How to Choose White Wine for Thanksgiving

glass of white wine on Shutterstock

You preordered your turkey weeks ago, you have an oven schedule, and you even made your gravy in advance. But is your fridge stocked with Thanksgiving wine? Do you have backup bottles in case Uncle Bob shows up with a surprise date? And if you're all set with Beaujolais and pinot noir, what about those folks who prefer white wine? Never fear, there's still time. Here are a few tips on the types of white wine you should pick up and chill down before the big day.

A Few Good Deals

As we've said before, one way to get a good deal on wine is to explore less-familiar grapes. Ostatu Rioja Blanco 2011 is mostly viura (also called macabeo) with 10% malvasia blended in. The grapes are from 60- to 70-year-old vines grown in chalky clay, and the juice is fermented in stainless steel to retain brightness. The wine manages to be both lush and mineral, with a food-friendly savory quality (think homemade chicken stock, the good stuff) brightened with lemony acidity. It sells for under $14.

Chenin blanc is another grape you should certainly keep in mind for Thanksgiving. If you're going high-end, look to Domaine Huet, whose Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Sec is one of our favorite bottles to give (and to receive.) But you can also try chenin for cheaper—we like the mineral, smoky-and-salty character of Caves des Vignerons de Saumur "Les Pouches" Saumur Blanc 2011, which sells for $10 or less.

Gathering a big crowd this year? We recommend a spin through the Serious Eats Budget White Wine Hall of Fame for more affordable picks.

A Touch of Sweetness

One of the difficulties of pairing wine with the Thanksgiving meal is that many of the dishes have a bit of sugar: sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, chunks of apples in the stuffing—and these sweet elements can make dry wines taste thin and bitter. The answer: a white wine with a touch of residual sugar.

A German option like Darting 2011 Dürkheimer Hochbenn Riesling Kabinett ($19) from the Pfalz will offer just what you need. It's swirling with rich fruit—think tangy pineapple and gingery, creamy pears, and does have fruity sweetness, but it also tingles with bright, fresh acidity, and offers a layer of herbal flavors that are just the ones you rubbed onto your turkey. At just 9.5% alcohol, you can pour heavy.

If you're drinking domestic, you can still go with riesling—try Dunham Cellars Lewis Estate Vineyard Columbia Valley 2010 Riesling ($20) from Washington State. If you're a fan of German riesling, you'll be impressed by this bottling, which is smoky and mineral, packed with resin and acid, with just a touch of sweetness that will help it work with the sweeter elements of the Thanksgiving meal. They've released a new vintage, but the 2010 is drinking beautifully now.

A Little Richness

A wine with some richness—think of the texture of whole milk instead of skim—can complement the Thanksgiving meal, standing up to the heavier dishes instead of wilting away and feeling thin. If you're drinking domestically, try viognier this year instead of chardonnay; you might be impressed by how much silky, rich texture there is even if there isn't heavy oak involved.

Folin Cellars 2011 Estate Viognier ($25) from the Rogue Valley in Oregon is super rich and smooth without being sweet, with added texture from aging on the lees. It tastes a bit like poached pears or quince with a squeeze of lemon; there's a purity of fruit here that comes across as quite refined.

Anglim Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Barbara County 2010 is richly textured—it fermented in neutral French oak barrels and was stirred periodically while it aged on the lees for about a year. It's creamy but not oaky, with a layer of honeysuckle florality and hints of melon. This elegant wine sells for around $28. It will mesh well with the rich side of Thanksgiving: turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, and crescent rolls.

A distinct spiciness makes Cowhorn 2011 Spiral 36 ($28) from Applegate Valley in Oregon an intriguing wine for the Thanksgiving table: think apples and quince sprinkled with cinnamon and cloves to get the idea. It's a blend of viognier, roussanne, and marsanne, fermented together with native yeast. A bit of oak accentuates the natural richness of the wine, but this doesn't go through malolactic fermentation and is brightened by lovely tart acidity. It's one of the most autumnal wines we've tried recently.

If someone at your Thanksgiving gathering likes white wine with a touch of vanilla-flavored oak, look to Three Coins Knights Valley 2011 Viognier ($26), which adds a honeyed character balanced by pleasantly tart fruit. This Sonoma county wine is a vivid mouthful of apricot (with a spritz of Meyer lemon) and it has the body to balance a rich meal of turkey and buttery mashed potatoes. (Though you could start off with oysters and this would do just fine.)

If you're looking for something a little livelier, I recommend Cristom 2010 Pinot Gris ($17), which doesn't spend time in oak, but does rest on the lees and undergo malolactic fermentation, rendering it quite creamy. This wine is still full of tangy fruit and tart-apple acidity that will cut through the heavy meal really nicely. There's a pleasant mineral side to this pinot gris that has an affinity for mushrooms, herbs, and oyster stuffing. (We like Cristom's pinot noir as well, if you're looking for reds.)

The Darting, Dunham, Cowhorn, Folin Cellars, Anglim, and Three Coins were provided as samples for review consideration.