After years of pushing recipes to the limit, I've finally learned to play Thanksgiving straight. We Americans have enough newness and change to cope with in our lives; too much distortion to this iconic meal (whatever your tradition) and guests just pine for the familiar.
My recommendation? Put down the Bon Appetit and enjoy yourself. Go ahead and French the green beans if you must, but most likely no one will notice.
Similarly unfussy are my thoughts on Thanksgiving wine. It's a long day. There's a lot going on in the house and on the plate. Serve easy, fun, refreshing, lower-alcohol bottles. Preferably lots of them.
Sparkling wines are great crowd pleasers and pair well with all the typical Thanksgiving fixings. If you'll be at a gathering where conversation is in danger of heading south, keep at least one bottle in reserve. Then, when talk hits a tough patch, pop it and shout "bubbles!" This works.
The Austrian Punkt Genau Rosé Brut ($20) is a delightful sparkling rosé that has compelling strawberry and cherry pie flavors. I recently poured it against a far better wine, and its effervescence stole hearts.
Turkey Day screams Riesling. The varietal's acidity and brightness provide much-needed lift during the meal. The shaley Murphy's Law Riesling 2010 ($13), with 12.5% alcohol, is a beautiful domestic (Columbia Valley) that tastes of cantaloupe and stone fruit.
The Austrian Markus Huber Hugo Grüner Veltliner 2011 ($13) is a crisp and puckery Old World white with a little spice. Sharp peachy flavors with celery, lemon and pear combine with green apple and white pepper.
Inevitably, there will be those who desire Chardonnay. Don't make them sit at the kids' table for it. I've been impressed with the Mercer Estates Chardonnay 2010 ($14). Also hailing from Washington's Columbia Valley, it is steely with fistfuls of melon and apricot - but it will still quench the thirst of guests looking for something buttery.
Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to welcome the holiday-esque bouquet of spice, pepper, evergreen and birch. A bottle that's sure to be on my table this year is the juicy Domaine des Terres Dorées l'Ancien Beaujolais 2010 ($19). Festive flavors leap out of the glass. It's packed with berries, but still has pleasing earthiness and minerality.
For a domestic, Owen Roe Abbot's Table 2011 ($26) made from Yakima Valley fruit is a wondrous blend of five different grapes (notably, 45% Zinfandel, this release). Big flavors of white pepper, nutmeg and raspberries beg to be quaffed. There's a reason this is such a popular bottle.
Pinot Noir is a classic pairing on Thanksgiving. I like the elegant 2009 Westrey Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir ($31), made by a husband-and-wife team in Oregon's Willamette Valley. This is a poised wine with a balanced amount of fruit as well as good, food-friendly acidity. There are blueberries and forest floor, cardamom and morels. Understated and graceful, this is a bottle you'll be thankful for.