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Turkey Day wine 

Wondering what to imbibe with your bird?

Although family warm-fuzzies are the best part of Thanksgiving Day, there's no reason why wine shouldn't be thrown into the family festivities. With many hours to while away, try serving a smorgasbord of wines to whet your appetite, then wash down your hunk of pumpkin pie with another sweetie. It's so good, you might welcome another tradition into your revelry.

To launch your Official Food Day, introduce a light white or sparkling wine. These palate cleansers actually rustle up hunger, and add a festive aspect to dinner, even if you eat the big meal at noon. It's a holiday you know -- 10 a.m. drinking is allowed and even encouraged in some countries.

My family's meal is a mishmash of both Northern and Southern tradition -- we have turkey, stuffing (crammed in the bird like in the North), mashed potatoes, herbed green beans, cranberries, hubbard squash, pork barbecue (Dad's family recipe), and butter peas (real Southern). This haphazard, carb-laden menu makes it challenging to choose the right wine with the meal. If your family is like mine, they'd pretty much slosh down anything, but, being the family wine geek (all families should have one), it's my job to make sure the wine maximizes family bliss. So I open two bottles -- a white and a red -- and encourage everyone to try each wine with each dish. Yes, sometimes this gets annoying, but they resent it only momentarily before the swig.

With ham, serve a sweeter white wine to balance out the salt, like a Riesling or GewÜrztraminer. But with turkey, reach for a rich, buttery Chardonnay that will equal the fat buried in the mashed potatoes. Chard works with plain turkey, but pair a white wine with a rich brown sauce and the wine will die like a bubble on concrete.

Reds stand up better to dark, meat-based gravies and alternative fare like duck and game. The protein in the meat calms the sometimes-astringent tannins, creating a softer, more balanced flavor in the mouth. But with delicate turkey, I'd stay away from big Cabernet Sauvignons, and stick with lighter reds, like Pinot Noirs, fruitier Merlots and Shiraz, and Beaujolais. There's also the fresh, first wine of the vintage, France's Beaujolais nouveau, which loves Thanksgiving as much as we do. Those fun wines get released Nov. 20.

Then there's dessert. With American faves like pumpkin and apple pies, eating them with wine is easier than it might seem. Well-chilled late harvest Rieslings, GewÜrztraminers and Semillons, as well as Ice Wines, are great accompaniments to our sweet, baked delicacies. Try St. Supery Moscato or Santa Julia Tardio.

So basically Thanksgiving is an excuse to break open three or four different bottles of wine, adding to the pleasure of an already decadent holiday. Why not make it even better?

RECOMMENDED WINES

Tamas Estates 2002 Pinot Grigio Monterey $9. Refreshingly crisp lemon-lime, apricot and fresh, clean linen flavors make this wine the perfect meal starter.

Gruet Winery Blanc de Noirs Non-Vintage. $15. A truly American product, this bottle comes from emerging New Mexico. Enjoy the rich, toast-like aroma and the tart raspberry on the tongue.

Raymond 2001 Chardonnay Napa Reserve. $17. Elegant, buttery, almost oily in character. Amazing with turkey, and especially savory stuffing. Features tropical fruits and candied apple. Great price for the quality.

Lange 2001 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. $20. Prepare yourself for a high-alcohol, cherry cola-laden roller coaster. As American as Pinot can be.

Rutz 2001 Merlot North Coast. $14. Pronounced "Roots," this irreverent winery puts out some damn nice Merlot. The smoky, cherry flavors love dark turkey meat. For entertainment, be sure to read the label.

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