Let’s talk turkey. Not the trimmings, the bird.

For years, I’ve focused the annual Thanksgiving column on wines that play well with the side dishes, or the gravy, or, well, everything on the table except the entree.

But in the 21st century, more folks celebrating this All-American holiday have opted for different preparations (deep-fried or smoked) or for more “natural” turkeys (heritage rather than factory-farm-raised). And these exotic treatments and birds provide infinitely more pairing possibilities than the all-too-often bland, traditionally roasted birds, which present little or no touchstones for liquid accompaniment.

Heritage turkeys have been gaining increasing favor in this century’s natural-food movement, and their popularity should get a boost in light of the recent ravage wrought by avian flu at hybridized-turkey farms.

These fowl are “gamier” in general and have less white meat in particular than their juiced-up counterparts. That makes them great matches for more rustic wines.

Such as cabernet franc. This herby, earthy variety is mostly blended in Bordeaux but finds great “solo” expression to the north in France’s Loire region. The Chateau de Riviere Chinon ($14) boasts peppery and anise flavors and wonderful stuffing, and the Domaine du Vieux Pressoir “Les Silices” Saumur ($13) is laden with blue fruit and minerally texture. Closer to home, Jed Steele’s Writer’s Block Lake County Cabernet Franc ($17) delights with herbaceous and black-pepper goodness.

Recently I was wowed and dazzled by the cabernet francs in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The swell renditions from Lamoreaux Landing and Anthony Road (where it’s blended with lemberger) are available here and good values in the $20-$22 range.

Too much money? Then look to France’s Rhône region for syrah/grenache-based blends such as La Vieille Ferme and Paul Jaboulet Aine Parallèle 45, which come in at $10, give or take, and provide nice spiciness and depth.

For smoked turkey, the most obvious choice is a smoky wine, and two of the best values in that vein are the Pedroncelli “Friends” Red ($12) and the Marietta Old Vine Red ($15), both toasty, tasty delights. Smoked meat also affords an opportunity to sneak in a toasty California chardonnay — try the Michael David “Symphony” ($15) or the Murphy Goode California ($14) — that might overwhelm a standard turkey.

Another crowd-pleaser, malbec, can shine here, on its own — the muscular Finca Flichman Mendoza ($10) or the meaty Ruta 22 Patagonia ($12) — or in a blend such as the delicious, robust Famiglia Meschini Premium Malbec-Syrah ($12).

Speaking of syrah, that’s probably the most foolproof option for smoked turkey, thanks to its thick tannins and sturdy grip. Check out the dark, beefy Hahn Central Coast Syrah ($15) and, again from Jed Steele, the rough-edged but ultimately smooth Shooting Star Lake County Syrah ($14). Even more fabulous: the Charles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah ($18), which way overdelivers for the price and completely lives up to its name with explosive fruit and tannins.

Deep-fried turkey is another animal entirely, needing high acidity to cut through the salty, fatty elements.

In other words, it cries out for a sparkling wine, and pink renditions adeptly marry up with light and dark meat.

Champagne is not inexpensive, so look for a crémant, the name used for many sparkling wines made elsewhere in France. I like the peachy Baron de Seillac Brut Rosé ($16); the super-refreshing, almost too quaffable Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé ($16), and the masterful Camille Braun Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, completely splurge-worthy at $25.

The latter two are from Alsace. Please note that the white table wines from that Alpine region are almost uniformly suited for the wide array of flavors and textures at the Thanksgiving table.

Starting with that “alternative” version of the bird.


Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.