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The ideal wine for Thanksgiving dinner? It’s complicated

For many of us who love to cook and host on Thanksgiving, one central mystery remains: What to pour?

Before I turn to the experts, I’ll offer up three things I do know about wine on this holiday:

1. You don’t want to run out.

2. Opinions vary on what tastes delicious.

3. Do not make yourself crazy by trying to pair individual wines with individual courses because a) there really are no individual courses, b) the variety of flavors on the plate is wide, and c) not everyone is helping themselves to the same foods at the same time.

I like to put out an assortment of bottles and let the wine gods speak to the guests as they like.

Josh Wesson, partner and wine director at Suprema Provisions in New York City, confirms my laissez faire attitude.

“Stop fretting over wine-and-food matching,” he says. “Given the wild riot of flavors and textures on the Thanksgiving table, it’s wiser to forgo precise pairings in favor of supple, easy-drinking bottles (color doesn’t matter) that play well with a wide range of foods.”

Paul Grieco, manager at the New York wine bar Terrior, does think about pairings, but in a loose fashion.

“Let’s acknowledge that the foods that generally share space on the Thanksgiving plate, while super yummy, are generally not things we would put together if we were truly being thoughtful about things,” he says. “And by things, I mean … do they work with the same wine?”

He points out that “a turkey day plate contains bland (turkey), sweet (sweet potato or yams), bitter (some green thing, maybe brussels sprouts), umami (the gravy or the stuffing), sweet and sour (cranberry sauce) and the oddity (whatever family food heirloom finds its way onto an already stuffed plate).”

So, what to drink with all that? Grieco is devoted to riesling, a generally perfumey, acidic white wine, and thinks Thanksgiving dinner is a perfect time to use it. He chooses U.S. wines for this American holiday, recommending rieslings from the coasts, specifically New York State, Washington, Oregon and California.

Wanda Mann, a writer and founder of the wine-lifestyle website The Black Dress Traveler, agrees that the “explosion of savory and sweet” at Thanksgiving makes it challenging to find one ideal wine.

“You can’t go wrong with the tried and true pairing of the Thanksgiving meal with a pinot noir,” she says. One of its charms, she says, “is that it is a lighter bodied red with no aggressive tannins that will compete with the heavy meal.”

The Burgundy region in France is considered the benchmark for pinot noir, she says, but if you’re looking to stay domestic, you can find “superb” pinot noir from Oregon.

Sparkling wines should also be served, Mann says.

“The right sparkling wine can be served throughout the meal, and a brut (dry) rose sparkling wine is an elegant and unexpected Thanksgiving pairing,” she says. “The red fruit flavors in the rose will not only pair well with turkey, other meats and sides, but the crispness and lively acidity of these wines cut through the fat.”

Mann says one trick for finding the right wine for the Thanksgiving meal is to look toward winemaking regions like Spain and France with a rich and varied gastronomic tradition. Grenache is one such wine, ranging in style from fresh to complex, generally “luscious with good acidity that will help your palate avoid fatigue from the many flavors of the turkey day feast.”

And even riesling fan Grieco says “you must have a red wine or there will be a mutiny.” He stays domestic with Rhone-styled wines from the West Coast, such as syrahs or cinsaults, and agrees with Mann that grenaches are also good choices.

Wesson recommends choosing something that isn’t too complex (or expensive).

“At this most boisterous of holiday meals, the real stars are the food, friends and family,” he says. “Best to save your precious and pricy bottles for a more intimate gathering and stick to offerings under $25 you can buy in quantity.”

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