Human behaviour is often unpredictable. But immutable rules seem to govern certain situations, like Thanksgiving entertaining.
Rule No. 1
You will be anxious before the holiday.
This is inescapable. You will worry that you have not sufficiently disguised the conditions under which you ordinarily live, which is what cleaning house usually achieves. You will be concerned that you do not have enough food, while at the same time fearing that you have too much, and that the turkey will be ready too soon, or too late, or never. You will dread underlying tensions among family members and overbearing behaviour.
I have not even mentioned the wine.
Rule No. 2
The holiday always goes beautifully.
This is the saving grace, invariably forgotten. If kept in mind, it can easily make these jittery few days far more bearable. For most families, Thanksgiving this year will not be unlike Thanksgiving any other year. Whatever new elements arrive in 2017, the foreboding is the same as always.
Nonetheless, the projected disasters almost never occur. Everybody has a great time. Remembering this will not help to achieve preliminary serenity, but understanding the process can make the angst easier to endure.
In order to help, the Thanksgiving wine panel annually tries to eliminate wine selections from your areas of concern. Each year, we share a Thanksgiving feast in advance. We each bring two bottles of wine to the meal, each costing no more than $25, with the aim of adding to our understanding of which types of wines work best.
As with many families, we welcomed a new member this year. Our colleague Tejal Rao — sitting in for Julia Moskin, who was away on assignment — joined Florence Fabricant; Pete Wells; our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch; and me.
Over the years, we have learned and affirmed that wine is the least consequential issue anybody will face at Thanksgiving. Why is that?
Rule No. 3
If the food is good and the company convivial, you cannot go wrong with the wine. If the food is bad and the company annoying, wine can only help.
What’s the worst that can happen with wine? Only one potential disaster looms: running out.
The most important guideline for selecting wine for Thanksgiving is simply to have enough on hand. We generally recommend one bottle per wine-drinking adult. This may seem like a lot, but it is simply a hedge against an insufficient supply. You do not have to finish it all. If you like, you can give away unopened bottles with the leftovers.
Beyond quantity, you need to provide both reds and whites. You can add rosé or a sparkling wine, but both red and white are essential. You will have guests who contend that red wine gives them headaches or white wine gives them heartburn. This is not the time to debate these issues. Let guests drink what they want unfettered.
In our calculus, we imagine Thanksgiving as a large, free-wheeling buffet meal, with lots of dishes and a sprawling patchwork of flavours. It’s not the time to fret about pairing particular dishes with certain bottles. The trick is to provide versatile, nimble wines that pair well with many foods and will not be as fatiguing as everything else.
That generally means bottles not especially high in alcohol, generally below 14 percent. They should not be tannic or oaky, but they must be energetic with lively acidity, which helps to refresh and cleanse the palate.
Rule No. 4:
Choose wines that you like; everybody else will like them, too.
The New York Times