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Turkey on Thanksgiving is nothing without sausage-studded stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, and fat slices of pecan pie. Of course we'd be remiss not to mention the best red wines to accompany your feast. But, boy, are there plenty to choose among: sweet red wine, dry red wine, Italian red wine, Spanish red wine, cabernet sauvignon, merlot. The list goes on.
Red wines generally have a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) and are more full-bodied than white wines, making them a perfect complement to fall and winter sipping and holiday feasts. Pinot noir feels just right for fall, says Jay James, master sommelier and president of Benchmark Wine Group.
That's why our top pick for the Best Overall wine to drink now is Elouan Pinot Noir, a high-rated bottle that clocks in under $20. “Deep sour black cherry and red plum flavors mingle with aromatic nuances like shiitake mushroom and fallen leaves damp from a fresh rain," James says. "It just oozes autumn.”
Here's a quick primer on pairing: "The more fat you have on the plate, the more tannin you want in your wine, says James.
Sweet red wine, like lambrusco, pairs beautifully with gouda on a charcuterie board; dry red wine, like a medium-bodied chianti, is the perfect accompaniment to turkey; pinot noir has gentle acidity to balance fat and sweetness from mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce; and the best cabernet sauvignon can be savored near a crackling fireplace to finish off the night.
All bottles highlighted below were determined with the help of sommeliers and our own personal tastings. Read on for the best red wines to drink now—including some nonalcoholic red wines and cheap red wine under $25 that tastes way more expensive. Note: Price varies by location and vendor.
Best Overall Red Wine
Oregon’s cool climate yields some great pinot noirs. Our Best Overall pick, Elouan Pinot Noir, is made with grapes from not one, but three of the state’s wine-growing regions. It’s everything you want in a quality pinot noir: Fruit-forward tartness, a hint of spice (in this case, cloves), some earthiness, and it delivers a crowd-pleasing medium finish. On the palate, expect tart cherry and wild bramble flavors balanced with fresh-tilled earthy notes. It’s a versatile bottle to have on-hand throughout the holiday season, pairing beautifully with turkey, pork loin, mushrooms, and other fall harvest dishes, like herby stuffing and charred Brussels sprouts.
Sweet Red Wine
Lambrusco, rosso dolce, red zinfandel, port, and sparkling red wine are among the most common types of sweet red wine. When it comes to Thanksgiving, sweet red wine is often a good pairing with bookend courses: appetizers and dessert. We like moscato as it's sweet, often bursting with notes of strawberries and raspberries. Your palate might also pick up on stone fruits like peach or nectarine, making it a match made in heaven with chocolate. Roscato is also a sweet red wine—from Lombardy, a northern region in Italy—that's typified by having a palate of berries and a delicate fizz.
Dry Red Wine
The opposite of sweet wines, dry red wine is light on residual sugars, usually less than 1 percent. (You can often find this intel on a wine’s “tech sheet” that details its tasting notes, origin, and alcohol content.) Chianti, sangiovese, and tempranillos are often the most dry reds, but pinot noirs, merlot, and cabernet sauvignons also fall in the category.
Best Cheap Red Wine Under $25
You don’t have to spend a fortune on a good bottle of red wine. Some of the best red wines cost between $15 to $30, according to sommeliers. For example, merlots are often some of the best cheap red wines because their grapes aren’t too finicky, making them easier to harvest and keep costs down. They’re approachable, too, falling in the middle of the red wine spectrum in terms of sweetness. But you can find some reasonably priced pinot noirs, cabernet sauvignons, and red blends to keep on-hand for parties and host gifts, too.
Semi-Sweet Red Wine
Don’t love a bone-dry red wine, but also don’t want something too sweet? Wines that have residual sugars somewhere between 3 to 5 percent are considered semi-sweet red wine, or sometimes even “off dry.” This can be a tricky category, because what one wine drinker considers just right may be too sweet for another, and sweetness levels can depend on the winemaker. (Grenache, for example, can fluctuate from dry to sweet.) Semi-sweet red wine varieties include malbec, merlot, and zinfandel.
Italian Red Wine
Tuscany may be Italy’s most well-known wine region, but the country has 20 different regions and produces several hundred varieties of wine. There are countless covetable bottles of Italian red wine to try, from sparkling red lambruscos hailing from Emilia-Romagna to Tuscany’s beloved chianti classico to berry-forward nero d’Avola from Sicily.
Spanish Red Wine
Your search for a great Spanish red wine will likely lead you to full-bodied, plummy, leathery reds from Rioja that easily pair with meats and cheeses. But if you can get your hands on a bottle made with bobal grapes (they’re widely planted in Spain, but wines are harder to find stateside), grab one and enjoy the rich berry and subtle chocolate notes.
Cabernet sauvignon, or cabs, are one of the most popular red wines for fall and winter—and for good reason. They’re bold, pair nicely with meat dishes, and your palate will pick up on dark fruit and sometimes tobacco, pepper, or vanilla.
Dry Red Wine for Cooking
When it comes to selecting the best dry red wine for cooking, chefs follow this rule: Use the wine you'd pair with the recipe, says Melissa Smith, founder of Enotrias Elite Sommelier Services. Depending on how much the recipe requires, you might have to buy two bottles.
“Overall you want to stick with a wine that has low alcohol, minimal tannins, and expressive fruit,” she says.
Red wines have a lot of uses in cooking and baking, from using cabernet sauvignon to brine a turkey or make cranberry sauce to adding pinot noir in brownie batter.
Light Red Wine
In general, light red wines are lighter in alcohol content, usually clocking in under 12.5 percent ABV. These varieties are usually lighter in color, have fewer tannins, and are higher in acidity. They’re the perfect sip for early fall or easing into the red wine category. Pinot noir, gamay, lambrusco, and grenache all fall under this category.
Merlot is one of the most popular red wines, with the grapes growing in some of the most famous wine regions like Bordeaux, Tuscany, Chile, Northern California, and Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe. Merlots are medium- to full-body reds, and there’s a full range of flavors in each sip, ranging from rich, dark fruits to dried herbs to mocha and chocolate.
Non-Alcoholic Red Wine
Makers are creating a dizzying array of non-alcoholic drinks including non-alcoholic beers and non-alcoholic spirits. Should you want to dip your toe in non-alcoholic wines, you can find reds that are layered and nuanced (read: don't taste like grape juice).
Best Red Wine Regions
Not sure where to start when it comes to finding the best red wines of the season? Come fall and winter, turn your attention to regions like Burgundy and the Rhône Valley in France, and Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy, where the vino isn’t too heavy and pairs exceptionally well with a variety of ingredients commonly found on fall menus, says Evan Vallee, advanced sommelier at Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters in La Jolla Shores, CA.
“These regions generally have good quality across the board and increase your chances of finding something delicious at every price point,” he says.