The holidays are here again. Every year we stress out about Thanksgiving dinners, travel plans, and who’s feelings will be hurt if we don’t have Grandma’s biscuits with the turkey. Add to the list of stresses the wine selections for a dinner that everyone will comment on for the rest of the year and you’ve got a nice little cup of crazy juice to sip on. 

Thanksgiving is a difficult meal to pair one wine with because it is kind of all over the place. Every family has a different tradition and if you’re inviting other people in, they bring their traditions and dishes. It becomes very intense very quick. When you add more dishes to the mix, it becomes more difficult to pair one type of wine with the whole thing. It can be done but then you run the risk of that one person saying they don’t like the wine or the wine pairing. 

At this point, I usually offer up a variety of wines that pair well with Thanksgiving’s traditional dishes. Instead, this year I’d like to throw out an idea that could increase everyone’s enjoyment and challenge them at the same time. But first, here’s why.

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to food and wine. People’s culinary experiences differ so widely especially when it comes to high-holiday dinners. These days, a lot of wine professionals have moved from the idea of what you should have to what would you like to have. It does them no good to pair your dinner with a wine you don’t like just because that’s how you are supposed to enjoy it. The keyword there is “enjoy.” As wine professionals, we have more successful pairings with people. That is made possible by asking the questions: “What do you like?” and “What do you normally drink?” or “Would you like to try something different?” You can create a new experience on a traditional dinner by doing this:

This year, ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine that they love and think would go well with a certain dish. You can even make dish assignments so you don’t have multiple pairings for the same dish. Tell them what they are bringing should be something they enjoy and not what they think everyone would enjoy. With this tactic, everyone will get to try something they wouldn’t normally pick up. Pushing people outside of their comfort zones is everything the holidays are about anyway, right?

How do we figure out what to pair with what? It’s simple, don’t over think it. Here are a few guidelines to stay in. Sweet wines can pair very nicely with spicy foods since the sweetness helps to cut the heat. Salt is a super wine friendly component. It makes wines seem fuller as well as less bitter and acidic. Speaking of, acidic wines like Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, or Champagne make a great pairing with rich or oily dishes. 

Enjoy some new wines with friends and family this holiday season!

Judd Smith is a local wine enthusiast and creator of