Turkey Wine

Strategies for getting soused on Thanksgiving

Although they were Puritans, you gotta think the Pilgrims drank it up at the first 1621 Thanksgiving dinner. I can see the barrels of wine scattered about as they stumble to their feet the morning after the gorge-fest. Through their hung-over stupor, they high-five and congratulate themselves for a party well done.OK … this Animal House-esque scene didn't happen, and they didn't eat mashed potatoes or stuffing either. But they did drink … something. So, in keeping with tradition, so should we.

But drink what? There are as many opinions about what to drink with The Big Meal as there are calories in it, but here's a smattering.

Some people like to marry France's Beaujolais Nouveau release with their Thanksgiving meal. The third Thursday of every November is always the splashy arrival date for the first wines of the new vintage. Beaujolais Nouveau is a simple, fresh, non-egoistic fruit bomb of a red wine and is almost always 10 bucks or less. Made from the lighter Gamay grape, it's aromatic and laden with bright cherry candy or jam. Serve it chilled for the best results. My favorite producers in past releases have been Mommessin and Drouhin.

Wine snobs believe pinot noir is the ticket with turkey dinner, whether it be Hungry Man or homemade. But a girl could go broke pouring pricey pinot all day, especially if she's entertaining a crew. The best bet for a crowd is Australian shiraz, since it seems to please everyone, it pairs OK with most food, and many cost under $12.

But say you have some inventory to let loose? Since you're ideally with friends or family at Thanksgiving, maybe it's time to crack that expensive, memory-laden chardonnay you brought back from California, or the dust-encrusted Napa cabernet sauvignon your wine-obsessed friend gave you. No time like the present … you're not working tomorrow, right?

Or you could splurge on a few expensive bottles — my rule is never open two bottles of the same thing at one sitting since you can explore more that way. Grab celebratory, get-the-party-started French Champagne, an unusually named Californian or Australian blend to start conversation, or something you can't pronounce so you can make fun of each other. Basically, exploration and exposure are the key, so why not do it on Thanksgiving Day?

Then there's the thought of snubbing the pundits and drinking whatever the hell you want. Menu discipline is difficult to maintain throughout an informal evening, especially after the second glass. And the perfect food and wine pairing is as elusive as Uncle Harry's hair, so why dwell on it? Since it's a holiday, maybe we should just chill out, sit back and drink what we like. It's sure easier that way.

RECOMMENDED WINES

Murrieta's Well 2001 Zarzuela Livermore Valley A cool, beefy blend of relatively unknown grapes like tempranillo, barbera, petit verdot and a splash of cabernet sauvignon. Smells like fragrant roses and green olives, with dark cherry, orange zest and blackberry in the mouth. A truly unusual, fascinating wine. Sweetness = 2. $30.

Miner 2002 Pinot Noir Gary's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Like wassail at Christmas, but so much better. Spicy cranberry, burnt caramel, pinesap and fresh-cut flowers make this unique wine worth every penny. sw = 2. $50.

Spires 2003 Chardonnay Barossa Valley A food-friendly chardonnay if I've ever had one. Loaded with vanilla, refreshing tropical fruit, peach and perfect acidity. An easygoing and unpretentious chard from the Aussies. sw = 3. $11. 1/2

Freemark Abbey 2003 Viognier Napa Valley Excellent food wine, with solid acidity, fragrant honeysuckle, tangerine and honey. sw = 3. $22.

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THE WINE LIST

HOLIDAY GRAND TASTING Fine Wine and Spirits Warehouse hosts a holiday wine tasting with over 60 wines from top-end producers like Krug, Joseph Phelps, Veuve Cliquot and Inniskillin. Hors d'oeuvres included. $30 per person, $50 per couple. 6-8 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 18. Mike Kwasin's Residence, 3613 S. Beach Drive, Tampa. (813-837-8941).

BRINGING BEAUJOLAIS Le Bouchon Bistro celebrates the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau with a wine-pairing dinner. Four courses and four wines. $45.50 plus tax and gratuity. 7 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 18. Le Bouchon Bistro, 796 Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs (727-585-9777).

THE FIRST OF FRANCE Vintage Wine Cellars celebrates the arrival of 2004 Beaujolais Nouveau, including those from other countries besides France. $10. 7-9 p.m. Fri., Nov. 19. Vintage Wine Cellars, 3629 Henderson Blvd., Tampa (813-879-2931 or www.vintagewinecellars.net). Reservations requested.

THANKSGIVING PRIMER Uncorked Fine Wines and Accessories gets you ready for the roasts and beasts and Thanksgiving feasts. $10, includes souvenir glass. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 19. Uncorked Fine Wines and Accessories, 2706 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg (727-892-WINE or www.uncorkedwines.com).

TURKEY WINES Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits mixes and matches their experts' favorite whites, reds and roses. Discussion on what pairs best with the flavors of the season. $15. 6-7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 19. Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits, 1002 S. Howard Ave., Tampa (813-250-9463). Reservations requested.

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