Thanksgiving is too, too much. Too much food. Too much family (at least until the tryptophan kicks in and that obnoxious in-law dozes off).

So the last thing we need is too much pressure over choosing the wine, especially when there are so many wrong choices.

Among them are America's most popular varietals: chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These are ill-suited for the array of dishes at the T-Day table, starting with the main course (even if it's turducken).

"Chardonnay is way too dry for turkey, and cabernet is too bold," said Andy Kass, owner of Sutler's wine store in Stillwater.

Trotting out these varietals is a double disservice -- to the guests and to the wine world in general.

These wines "are destructive to potential new wine lovers," said my friend Perry Rankin, owner of the 34 North wine store in Healdsburg, Calif. "They'll say 'I guess I just don't like wine' and not touch the stuff until next year, when they'll repeat the cycle."

With an eclectic array of both food and palates at the table, striving for the perfect match is folly. An herbal sauvignon blanc might go with the sage-infused stuffing, but so might a peppery syrah/shiraz. A spicy sweet gewürztraminer or late-harvest riesling should sing with the pumpkin pie, but so would a sweet sherry or tawny Port.

But if there's a wine that marries well with oyster dressing and sweet potatoes and cranberry chutney, well, I'd love to hear about it.

So approach the wine like you do the food -- options, options and more options, with varying flavor profiles (although it's best that most of the wines have softer tannins and higher acidity).

At my table, there's always a bottle of the white blend Conundrum (see Wine of the Week) and a pinot noir, usually a zesty zin and a rosé, maybe a bubbly. These are versatile wines that play well with others. They're also, for the most part, lighter wines that don't add unduly to the overindulgence that is the order of the day.

That's especially true of pinots, but alas, they're not always a good option for those watching their budgets. American pinots that are inexpensive and tasty are hard to come by, and Burgundies are pricey and unpredictable.

But there's an interesting, and very timely, alternative: Today marks the release of the 2008 nouveau Beaujolais, from a region abutting Burgundy. For years, these wines, made from the gamay grape, have been hailed as a precursor of how Burgundy's vintage will turn out.

That notion has been blessedly debunked, and now nouveau Beaujolais is more an excuse for a party. Best served chilled, the light, fruity nouveaus make a nice turkey-and-all-the-trimmings matchup. So do the longer-lived Cru Beaujolais wines.

Off-dry rieslings and demi-sec vouvrays are great choices. Or try the grape variously known as blaufränkisch (in Austria), kékfrankos (Hungary) and lemberger (Germany and here). The Kiona lemberger is spicy, smooth and soft, with a surprisingly crisp finish. It's from the Columbia Valley in Washington, a bonus for those seeking to make this an all-American holiday.

That's part of the reason zinfandel, which was believed to be a native grape for years, came to be a regular at our T-Day table.

Turns out that the grape actually came from Croatia. Besides, imported wines should be welcome for a more tradition-laden reason:

Except for the honored guests at the very first Thanksgiving dinner, all of us came from another country.

Bill Ward • bill.ward@ Read Ward on Wine at

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