How do you decide which wines to deploy for Thanksgiving duty? Do you fret about matching the perfect wine with each element of the meal? That way lies madness. Nah, Thanksgiving is a day for hanging out with family and friends, and saying thanks for all our blessings. Now let's watch some football and eat some turkey, gravy and sweet potatoes.
Devotée as I am of the magic that can happen when wine and food find common ground and make the other better, I don't recommend it for big meals with a table full of contrasting dishes and a crowd that can range from wine snobs to those who merely drink it for lubrication.
My wife and I spend Thanksgiving with our longtime friends Paula and Ed, whose son and daughter grew up with my daughter. Over the years their guest list has grown from our modestly extended families to a table of two dozen or so that takes over their entire living room. Since they do the cooking, I assume the role of wine guy.
I used to focus on American wines, reasoning that Thanksgiving is an American holiday with a long food tradition. But then I realized we are all immigrants, and broadened the choices accordingly. Also, from a wine-matching perspective, any wines that's perfect with turkey could easily stub its toes on extra-tart cranberry relish or extra-sweet candied yams. Unless you're doing a carefully coursed-out dinner that's designed for wine (and yes, I have done those myself), this is not the best moment for that magnum of high-end Barolo or grand cru Burgundy you have been saving for the perfect evening.
Here's my advice:
If you don't have a cellar, look for moderately priced wines that are immediately drinkable, and don't sweat the details. If you do have your own collection, big or small, think of this as a great occasion to open those orphan wines that seldom seem to make it into our own menus. Line up those odd bottles of Greco di Tufo, Mencía, Rkatsiteli, Arbois, Tempranillo, Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau or Sémillon. Or those vintages of Syrah, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah or Zinfandel that threaten to go over the hill if you don't get around to draining them soon. We all have them. You know you do. Just open them and let people enjoy whatever they choose.
Start with a couple of bottles of sparkling wine, and everyone will be happy. (Blanc de noirs or sparkling rosé is especially good with turkey, for what it's worth, and it can stand up to everything on the traditional Thanksgiving menu.)
I've been following this format for several years now, and it's always been a hit. Wine novices enjoy the chance to try something new for them. Old hands like drinking something they don't get every day. So what if food and wine don't make a seamless match? No one's keeping score.