To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, in food-wine pairing you can please some of the dishes some of the time, but you can never please all of the dishes all of the time. That's particularly true at Thanksgiving, when a cornucopia of flavors, textures and sweet/savory levels makes selecting the "perfect" wine as daunting as Uncle Ralph's political harangues.
Instead of presenting a challenge, this actually can be liberating. The best tactic: Serve up an array of liquid assets, and don't allocate much in the way of financial assets (almost all the wines cited below are under $20).
And since Thanksgiving gatherings so often are like weddings -- bringing together relatives who otherwise never see one another (or necessarily want to) -- a variation on a well-worn bride's bromide is on order. So consider some of these approaches:
Something cold: One wine that rarely is served too cold is the stuff with bubbles, which also happens to be as gastronomically versatile as fermented grape juice gets. There's little reason to splurge on Champagne; instead, look for a bottle from Spain (Cristalino or Mont-Marcal Cava), or Italy (Zardetto or Adami Prosecco) or, of course, New Mexico (Gruet). Oh, and some chilled cider or medium-bodied beer should be most welcome.
Something you: Bring out a recently discovered favorite, or a wine you have enjoyed with one of the guests in the past, or something you stumbled across on a vacation, or just a wine/winery with a back story that you find especially appealing. Basically, anything with some connective tissue for you to share with your guests.
Something mixed: Blends are a swell choice for T-Day, if only because something in a mix of different grapes has a decent chance of connecting with something in the wide-ranging food. In the interest of expanding everyone's horizons (and not putting too big a hit on the pocketbook), look for reds from Portugal (Dow Vale de Bomfim, Udaca Irreverente, Casa das Mouras) and whites from lesser-known corners of France (Pellehaut Cotes de Gascogne, Vignerons de Rognes, Tariquet "Classic").
Something pink (not blue, or Blue Nun): Rosés should not disappear at the same time as white Capri pants (which perhaps should disappear completely). Their food friendliness is a result of balance, as they tend to have more body and structure than most whites and more acidity and lift than most reds. Look for Coteaux du Vendomois, Steele Cab Franc Rosé and Commanderie de la Bargemone.
Something sweet: This is a great time for moscato, especially late and with sweet potatoes (Barefoot is fine; the spendier Saracco or Seven Daughters from Italy are a couple of steps up). But off-dry rieslings (Anthony Road, Mercer) and Vouvrays (Huet, August Bonhomme "La Forcine") are great choices throughout the meal -- and a potential game-changer for those who say they don't like sweet wines.
Something tart: Wines with a jolt of acidity (red or white) play off both tangy and fatty dishes, and the ones with some herb or white pepper notes are even more versatile. Try a gruner veltliner (Ecker, Domaine Wachau, Kurt Angerer) or a gamay from Beaujolais (Nouveau or not, from Pascal Chatelus, Montmartin) or California (Duxoup).
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org