Tradition notwithstanding, holiday celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, calling for different approaches to serving wines. Here's how I'd plan for the three menus we offer.
For a large family gathering, Thanksgiving can be an all-day affair; people start sipping wine early. And the menu entails many flavors that, served buffet style, all appear on the same plate, so you need wines that match a wide range of foods. I'd serve two aperitifs, then a white and a red with the feast, followed by a terrific dessert wine.
Jekel Riesling 2002 (Monterey, CA), $11. Beautiful, fresh flavors of pear, ginger, lavender, and jasmine, with the merest touch of sweetness.
Mirabelle Brut Sparkling Wine nonvintage (Napa Valley), $18. Frothy and festive, with a crisp, citrusy tingle.
Thomas Fogarty Gewürztraminer 2002 (Monterey, CA), $15. Spicy and luscious ― a great white for standing up to a multitude of flavors.
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2001 (Dry Creek Valley, CA), $16. Briery aroma, ripe boysenberry-pie flavors, and a soft but meaty texture.
Cossart Gordon 15-Year-Old Bual Madeira nonvintage (Madeira, Portugal), $31 (500 ml.). Pricey, but one bottle will serve the whole crowd, since a small pour is customary. The flavor is reminiscent of toffee and brown sugar with hints of crème caramel.
HARVEST DINNER FOR 6 TO 8
With a smaller group and menu, the wines can complement specific dishes. I'd pour four in succession: a stellar aperitif, an unconventional but fun rosé with the salad, a Pinot Noir with the Persian-inspired main course, and, finally, a slightly sweet sparkler with the pear and cherry pie.
Annie's Lane Riesling 2002 (Clare Valley, Australia), $14. Beautiful aromas of peaches, apricots, and newly mown hay.
Frog's Leap "La Grenouille Rougante" 2002 (Rutherford, CA), $10. "The Blushing Frog" is a crisp slash of a rosé, with notes of grenadine, strawberries, watermelon, and spiced cherries.
Handley "River Road Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2000 (Santa Lucia Highlands, CA), $25. Luscious grenadine and cocoa flavors, with a texture that's pure silk. Graceful but rich.
Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2000 (Napa Valley), $33. Soft and only slightly fizzy, sweet but not cloying, with light, fruity flavors.
Toast each other with a great sparkler, move on to a red blend with the roast hens, then close with a frosty Moscato with the warm persimmon tarts.
Roederer Estate Brut nonvintage (Anderson Valley, CA), $20. Fresh, pure, and crisp, with creamy vanilla notes.
Guenoc "Victorian Claret" 1999 (North Coast, CA), $22. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other Bordeaux varieties is rich yet refined, with delicious blackberry and cassis flavors.
Robert Mondavi Moscato d'Oro 2002 (Napa Valley), $20 (375 ml.). Sweet but fresh tasting, with beautiful apricot flavors.