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Riesling Is a Thanksgiving Crowd-Pleaser

Wine experts recommend their favorites

Fine Cooking Issue 41
Photo: Steve Hunter
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Chances are you’ll have a group at your Thanksgiving table whose tastes and wine savvy span a wide range. But choosing wine for such a diverse gathering needn’t be a brain-twister. There’s an affordable, easy-drinking wine that can handle everything from salty appetizers to sweet potatoes to a mapley glaze on the turkey. That wine is Riesling, a dazzlingly food-friendly drink that appeals to a big variety of tastes (and that wine lovers take very seriously).

Rieslings that run from bone dry to sweet come from Germany, France, and many parts of the United States, to name a few places. To me, Thanksgiving seems prime time for this fabulous wine, but just to be sure, I checked in with some of my favorite wine people and asked which Riesling they might pick for their Thanksgiving dinner.

“Every holiday is prime time for Riesling,” agrees Randall Grahm, the winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards in California. “What’s not to love? It’s fruity, flavorful, not too alcoholic; it makes the food taste better and refreshes your mouth for the next gobble of turkey.” Randall’s favorites include dry Alsace Rieslings from Albrecht, Ostertag, and Weinbach, all around $20.

Tim Gaiser, a frequent contributor to Fine Cooking, says, “With Riesling, there’s a wider range of style than I’ve found in any other grape. Thanksgiving dinner can be so heavy—you need something moderate to light in alcohol, with high acidity to balance all that richness, plus a touch of sweetness to go with the sweet potatoes and cranberry relish,” he explains. For Thanksgiving, Tim would choose fruity, flavorful German Rieslings with a dry to slightly sweet finish, such as Rheinhold Haart Piesporter Kabinett ($18) and a “rich, weighty” Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzschen Spätlese Trocken (“a mouthful, but a great wine”), $30. He also raves about Ziliken Ockfener Bockstein Spätlese ($22), which is off-dry and spicy.

Shirley Sarvis, a wine and food writer, insists that because of the mix of sweet and savory at the table, wine for Thanksgiving “must have a power of flavor that’s tilted toward fruit, not oak.” She likes Riesling from Smith-Madrone (Napa, $14) or Trimbach (Alsace, $18). I’d add Hugel Riesling, also from Alsace ($17).

Nick de Sève, wine director for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in New York, likes Navarro Riesling (Mendocino, $13), which is off-dry with apple-apricot flavors. “It’s lean and crisp, good as an aperitif, and marries well with turkey, cranberries, and sweet potatoes,” he says.

“Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of New York State—most hovering in the $10 range—can be sublime,” says Steven Kolpan, a wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. Steven likes semi-dry bottlings by Konstantin Frank, especially the light-bodied “Salmon Run,” a steal at $6. He also recommends Rieslings by Hermann Wiemer and Glenora. I’d add Fox Run, a deliciously dry Finger Lakes Riesling, nicely priced at $10.


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