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updated: 11/21/2013 6:17 AM

Thanksgiving wine strategy is as easy as one, two, three

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  • Sparkling wines and Rieslings are safe choices to pair with the Thanksgiving feast.

      Sparkling wines and Rieslings are safe choices to pair with the Thanksgiving feast.
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By Dave McIntyre
Special to The Washington Post

Ah, Thanksgiving. The time of year when wine columnists create a crisis atmosphere by squawking about which wine to pair with the turkey and all the trimmings. Especially the trimmings.

It's nonsense. We have more important things than wine to worry about at Thanksgiving, such as how best to cook the darn bird, for one thing. How to squeeze all the relatives around the table while making sure Uncle Aiden is nowhere near sister-in-law Emily, for another. The last thing we need to obsess over is whether the wine will clash with the cranberry sauce or the mini marshmallows in the sweet potatoes.

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A traditional turkey feast is a cacophony of flavors. That's why wine nerds fret over what to pour. So I always say, "Open one of everything." Any wine is going to match well with something on the smorgasbord of a Thanksgiving table.

But if you're not inclined to let a proliferation of wine bottles compete for table space with your green bean casserole, I can suggest a strategy. Let's stipulate eight imbibers around your holiday table. That translates to at least three bottles, and I recommend an assortment: a sparkling wine to start, followed by a white and a red with the main meal. That will ensure some wine for everyone, while covering those who prefer white or insist on red.

If you or your family have clear preferences, go with those. But maybe you'd like to experiment with wine-and-food pairings -- which are not passe despite recent efforts to "democratize" wine. In fact, experimenting with different wines with various dishes can be fun.

Here are pointers, for Thanksgiving or any special meal:

• Don't worry about all those flavors. Remember that Thanksgiving dinner tends to be sweet (candied yams, jellied cranberries) and heavy (stuffing). You want wines that are nimble -- refreshing in their acidity yet versatile, fruity and even slightly sweet themselves to match the sugar in the food.

• Sparkling wine is great for any celebration. Bubbles and acidity are refreshing palate cleansers. Champagne would have enough heft to carry through the meal, but even a more modest cava or prosecco will help set the mood early. An artisanal cider can add a historical and local taste to your meal.

• Riesling is a safe bet for white wines, as its fruitiness and acidity help it match a range of flavors. Most Riesling is also at least a tad sweet, so it can handle that characteristic sweetness in the food. Good American examples would be Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling and Eroica Riesling, both from Washington state, and Red Newt Cellars Riesling from New York's Finger Lakes. Other versatile whites include Chenin Blanc and Gruner Veltliner.

• For reds, Pinot Noir is the obvious choice. Pinot has a savory umami character that seems to embrace almost any cuisine, including sushi and other Asian dishes (pinot noir loves ginger) and earthy European-style foods (pinot noir loves mushrooms).

Oregon's Willamette Valley would be my region of choice. Consider the outstanding Adelsheim 2011. But even the popular and easy-to-find Mark West Pinot from California should be fine on Thanksgiving: We can't deny that it's fruity and slightly sweet. Good alternative reds would be Beaujolais, including the 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau, which is also a celebration of the harvest. If you want a bit more heft, I recommend Syrah or Zinfandel.

Because we've all but ignored the turkey itself, these guidelines will help you pair wines with nontraditional Thanksgiving entrees, such as a vegetarian menu. Most of all, these guidelines will allow you to focus on your dinner and your guests -- and not fret about the wine.

• Dave McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. Follow him on Twitter @dmwine.

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