White zinfandel: The Beringer White Zinfandel, California, 2001, ($6) is the multipurpose wine for both the person who likes sweeter fare or doesn’t drink wine except on Thanksgiving. Its color and flavor match the cranberry sauce.
Red zinfandel: Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel’s the Dancing Bull, California, 2001, ($10) is a lighter style zin with a soft, fruitier flavor. It’s ideal for turkey or ham. The winery makes a bolder, more flavorful version with a Sonoma appellation that at $13 is worth checking out as well.
Cabernet sauvignon: Don’t forget those deadly brussels sprouts. If you must have cabernet sauvignon, then pick one that is soft in flavor. The Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, 2001, ($10) is too light for a steak but just right for the bird and all of its trappings.
Merlot: This wine is the natural Thanksgiving choice. It is so soft that it easily accommodates everything. The Cellar 8 Merlot, California, 2001, ($13) is a new winery debut worth paying attention to. It has flavor galore, charm and character. What more can you ask for? Or try something a little pricier like the Chateau St. Jean Merlot, California, 2000, ($28.50). It’s a splurge, but well worth it. This wine is a compact ball of memorable flavor.
Alsatian white wines: The winemakers of Alsace should sponsor a Thanksgiving tour featuring their wines to pair with the bird. Theirs may be the finest pairings of all, like the Hugel Gentil, 2001, Alsace, ($11). Gentil means blend on an Alsatian label. It’s usually a combination of several local grapes, the pinot gris, pinot blanc and sylvaner among others. It is dry but not harsh, lacking in oak flavor but not lacking character. The Trimbach Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2000, ($16.50) is fuller with the same Alsatian style. This is the one to drink if you’re having goose.
Chardonnay: Those rich, buttery chardonnays are great with lobster, crab cakes and shrimp, but are simply dreadful with Thanksgiving dinner. Too many conflicting flavors abound. Instead, try the Chanson Viré Clessé, Burgundy, 2001, ($12). This wine is all about the crispness and mineral flavors that wines from this region are known for. It tastes good and won’t get in the way of the food.
If you should feel like splurging this Thanksgiving, look for these two absolute gems. The Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, California, 2000, ($26) has no weighty oak flavors: Even the brussels sprouts will snap to attention. And the French oak in Chateau St. Jean’s Belle Terre Chardonnay, California, 2001, ($26) offers up a delicate sweetness that is both surprising and beautiful.
Shiraz: This is a grape that you would never in the past have thought of for Thanksgiving. Today the famed Australian wine is simply everywhere. If you haven’t had a shiraz that bowled you over, the McWilliams Hanwood Shiraz, Australia, 2001, ($10) is the place to start. The flavor of this grape (actually the syrah grape, the Aussies just spelled it wrong) is luscious. It has body that takes it out of the wimp wine category, with fruit that doesn’t intrude on dinner.
Dessert wines: Port is always good. It works especially well with pecan pie. There is both sweetness and mellowness in the flavor of the Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port ($14). It works best in small glasses because of its strength and high alcohol content. It is the perfect end to a great Thanksgiving meal. S