The best non-alcoholic wines to serve at Thanksgiving

Skip the apple juice and serve some of these wine alternatives

Published November 24, 2021 11:59AM (EST)

 (Mark Weinberg / Food52)
(Mark Weinberg / Food52)

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The traditional Thanksgiving dinner has a reputation for being particularly challenging to successfully pair with wine, but finding a nonalcoholic accompaniment that works with white and dark meat turkey, half a dozen (or more!) sides, and heavily spiced desserts used to be all but impossible. Until recently, the only wineglass-appropriate beverages for nondrinkers were sparkling apple ciders. While there's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned bottle of Martinelli's, it's just too sweet to bring out the best in herbed stuffing, tart cranberry sauce, and cinnamon-spiced pies. Luckily, there are now plenty of sophisticated nonalcoholic wine alternatives, from those that try to directly emulate wines, to more adventurous flavor combinations beyond a winemaker's wildest dreams! For something a bit more grown-up than what you used to drink at the kid's table, there are now zero-proof options to satisfy any palate.

Sparkling alternatives

In general, dealcoholized wines are horribly disappointing, even those made by actual winemakers. Many have flummoxing rave reviews and taste like expensive bottles of too-sweet grape juice to me. Dealcoholized sparkling, however, is the exception that proves the rule. Among wine drinkers, the easiest pairing that will get you from the first hors d'oeuvres to the last bite of pumpkin pie is a good, dry sparkling, and there are some excellent zero-proof options.

For an autumn-fruit-forward sparkling, with notes of floral pear and tart green and sweet red apples, Fre Sparkling Brut comes in both individual cans and full-size bottles. Freixenet Alcohol Removed Sparkling White has a creamier mouthfeel, and a yeasty, shortbready body with a dry, lemon-juice finish to balance bites full of heavy cream, butter, and gravy.

Bright white wine alternatives

For white wine alternatives, a bright and bracing Sauvignon Blanc analogue, with tart green apple and sharp green bell pepper, like Acid League's Sauvage Wine Proxy is an excellent choice. Though made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Sauvage is not an imitation of the wine varietal; it does, however, fill the same niche. An evergreen forest's worth of piney notes from spruce, cedar, and juniper are even better than the original at rounding out a rich and carb-heavy Thanksgiving meal.

Further afield from the traditional Sauv Blanc, but with the same mouthwatering mineral quality, is Unified Ferments Qi Dan. Brewed with oolong tea, the semi-roasted halfway point between a grassy summer green and a cozy winter black tea, Qi Dan is redolent with guaiac wood on the nose, with a finish of flint and pumice to counterbalance each bite of buttery mashed potatoes.

Non #2 Caramelized Pear and Konbu is a unique, lightly fizzed wine alternative that smells like a richly spiced poached pear, with huge star anise, cardamom, and vanilla on the nose that made me want to bury my face in my wineglass. I worried it would be too sweet for the savory parts of the meal, but the first sip proved my fears entirely unfounded. On the tongue, Non #2 has an effervescent salinity and clean mineral finish that clears the palate and makes you crave more (both of food and the drink itself)!

Buttery white wine alternatives

Buttery white wines like California Chardonnays are discouraged with Thanksgiving dinner because their barrel-aged oakiness clashes with most foods. Luckily, deliciously buttery nonalcoholic wine alternatives without the oak barrel baggage are more readily available, and will pair beautifully with your bird, or whatever else is on the table.

Empress Ficus Zing is a nonalcoholic take on mead that, while made with honey, is neither heavy nor sweet, but rather nicely acidic, with toasty flavors from hojicha tea and a buttery yeastiness that tastes like drinking brioche.

Unified Ferments Snow Chrysanthemum is a honey bomb on the nose, but green and savory on the palate, with a pink Prague Powder saltiness that gives it a deliciously fatty mouthfeel.

For a fruitier option, Honeycrisp apple fans will love Jukes 1. It comes in with the creamy round sweetness of the popular apples joined by refreshing notes of cucumber. All Jukes Cordialities come in tiny, travel-friendly bottles that contain enough concentrate for two glasses, and I found that one part Jukes 1 to eight parts water was the best ratio for an easy-drinking, food-friendly white wine alternative.

Bold red alternatives

Just because turkey is white meat doesn't mean you must banish reds from the table. Like Zinfandel or Syrah/Shiraz, nonalcoholic wine alternatives that are easy on the tannins, with high acidity from juicy red fruits and a bit (or a lot!) of spice will complement the richness of many Thanksgiving sides without overwhelming even the whitest part of the turkey breast.

For a Zinfandel parallel, Jukes 6 bursts with dark berries like blackberry and black currant, and is sweet, tart, and just a tiny bit bitter in all the right amounts. For this one, I like to mix only six parts of water to one part concentrate, which yields a luscious red wine consistency.

Non #4, made with beet, sansho, and jalapeño, reminded me of an old-world Syrah: a lighter-bodied red with lovely umami flavors and a distinctly vegetal spiciness, plus just enough savory saltiness to make you reach for another sip. While excellent for a traditional turkey dinner, Non #4 would also pair brilliantly with vegetarian entrées, and especially enlivens anything mushroom-based.

Though described as tasting like a smoked cherry old-fashioned, I found Curious Elixir No. 5 to be a dead ringer for a new-world Shiraz. A big, meaty mouthfeel, dark cherry flavor, and a very zesty black pepper finish would sing alongside herbed stuffing, white and dark meat, and fatty foods like gravy and macaroni and cheese. It's also unmatched on this list when it comes to pairing with chocolate desserts.

Blushing rosé alternatives

If you prefer to drink nonalcoholic rosé all day, you'll want a wine alternative that isn't too sweet, with some fruity acidity and maybe some unexpected tongue-tingling notes.

Jukes 8 takes you from the end of summer, with a big watermelon nose, to autumn apple and a crisp, vegetal rhubarb on the tongue; it finishes with a seasonally appropriate pomegranate that lends just a touch of necessary astringency to pair with food.

Woodland, another lightly fizzy honey wine from Empress, is more linear than Ficus Zing, with a dry green tea base, tart pink berry notes, and an inspired blast of cool juniper on the finish.

Acid League's Zephyr, with sweet strawberries brought along into harvest season by biting red cranberries and pomegranate, plus zesty herbal notes of lemon verbena and hibiscus, are offset by the tickle of pink and Sichuan peppercorns. This one is easy to sip on its own, too, so maybe stash a few extra bottles for when the company goes home.

Bitter apéritif alternatives

Not a fan of wine or wine alternatives? Bitter drinks stimulate saliva production and settle the stomach, so they're ideal to serve with big meals. But who wants to mix cocktails while trying to pull a turkey out of the oven and make sure that the sweet potato and green bean casseroles make it to the table warm?

For Bitter For Worse's premixed cocktails take the measuring, shaking, and stirring out of making meal-enhancing cocktails; just mix one to one with water or seltzer over ice. The Saskatoon varietal is halfway between a cocktail and a light-bodied red wine, with just enough astringent tannins to complement but not overwhelm traditional poultry herbs, and a vegetal bitterness that offsets cranberry sauce's pucker. For an unexpected accompaniment to pumpkin pie, Smoky No. 56amplifies the eugenol, the molecule in the spices (especially clove) that makes your tongue go just a little bit numb, making for a delicious and unusually multisensory dessert.

For a complete cocktail that's ready right out of the bottle, Curious Elixir No. 4's citrus bite, with notes of bergamot, blood orange, and Sicilian lime, makes sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce in particular sparkle. Ginseng, turmeric, and holy basil add some grounding, earthy herbal flavor. Curious Elixir No. 1, with pomegranate and orange, both bitter and sweet, herbal fennel, and familiar, earthy gentian root tastes like a classic amaro, and contains rhodiola to fight stress and fatigue (great for anyone who had to deal with holiday travel!).

With so many options to choose from, it's tempting to go all out and pick a bubbly to start, a red and a white for the main course (or a rosé to split the difference), and a nice, tummy-soothing bitter spritz as a digestive. Whatever your choice, any of these meal-enhancing, zero-proof alternatives to wine will make sure that you or your alcohol-abstaining guests enjoy Thanksgiving dinner as much as — maybe more than! — wine drinkers.

By Suzan Eraslan

MORE FROM Suzan Eraslan

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Food Food52 Holidays Non-alcoholic Thanksgiving Wine