. For those who choose to avoid alcohol, nonalcoholic wines are fair but will not duplicate the wine-drinking experience. Alcohol-free drinks are much better, and Cooking also has plenty of ideas for them.
Here are the 20 wines, in order of cost from least expensive.
Ramilo Wines Jackpot Vinho Regional Lisboa 2021, 13 percent, $10.99
Great value alert: This fruity, refreshing, lightly tannic red is the kind of delicious, interesting wine that I rarely see at this price. It comes from a region just outside of Lisbon and is a blend of organically grown castelão and aragonez, as tempranillo is known in this part of Portugal. If you’re serving a crowd, this is a great choice. (NLC Wines, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Viña Zorzal Navarra Garnacha 2021, 13 percent, $13.99
Viña Zorzal, run by three brothers, pioneered the now-common Spanish formula of finding old, neglected vineyards, rehabilitating them and making wonderful wines that are light and refreshing rather than ponderous. This garnacha, or grenache in French, is juicy and fruity, smooth and refreshing and made from organic grapes. It, too, is a great value. (Bowler Wine, New York)
Maison Foucher Vin de France Sauvignon Petit le Mont 2022, 12 percent, $14.99
Sauvignon blanc is generally a crowd-pleasing grape, and what better occasion to please a crowd than Thanksgiving? This super value from the Loire Valley is inexpensive partly because it’s not from one of the high-status regions like Sancerre. But it is made from organic grapes, and it’s a sedate style, easygoing and lightly herbal rather than brash and pungent. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
Storm Point Swartland Chenin Blanc 2022, 12.5 percent, $16
Chenin blanc is one of my absolute favorite grapes, but it’s hard to find good examples this inexpensive. This bottle from the Swartland region of South Africa offers a taste of what makes chenin blanc great: It has aromas and flavors of flowers, honey and ginger, and it’s dry and refreshing. Drink it and celebrate both Thanksgiving and South Africa’s victory in the Rugby World Cup. (Vine Street Imports, Mount Laurel, N.J.)
Storm Point Swartland Red Blend 2022, 13.5 percent, $17
Storm Point also makes this terrific red blend from Swartland. It’s 50 percent syrah, 40 percent cinsault and 10 percent carignan, but, as with many such blends, the syrah dominates. That’s fine with me. Syrah is a great autumnal grape. This is soft, approachable and evocative of burning leaves and crisp air. (Vine Street Imports)
Anthony Road Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2020, 11.9 percent, $17.99
The Finger Lakes of New York is hands down the best source for riesling in the United States. Other terrific rieslings are made around the country, but the focus on riesling in the Finger Lakes makes for a lot of terrific options. This one, from Anthony Road, is dry, floral and minerally, with a texture that makes it a pleasure to drink.
A Los Viñateros Bravos Itata País Volcánico 2022, 13 percent, $17.99
País, or mission, is perhaps the oldest European grape planted in the Americas. This wine is made from old-vine grapes, farmed organically and biodynamically in volcanic soils in the Itata Hills. It’s fragrant, and both earthy and juicy, just the sort of versatile wine that goes with myriad dishes. (Ripe Wine Imports, New York)
Celler Credo Penedès Miranius Xarello 2020, 11.5 percent, $17.99
Xarello is one of the Catalan grapes traditionally used in cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. But, in the hands of a top producer like Celler Credo, it can make excellent still wines like this toasty, creamy, savory white, made of biodynamically farmed grapes. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)
François Chidaine Touraine Rouge 2022, 12.5 percent, $17.99
This is a joyous red, perfect for any sort of celebratory meal and, specifically, a wine that will go very well with the dark meat of the turkey and a lot more. It comes from François Chidaine, who practices organic, biodynamic and regenerative agriculture. It’s a blend of côt, or malbec, cabernet franc and pineau d’aunis, which gives this juicy wine a peppery edge. (Polaner Selections)
ColleStefano Verdicchio di Matelica 2021, 12.5 percent, $18.96
I’ve written about this wine several times over the years, yet every time I come back to it, it surprises me. Maybe it’s the texture and depth — it’s not at all the stereotypical simple Italian white. It’s got both intrigue and deliciousness, and it’s refreshing, which all makes it a great Thanksgiving white. Oh, and the grapes are farmed organically. (Polaner Selections)
Pierre et Rodolphe Gauthier Bourgueil Jour de Soif 2021, 13 percent, $18.96
Pierre and Rodolphe Gauthier mostly make age-worthy cabernet francs under the Domaine du Bel Air label. Jour de Soif, however, is an entry-level bottle that is fresh, bright and easy to enjoy. It’s earthy, with a sort of tobacco and herb flavor. You can enjoy as a refreshment or, if you’re intrigued, ponder those flavors as they change in the mouth. (Polaner Selections)
Carlos Raposo Dão Impecável Tinto 2021, 13 percent, $18.99
This red is new to me, and I think it would be great for Thanksgiving. It’s fresh, floral and herbal, made of biodynamically grown touriga nacional, a principal grape of port. In this rendition, it has few of port’s tannins. It’s the sort of red a white wine lover might enjoy. (Grossberg/Kopman Selections, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.)
Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2021, 13.4 percent, $18.99
This old favorite is the rare cabernet sauvignon that meets the Thanksgiving criteria of being versatile and immediately accessible. Sure, it’s a bit tannic — it’s cabernet, after all. But it’s bright, fruity and lightly floral, and if you serve it with turkey, stuffing and the rest, it’ll be great.
Ungrafted Itata Valley Cinsault 2021, 13.5 percent, $18.99
Ungrafted is a small operation begun in 2020 by Marco and Sebastian De Martino, who also run the larger De Martino winery. For Ungrafted, they have identified old Chilean vineyards that have not been grafted to American rootstocks to combat phylloxera, the vine-killing aphid that is still rare in Chile. This bottle, made from organically grown Itata cinsault, is fresh, delightful and intriguing. (Polaner Selections)
Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Le Blanc Bonhomme 2021, 12.5 percent, $19.96
I’ve written about this wine several times because it’s so good and such a good value. It’s 45 percent sémillon, 45 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent colombard, and it’s rich, textured and stony, the kind of wine you want to keep drinking. The Hubert Family, which owns Peybonhomme-les-Tours and several other labels, has perfected the formula of farming biodynamically and making wines that always seem better than their prices indicate. (Summit Selections, Staten Island, N.Y.)
Nittnaus Burgenland Anita Red Blend 2018, 12.5 percent, $19.96
This juicy, fruity, smooth blend of mostly zweigelt with blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and merlot is exactly the sort of red wine that’s great on the Thanksgiving table. It’s refreshing and delicious, and, at five years of age, whatever tannins that might have once structured this wine have long since mellowed. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant)
Henry Fuchs Alsace Pinot Blanc Auxerrois 2021, 13 percent, $19.99
This is primarily auxerrois with five percent pinot blanc, and it will go with just about anything. It’s clear and pure, creamy, herbal, lightly smoky and refreshing. The proprietor, Paul Fuchs, farms organically and makes wines conscientiously. This is a domaine worth watching. (Peter Weygandt Selection/Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pa.)
Neil Ellis Cape West Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2022, 13 percent, $19.99
Here’s another sauvignon blanc, this one from South Africa. It’s a bit more pungent than the Foucher sauvignon blanc from Loire, but it’s still lively and energetic, versatile enough to go with anything on the Thanksgiving table. (The Sorting Table, Napa, Calif.)
Domaine Dupeuble Père et Fils Beaujolais 2022, 13.5 percent, $19.99
For years, Beaujolais was considered an archetypal Thanksgiving wine. The marketers pitched Beaujolais Nouveau, but plain old Beaujolais is a great way to go. It’s not syrupy like the mass-market Nouveaus, nor is it as structured and complex as cru Beaujolais. It’s just delicious, refreshing and versatile. This bottle, from Domaine Dupeuble, is floral and earthy, a lovely wine. (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.)
Brand Riesling Trocken Landwein Rhein 2022, 11.5 percent, $19.99 (1 liter)
I’ve been enjoying this wine for several years, and it’s perfect for Thanksgiving. It’s full of energy and relatively low in alcohol, which means you can drink a lot of it without feeling fatigued. The brothers Daniel and Jonas Brand are based in the northern Pfalz region and use elements of organics and biodynamics in their farming. This is from organic grapes. (Vom Boden, Brooklyn, N.Y.)