It's that time of year again. It gets light later and dark earlier, the leaves surrender and fall from the trees, and everything at Trader Joe's transforms into pumpkin spice. That can mean only one thing: It's time to choose wines for Thanksgiving.
The wine industry would have you fret over what wine to serve with your turkey and trimmings. Yams with mini-marshmallows? Cranberry sauce? Even turkey itself is supposedly unfriendly to wines.
Nonsense. Don't sweat it. You have more to worry about on Thanksgiving than wines. Why not have a little fun and pick a theme? Here are several ideas:
1. Choose wines based on your heritage. German blood flowing in your veins? Select a few Rieslings. Italian or French? You've got it made. If your great-granduncle once looked in the direction of Austria, open a few gruner veltliners and maybe a zweigelt for the red-wine lovers in your family. Latin America in your background? You have a wealth of choices from Chile, Argentina or Uruguay. If, like me, you are Scotch-Irish and married Chinese, well, consider Plan B.
2. Choose wines based on your name. This is fun and easy, and a great promo for Smith-Madrone, an excellent Napa Valley producer. (There may not be many people named for trees, but the Smith part is easy.) Personally, I'm drawn to McIntyre wines from California's Central Valley. I'm not related to Steve McIntyre, but he makes nice wines and I like having a family label. You will not have to search very hard to find a wine that matches or comes close to your given or family name. Worth a try, anyway.
3. Where did you travel this year? Relive your vacation to Barcelona with wines from Spain, your visit to Lisbon with savory reds from the Douro Valley or Alentejo in Portugal. Maybe you brought home a special bottle from a winery you visited in your travels around the United States. What are you waiting for? Open it.
4. Celebrate the harvest. Thanksgiving was all about the harvest, after all. Beaujolais Nouveau is released one week before turkey day and is meant to celebrate the season just completed. Have at least one bottle of this on hand to toast fall and the coming winter. If you want to extend the theme, Beaujolais is a delicious, food-friendly wine. Have a few older ones on hand (and by older, I mean 2016 or back just a few years). Beaujolais Cru, labeled for their villages, such as Fleurie and Chiroubles, add a level of complexity and nuance. And a variation on that theme . . .
5. Go local. Maybe you visited nearby wineries recently and experienced the excitement of harvest. It's the best time of year for winemakers, as their efforts during the growing season come to fruition and the delicious work in the cellar begins. Raise a glass in their honor. You may even be able to find an early release "nouveau" wine from the 2017 harvest. A variation on this theme: cider. Support your local cideries by opening a bottle or three for Thanksgiving. These are food-friendly and low-alcohol beverages to carry you through the meal.
6. Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles. Bubbles go with anything and everything, after all. Start by welcoming your guests with a pleasant Italian prosecco, then serve a nice cava from Spain, a cremant from France and a rich sparkler from California, Oregon or New York, progressing from lighter to richer and heavier wines. If you're a trend follower, start with a petillant-naturel, or pet-nat, from a local winery or — well, it doesn't really matter, any place that makes a bubbly with a crown cap. And end with champagne, the ne plus ultra of sparkling wine, with the richness to match the turkey and stuffing, the cheese and maybe even the pumpkin pie.
7. Host a "Friendsgiving." Invite your guests to bring a bottle of wine or two of their choosing. These could be from any of the themes above, or just something they enjoy with a special dinner. Then you can enjoy a variety of wines, each special to your guests, and share the stories that make wine so personal and special.
When all else fails, remember my perennial advice: Open one of everything. Or at least, a variety. Every bottle won't perfectly complement every dish and please every diner, but each will find at least one partner and fan, and the cumulative effect will be a happy one. And that's what Thanksgiving is all about.