Thanksgiving Wine Pairing & Side Dish Recipes

Cornucopia with pumpkins

If you’re a foodie, Thanksgiving is really just about celebrating the world’s most wonderful thing: food. It’s a chance to throw one heck of a party, act like gourmands, and eat without considering the diet. And if you have just one extra glass of wine? Well, it is the holidays after all.

Every year, I go through months of planning for the big day, and have a terrible time choosing what to serve. Too many wonderful choices! There is, of course, the All-American green bean casserole, which is usually brought up a notch with some pan fried shallots tossed on top. I also love my grandmother’s famous Church Street squash, a yellow squash and cheese concoction that defines creaminess. Though vegetables are difficult to pair well with wines, I find that a crisp white like a stainless steel Chardonnay (try the 2008 Bedrock Chardonnay from Riverbench!) or a Sauvignon Blanc (such as a 2007 Costa de Oro Sauvignon Blanc) are always reliable companions.

Now, to add a little French flavor to the meal, I love a recipe inspired by some potatoes I had at Lulu’s Restaurant in Mammoth a few years ago. Leeks, cheese, and sliced potatoes make for show-stopper gratin, and I love to pair this with a Chardonnay with just a touch of oak, like the 2007 Riverbench Estate Chardonnay. Just the right amount of acid cuts through the richness, while the oak keeps up the complexity in the whole pairing.

Cornbread or fresh baked bread is a must- serve with herbed butter. And as a cranberry freak, I always make my favorite wine based cranberry sauce. It’s tart and refreshing- and delicious smeared over roast turkey. And speaking of the main course, Wine Brined Turkey is a fun addition to your wine country Thanksgiving table. The brine keeps the bird moist and full of flavor- wine just makes everything better.

Finally, there is dessert, which could easily be my favorite part of any meal. Pumpkin cake with a late harvest white is always a fun pairing- try Costa de Oro’s late harvest Pinot Blanc for something fun and different. And for the chocolate, it’s all about red wine or port! McKeon-Phillips makes a great port for dessert or pair with roasted figs wrapped in proscuitto.

Don’t be afraid to make up your own Turkey Day recipes as you go along. It’s all about having fun experimenting with flavors.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce
• 2 cups dry red wine
• ¾ cup sugar
• Rind of 1 orange, cut into strips
• ½ cup orange juice
• 1 inch ginger root, peeled and sliced
• 8 cloves
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 12 ounces fresh cranberries
Combine all of the ingredients except for the cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain, and return to the saucepan. Add the cranberries and cook on high about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Church Street Squash
• 3 lbs. yellow squash, sliced
• 1 can cream of mushroom soup
• ½ cup chicken broth
• 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese
• 1 tsp. paprika
• ½ cup breadcrumbs
Combine the squash and soup with chicken broth. Stir in 2 cups of cheese and paprika. Pour into a greased baking dish, and top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling.

Laura Booras is the General Manager for Riverbench Winery in Santa Maria Valley

To find out more about any of the wines mentioned in this post, please visit for a list of Santa Maria Valley wineries.


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