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Wines for Thanksgiving

As wine-lovers, it’s easy to over-think the way we pair foods and wines. Certainly, a great match -- such as a juicy steak and a bold Cabernet Sauvignon or zippy fresh goat cheese and a racy Sauvignon Blanc -- can bring exciting revelations in how wine makes food taste better, and vice versa.

But there are times when it’s just as important to match the wine to the occasion itself -- and to the guests who will partake in the fun. Weddings and New Year’s Eve celebrations, for example, demand a sparkling wine no matter what’s on the menu. Summer barbecues plead for lighter wines, even if you’re serving big red meats. And if your grandmother drinks only White Zinfandel, it doesn’t make sense to bring on a Cab with her steak -- pour her a glass of the pink if that’s what she wants.

Thanksgiving is one of those occasions where it might be more important to look at who’s com­ing rather than what’s on the table. After all, can you really find a wine that matches everything from Aunt Georgia’s creamed onions to Cousin Sharon’s oyster dressing to the morel mushroom quiche your sophisti­cated neighbor brings to the spread?

Of course, one strategy is to reach for Pinot Noir -- it’s one of the most versatile, food-friendly wines around, and it likely won’t clash with anything. With their juicy fruit, bright acidity and silky texture, Pinots from California, Oregon and New Zealand can be out-and-out crowd-pleasers -- perfect when you’re hosting a houseful.

Indeed, Pinot has been the shoo-in Thanksgiving wine for a few years running. But if you’re ready to veer off that path and want to match your wines more specifically to your guests, try these choices.

Sweeter Wines for the Less Experienced: Your great aunt Sally may have sipped a few highballs in her day, but she may not yet be a wine-lover. Newcomers to the wine world often prefer fruitier, sweeter wines, so for that crowd, stock up on White Zinfandel, sweeter styles of Riesling (check the label -- those with under 10% alcohol will be noticeably sweet) and off-dry styles of Chenin Blanc. For a little sparkle, offer Moscato d’Asti.

Beaujolais for Everybody: Few wines in the world can please serious wine connoisseurs and casual wine drinkers alike, yet Beaujolais -- a French wine made from the Gamay grape -- is a real charmer in both realms. Aficionados enjoy it for its complex minerality, while less-experienced drinkers love its vivacious cherry-berry notes and charismatic hints of flowers and spice. Everyone will appreciate the way this lighter-bodied wine doesn't weigh them down when paired with heavy holiday foods.

Invite Some Italians to the Party: It turns out that two classic Italian wines match Thanksgiving beautifully. Pinot Grigio, a white with mild peach and citrus notes, will provide an appealing pre-dinner drink. When it’s time to carve the turkey, Sangiovese can be counted on for a firm acidity that makes it especially food-friendly. Its tart cherry flavors will provide a refreshing counterpoint to the heavier foods on the table. If you prefer all-American wines to go with this quintessential American holiday, remember that California produc­ers make some great versions of both of these wines.

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