For me, Thanksgiving is about pausing to appreciate a lot that we take for granted — the simple yet profound benefits and pleasures we get from family, friends and country, in good times and bad.
I like to think about the memory of Thanksgivings at our house growing up in the late 1960s and ’70s. Thanksgiving was predictable and down to earth. The turkey? Standard frozen supermarket variety. Stuffing? Pepperidge Farm mix (which we still use in my own family today). Cranberry sauce? Ocean Spray out of a can, the gelatinous puréed variety that stayed in the shape of the can until you broke it apart (these days my wife makes her own, based on a recipe from her mother).
Thanksgiving for me is also about the gray beauty of the season — and seasons past. I remember a walk through a field with my father one frigid and overcast Thanksgiving Day, picking dried wildflowers for the table. They were the colors of autumn. They were lifeless. But they were beautiful because we had picked them together for our simple feast, and I think often of that day — and him — at this time of year.
To say that wine was basic in our house would be an overstatement. My parents were all but teetotalers, with something or other coming out only on special occasions, so I can’t say that they left an impression on me in this regard. I had to teach myself about wine.
And as I contemplated what I might recommend for this Thanksgiving in these troubled times, I wanted them to be relatively affordable and American, easy to drink and readily available to just about anyone thinking of adding a festive note to this most American of holidays.
For Thanksgiving, there really aren't many wine rules in my book. The choice can be red or white or both, depending on your preference. I like younger, fruitier red wines, preferably without too much oak or tannic grip, that will go well with the considerable variety of a typical Thanksgiving bounty. In the whites I want simplicity and grace, with good acid structure and moderate oak treatment.
For whites, two California chardonnays will work well. Robert Mondavi’s 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($20) is a classic food wine with beautiful balance between fruit and oak and restrained elegance. From Monterey County, Blackstone Winery’s 2007 Chardonnay ($11) is a bit more fruity, with pear and spice notes. Relatively low in alcohol at 13.5 percent, it will be a crowd pleaser at a great price.
California viogniers, with their floral and spicy notes, are a different way to go in whites. Kunde Estate’s 2007 Sonoma County Viognier ($24), has beautiful tropical fruit and floral aromas and offers a touch of honey and vanilla with a creamy finish. From the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast, I also liked the 2007 Vina Robles “Huerhero” Viognier ($19), with pear and apricot notes and a nice herbal finish that will go well with sweet potatoes and all those Thanksgiving vegetables. (Because of limited production this one might be best ordered at vinarobles.com.)
Among reds, Mondavi’s 2007 Private Selection California Pinot Noir ($11) is a bargain. Soft and easy to drink with a bit of syrah and sangiovese mixed in, it’s marked by cherry and spice and will come alive when slightly chilled, which will make it a refreshing way to wash things down. Pinot noir also figures in a smart blend called Meditrina, marked by a big "M" on the label, from Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Winery ($18). Beyond pinot noir, there’s also syrah and zinfandel. Labeled as “American Red Wine,” it’s undoubtedly a blend of grapes from Oregon (the pinot noir) and California. Softly tannic with raspberry and cherry notes, it has bright fruit and is nicely dry.
Another unusual red is the 2005 Matchbook Tinto Rey ($17), a blend of syrah, tempranillo, malbec, petit verdot and graciano, mainly from California’s Dunnigan Hills appellation with some of the syrah from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. It’s relatively soft with ample fruit, mainly black and red berry notes. Finally, I loved Zaca Mesa’s 2004 Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County ($22). Big yet balanced, the aromas and tastes are powerful and concentrated with notes of blackberry, leather and sage.
The prices I've listed for all the wines are suggested retail, and you may well find them for a bit less. Each will make a great addition to your Thanksgiving table, so why not try several of them? I like that they're unmistakably American, just like Thanksgiving itself.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at