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With These Strategies, Pick Your Pour

By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Even avid wine lovers can be struck with a temporary case of oenophobia -- fear of wine -- around Thanksgiving. The prospect of choosing a bottle that will please all of your guests and complement all of your dishes can perplex the most confident holiday host.

Last November we approached the matter by uncorking a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau along with a Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Kabinett and a Lorikeet Sparkling Shiraz and a Cline Zinfandel. Each style of wine had been recommended by top sommeliers as among the best to accompany roast turkey with all the trimmings, and rather than think "either/or," we employed a "both/and" strategy.

Here are a few other ideas to help calm any oenophobic tendencies this Thanksgiving:

- Begin with bubbles. Offering guests champagne flutes along with well-paired hors d'oeuvres (from smoked fish to popcorn) helps get everyone in a festive holiday spirit. On this all-American holiday, there's no better time to uncork an all-American wine, such as a sparkler from Iron Horse or Schramsberg.

A 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, in fact, made headlines 35 years ago when President Nixon served it in Beijing for his "Toast to Peace" with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. The 2004 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut ($35), with its crisp green-apple flavors and abundance of bubbles, is an ideal wine for your own "Toast of Gratitude" next week -- as is the delightful Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut ($20), a blend of 71 percent chardonnay and 29 percent pinot noir, a quarter of it barrel-aged, with lemony acidity and honey notes.

- Pick fruity wines for the table. Fruit-forward reds -- such as Beaujolais, pinot noir, syrah and zinfandel -- and unoaked whites provide the most food-pairing flexibility. Among whites, look to Riesling, which goes especially well with white meat, sausage stuffing and anything with its own sweetness. Choose a style typified by the 2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($15) and 2006 St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter Goldtr-pfchen Riesling Kabinett ($20). Each of those elegant, focused and well-balanced wines boasts Germany's Mosel region's characteristic low alcohol (at 8.5 percent each), notable minerality (due to slate soil) and honeyed apple-peach fruitiness.

Because Beaujolais nouveau is released annually on the third Thursday of November -- exactly one week before Thanksgiving -- the two have become as inextricably linked as champagne and New Year's Eve. Tomorrow, you can proclaim "Le Beaujolais nouveau est arriv-!" just in time to serve as a classic and reasonably priced (the 2007 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau is $10) accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner, plus any buttery cheeses such as brie or Camembert that you might set out before or after the meal.

Zinfandel still trades on its long reputation as a native American varietal (although more recent DNA research suggests Croatian origins), making it another traditional Thanksgiving wine. Indeed, we enjoyed the 2005 Rancho Zabaco Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($35), with its lush, bright red-berry flavors and dark-chocolate notes. But, truth be told, we adored the similarly jammy 2004 Bishop's Peak Edna Valley Syrah ($16) from California's renowned Talley Vineyards, at less than half the price.

The sleeper 2004 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($22) also surprised us: While a fine wine on its own, when paired with savory dark turkey meat and walnut stuffing it came alive with impressive blackberry and tart cherry flavors.

In Australia, sparkling reds are traditional with holiday turkey, and the Rumball Sparkling Shiraz Coonawarra Cuvee "SB17" ($28) -- a full-bodied wine bursting with berries and bubbles -- provides an ideal introduction to this Down Under delight. A provocative choice for Thanksgiving, it pairs the palate-refreshing properties and pleasure of a sparkling wine with the power of a shiraz, enabling it to stand up to the strongest flavors on the table, whether dark turkey meat, smoked ham or blue cheese.

- Serve both a white and a red. You can't please all of the people all of the time. However, some guests invariably drink only one or the other, so with two well-chosen wines you could please most of the people most of the time. If you've already decided on a wine, add another in the other color.

A caveat: If you're adamant about simplifying your life with an "either/or" strategy, serving only one wine, there's always ros-. No, it's not just for summer. The deliciously dry 2006 M. Chapoutier Belleruche C-tes-du-Rh-ne Ros- ($15) has the body and flavor to stand up to your Thanksgiving buffet, as would a ros- sparkler.

- Plan a happy ending. Pour a memorable dessert wine: If you're serving traditional pumpkin pie, serve a tawny port. That choice also would shine with a chocolate dessert, as would an all-American pour such as the dark-berry-flavored Heitz Cellars Ink Grade Port ($30) from California, which has such a delightful, lingering finish that it just might accompany your guests all the way home.

- After all is said and done, don't sweat it. Thanksgiving ultimately is not about the wine, but about being grateful for the love of those you're with.

We remember each of the wines we enjoyed last Thanksgiving because we ran photos of them on our blog. However, we recall none of those from the year before that (our exciting first Thanksgiving abroad, with restaurant critic Gael Greene and photographer Steven Richter in Paris), nor the year before that (a bittersweet gathering around the table in California with relatives and friends the night after Andrew's father died). It's most important to give thanks for being in good company, no matter what's in your glass.

TIP: For a Happy Table

Two strategies to make you and your guests happy around the Thanksgiving table:

Choose fruitier light- to medium-bodied wines with balanced acidity, such as Beaujolais nouveau, champagne and other sparkling wines, Gewurztraminer, pinot noir, Riesling, syrah and zinfandel.

Avoid big, bad whites, such as an overly acidic sauvignon blanc or an overly oaked chardonnay, and big, bad reds (high-alcohol and/or tannic wines), such as Amarone, Barolo, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah; they can overwhelm food.

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," can be reached throughhttp://www.becomingachef.comor atfood@washpost.com.

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