Thanksgiving Wine Etiquette Guide: What To Bring, When To Decant, How To Enjoy Every Bottle


As Thanksgiving approaches, not only are people across the country preparing for the special meal by digging up family recipes, searching for casserole dishes, and scouring supermarkets for ingredients. They’re also storming wine retailers in search of the perfect wine to accompany the turkey (or its vegetarian counterpart), all its sides, and the pies.

We’ve written elsewhere about which wines go well with Thanksgiving dinner, but here I’m going to talk about all the questions that come up alongside the actual bottles. That is, the etiquette of bringing wine if you’re a guest, and serving wine if you’re a host, and pro tips like decanting, or serving something at the correct temperature, that can make a bottle go from decent to excellent.

I gathered questions from friends in order to write this, and I hope it’s helpful in making your Thanksgiving dinner more relaxed, enjoyable, and delicious.

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What should the host expect their guests to bring?

Hosting styles vary greatly. Some dinner party hosts love doing all the shopping and cooking, and they request attendees bring only dessert, cheese, or wine. Other hosts like to provide some food and wine, while others will bring side dishes.

If you’re hosting, don’t expect people to know what to bring, nor should you assume that they’ll bring the right thing. Take a little initiative, and make polite requests of your guests.

Here are some examples of how to do this:

“Hey guys, so psyched that you’re able to come to our awesome Friendsgiving meal! I’ve got an amazing spread planned (please come v hungry) and I’m probably going to pop some bubbly when people show up, but was wondering, could you poss bring a bottle of something nice and bright and white? Grüner Veltliner, perhaps? just to get us going during the apps. would be awesome, thanks!”

Or you could say:

“Hi babe, just doing some menu planning. Remember that great Beaujolais we had at your house last month? Could you find a similar bottle to pair with turkey? LMK!”

Or perhaps, even:

“A friendly reminder that there’s no need to bring any food – we’re taking care of it all – but whatever you would like to drink is most welcome! No stress if you don’t have time to pick up a bottle, we’ve got a box of rosé to whet our whistles.”

How much should a guest spend?

I think the question isn’t so much “how much to spend,” but “what to spend it on.” Much like a host should take some initiative, a guest also should.

So, phone ahead (or text, or e-mail) and ask the host about the menu. Or, say what you’re thinking about bringing and ask if it will work.

You can’t always assume that it will be a traditional Thanksgiving meal; there might be alternative dishes on the table. And ask if she knows what wines other people are bringing, or if she has a bottle she’s planning to open. If everybody else is going to bring a complex red wine, perhaps that’s your cue to bring a sparkling white, or a crisp, high-acid white.

If you do really want to know what to spend, consider that Thanksgiving dinner is not just a regular weekend dinner party where you might spend $15 on a bottle; it’s a special meal and just as you want to remember the delicious turkey your host spend hours preparing, you’ll want to remember the amazing wine, too. So, splurge a bit – spend anywhere from $25 to $50 for a bottle that will be a knock out.

You don’t need to get an $80 Champagne. But a $30 sparkling wine, like a crémant – which is just a high-quality French sparkling wine that’s not from the specific appellation of Champagne – or $45 Burgundy (either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from one of the world’s top wine regions), will be a beautiful accompaniment to the meal. Also, consider that sweet or off-dry dessert wines are wonderful to have, such as a Port, Sauternes, or Moscato – all go well with pie or cheese.

What if my wine needs decanting?

If you’ve found a great bottle of aged wine and you want it on the Thanksgiving table, then by all means, you should bring it. It’s a special occasion and this calls for special wine. But if you think it might need time to open up, then you should call the host and see if he has a decanter at home. If so, let him know you’d like to use it – and request that he has it rinsed out and available for your use.

If the host doesn’t have one, you could offer to bring one yourself if you feel like it, or you could just open the bottle hours before you will be drinking the wine, which has basically the same effect as decanting. Any red wine that’s over five years old will benefit from decanting, and some complex or aged whites will, too.

Still not sure whether your wine should be decanted? Pour a little taste. If the flavors are too tightly wound together, or if the tannins feel very heavy and strong, then you should decant, which will introduce oxygen into the juice and allow it to open up.

Can I request that my wine be opened?

If you brought a bottle that you’re excited about, don’t you dare cower in the corner when your host forgets to open it. Because honestly, your host is probably too busy to think about opening it. So, step up, ask for the wine key, or make sure the bottle goes into the fridge to get chilled down and then get up to open it when it’s ready. You brought the wine to share, right? And there’s no reason to feel bad about wanting to try a wine that you brought – it isn’t greedy, it means you love wine!

Along these lines, we’ve previously published advice on how and when to pour wine for yourself (in brief, do it, but make sure you refill others’ glasses, too).

At what temperature should wines be served?

This might sound crazy, but a lot of reds need to be placed in the refrigerator to chill down (30 minutes is great) before they’re served. This applies specifically to lighter reds (like Beaujolais or Pinor Noir). Try it – you’ll see how it makes the wine tastier! Conversely, your whites should not be freezing cold, straight from the fridge – it masks all the aromas and flavor. Give them some time to warm up before you pour.

Hopefully these guidelines take away any stress that might arise around these questions – so you can enjoy the wine and the meal even more. Happy Thanksgiving!