Thanksgiving 2020 was an anomaly, I hope, in which potentially ominous consequences disrupted what typically is a joyous gathering.
This year, at least, the run-up to the holiday feels closer to routine if by no means ordinary. The pandemic lingers, for one thing. For another, it will be more expensive.
We are also out of practice, like business travelers who, on returning to the road, found their quick, efficient packing skills no longer reflexive.
Organizing Thanksgiving annually always seems daunting. Skipping a year can mean extra bafflement for even the most seasoned hosts. So why not begin with the easiest of tasks, selecting the wine?
Each year since 2004, the wine panel has gathered for an early feast to test which wines go best with the meal. Each of us brings two bottles, one red and one white, costing no more than $25 apiece.
Usually, we would gather in a dining room at The New York Times headquarters. But with the building not yet reopened for general occupation, four of the Food section's old guard, Julia Moskin, Florence Fabricant, Pete Wells and I, instead got a table at Bar Boulud in Manhattan.
We ordinarily would be joined by our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch, but like some favorite relatives will do, he was sticking close to home this year. We asked Ian Smedley, Bar Boulud's head sommelier, to round out our table and to contribute a couple of bottles.
Over 18 years, we have accumulated a lot of insights about what makes certain wines good for Thanksgiving. We have learned that it does not much matter what grapes go into the wine, or where it comes from (although many people like to have American wines with this holiday).
We don't fret about specific food-and-wine pairings. Certain components like turkey and stuffing may seem invariable, but the preparations are so individualistic and the sides so diverse that pinpoint pairings feel like futile fussiness.
Instead we preach versatility. Choosing wines that go with many sorts of dishes is a far better bet than selecting wines that, no matter how good they may be, are limited in the sorts of dishes they will accompany well.
First, and most important, you want lively wines. What does that mean? A lot of words connote liveliness, like fresh, lithe and energetic. These words technically refer to one key quality in a wine, acidity.
Wines with just the right amount of acidity enable a thrilling high-wire act. Too much, and a wine tumbles into the pit of harshness. Too little and it flops into the tank of dull tedium. With the right acidity, wine maintains a tension that invigorates and refreshes.
We imagine most people's Thanksgivings to be long meals that may begin with snacks and noshes, extend through appetizers and main courses and end, perhaps hours later, with desserts.
The liveliness that comes with good acidity is in effect a survival strategy. Such wines will rejuvenate, even as all that food pushes you toward a comatose state.
Here's what you don't want: Overly tannic wines. Oaky wines. High-alcohol wines. Avant-garde wines.
A word about planning: It's always good to have on hand more wine than you think you will need. Our policy is to figure one bottle per drinking person, whether you are planning a sit-down dinner for four or a buffet for 20.
That sounds like a lot, and it is. Most likely you will not come close to finishing the wine. But you won't run out, and that's the most important thing. You can hand out extra bottles as keepsakes.
Plan to have equal numbers of both reds and whites. Your guests may prefer one or the other, regardless of your feelings. Let them have it.
Over the years, the panel has gotten so good at picking wines that we pretty much like all the choices. It's a far cry from earlier years, especially one in particular, which we remember as the Thanksgiving Smackdown.
This year, all 10 wines largely fit our Thanksgiving paradigm. Ian's just did it a little better than the others.
HOW THE WINES STACKED UP
— Ronchi di Cialla Friuli Colli Orientali Ribolla Gialla 2020 $20 (3 stars)
Fresh, energetic, clear and refreshing, with intense citrus and mineral flavors. (SoilAir Selection, New York)
— Antica Tenuta Pietramore Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore 2018 $19 (3 stars)
Bracing, lively and spicy, with an inviting texture and floral, herbal flavors. (Communal Brands, Long Island City, New York)
— Pine Ridge California Chenin Blanc-Viognier 2020 $15 (3 stars)
Bright, snappy and floral, with a hint of spritziness.
— Bloomer Creek Finger Lakes Barrow Vineyard Dry Riesling Skin Contact 2018 $24 (2 1/2 stars)
Rich, creamy texture, with spicy flavors of tropical fruits and enough acidity to keep things lively.
— Montinore Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2019 $16 (2 1/2 stars)
Refreshing and respectable, as Julia put it, with citrus and herbal flavors.
— Pegaso Zeta Garnacha Sierra de Gredos 2019 $24 (3 stars)
Savory and inviting, with focused, tangy, refreshingly bitter flavors of red fruit. (De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
— Humus Portugal Tinto NV $18 (3 stars)
An intensely fruity, yet well-focused and earthy blend of touriga nacional, tinta barroca and syrah. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)
— La Stoppa Vino Rosso Trebbiolo 2019 $24 (3 stars)
A juicy, exuberant, herbal and balanced blend of barbera and croatina. (Louis/Dressner Selections)
— Château Maris Minervois Syrah-Grenache La Livinière Natural Selection 2018 $18 (3 stars)
Lively and inviting, with intense flavors of earthy red fruits. (Cordier U.S.A., New Rochelle, New York)
— Maison Noir Oregon Other People's Pinot Noir 2019 $20 (3 stars)
Pale red and straightforward, with stony flavors of red fruits and herbs.