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Choosing the best wine for Thanksgiving dinner

Wine is simply a great choice for holiday entertaining. It’s versatile, easy, affordable and people love it!

But if you’re not sure what wine is best for your Thanksgiving feast, Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson has the tips you need to perfectly complement that holiday dinner.

What goes best

From tangy cranberry jelly, to gooey-sweet yams, to spicy stuffing and meaty turkey, the traditional Thanksgiving lineup surely qualifies as the most eclectic menu of the year.

For a sommelier like me, that spells major job security, as every year at this time the distress calls, emails and visits to my web site start pouring in about what wine to pair with all those far-flung flavors.

The holidays are fun, but people put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to shopping for and serving exactly the right wine to pair with the meal. The biggest thing for people to remember is that wine and food are meant to be enjoyed together, and shouldn’t become a source of stress — particularly during the holidays.

Where to begin

The easiest answer is Zinfandel, the grape American vintners and wine drinkers have adopted as our own because, unlike the popular grapes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, it doesn’t have obviously French origins. (In truth, scientists have linked it to the Primitivo grape of southern Italy, but as we’ve adopted hot dogs, aka Frankfurters, we might as well claim Zin, too.)

Both versions, red and white (sometimes called blush-style), are worthy.

Here are some buying tips to keep in mind:

White Zinfandel: Some people are snobby about this blush wine with a little sweetness, but as the varietal wine that converted a lot of screwcap drinkers, I give it credit. With its lively, refreshing style it could be your white wine offering, and will be appreciated by those at the table who aren’t into reds.

Red Zinfandel: This can range from easy-drinking, easy on the wallet, to intense and full-bodied (and more expensive). Your choice depends as much on your taste as your budget. If you like big, intense reds, then go for it. But at Thanksgiving you may prefer to let the cook’s efforts take center stage, in which case one of the more moderate-priced and styled versions will be perfect.

My other favorite styles for Thanksgiving, Sauvignon Blanc whites and Syrah reds, each have a style signature that beautifully complements the traditional Thanksgiving food lineup. Although there are boutique bottlings, with prices to match, you needn’t pay a lot to get a good one.

Sauvignon Blanc: This white grape has a vibrant tanginess and slight pungency that shows tremendous versatility with all those flavors on the table. (Sometimes you will see the name Fumé Blanc on the label — it’s the same thing.)

Syrah: This red’s style signature is vibrant fruit flavor tinged with spiciness — both savory spices like pepper, and sweet spices like cinnamon and clove. No wonder it’s such a great food partner! (Some wineries, particularly those in Australia, use an alternate spelling, Shiraz.)

Overall, though, your best bet is to choose red and white wine, place both bottles on the table, and let everyone enjoy whatever they like. Experiment and have fun!

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