Wine at Thanksgiving often feels like the only variable in an otherwise mostly fixed situation. I usually celebrate the holiday with the same dear friends and family each year, under the same roof, in a similar expectant and ebullient frame of mind.

The food follows conventions, too. In the media, we all see the annual cavalcade of suggestions for new recipes, new ingredients, new preparations and internationalist takes on the classics, but does anyone ever really cook them? Isn’t this celebration about homecoming, circling back, rejoining and gaining comfort from the time-tested familiar?

For me, that is Thanksgiving’s power. The harvest has come; we reap it; we prepare as we always have; we are reminded of what is timeless. Peripatetic wine inquisitor that I am, though, I’d have a hard time repeating the beverage choices from year to year. With mostly everything else relatively fixed, I like the wines to frolic.

And frolic they may, since the Thanksgiving meal presents so many diverse flavors all at once. We don’t need to attempt any precise “pairings.” No one is really paying very close attention, so precision of any kind is pretty much irrelevant. We seek neither the fine nor the important. And folks seem more open on Thanksgiving to trying types of wine they ordinarily shy away from. So let’s play.

Still, given the day’s meal and mood, some principles hold. A general rule for me is to have the whites and reds converge, as it were, in a middle zone on the mouthfeel spectrum: fuller-bodied whites, lighter-bodied reds. (Therefore, naturally, medium-toned rosés work beautifully as well.) This is not the meal for wan, delicate, acidic white wines, nor will it be helped by brash, tannic, overwrought reds. Whites enter the frolic zone when they get aromatic, spicy and rich-textured. Reds arrive there through a different door: fruity, nimble, floral, limpid.

Keep the alcohol levels at 13 percent or, preferably, lower. I know a number of wine enthusiasts who pull out southern-Rhône showstoppers or zinfandels for Thanksgiving. They’re paying too much attention to flavor (the boatloads of fruit and spice in those wines are great for Thanksgiving foods), and too little attention to texture and weight. The pugilistic brawn of such wines is just too much, and 14 to 17 percent alcohol will kill the food (not to mention lay you horizontal before sundown).

Related: No wine aged in new oak will ever be good at Thanksgiving. You’re looking for clarity and sprightliness, not mass and impact. Stick with unoaked whites and rosés and barely oaked reds. Or sparkling wines with a touch of sweetness: prosecco, extra dry Champagnes (which are not entirely dry), Franciacorta, lambrusco, riesling sekt, crémants d’Alsace or Bourgogne or Limoux.

Probably the best line-up of Thanksgiving wines imaginable is exclusively effervescent. But even if you agree with me on that, we’ll all be dining with enough people who will refuse to take that journey, and Thanksgiving presents enough social-emotional risks as it is. But do stick at least a couple of sparkling wines on the table, along with your whites, pinks and reds.

Which brings me to another important rule: Have a whole bunch of wines out for people to choose from. That’s part of the fun, and the more different bottles, the more potential for frolic and play. Count on at least a bottle of wine per adult, and multiply the number of guests by .6 or so to arrive at a good number of different wines to have on the table.

Tegernseerhof T26 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2012 ($19). Grüner had a sort of pop-culture heyday a few years ago that, for reasons having to do only with trendiness, is muted now. Come on back. Some of the younger wines present too much pepper and lemon-lime for Thanksgiving, but this is super grapey, bittersweet and five-spiced, with an amazingly creamy mouthfeel. From the Wachau, home region of Austria’s grandest grüners (and rieslings), this is immensely crowd-pleasing but way smarter than that phrase usually implies.

Castello di Luzzano Tasto di Seta Malvasia Colli Piacentini 2012 ($20). This terrific estate from Lombardy produces exceptionally distinctive wines. Every time I drink them, I wonder at flavors and aromas I’ve never experienced before. This dry but hugely aromatic white wine from the malvasia grape twists and turns so many times in each swallow, it’s hard to keep up. Acacia flowers and flecks of green herbs mingle with something like spiced honey, through a long finish. The name of the wine means “touch of silk,” but that elegant sensation on the tongue belies its playful nature.

Claiborne & Churchill Dry Gewurztraminer 2013 ($20). Gewurztraminer is a classic Thanksgiving wine, but I’ve never had one that tasted so distinctly of stuffing: sage, sausage’s spices, corn. The “dry” in the name is no joke: there’s less sweetness in this gewurz than most, and the tropical notes are thus tantalizing but held in check.

Pascal Pibaleau “La Perlette” Sparkling Rosé ($17). OK, this gets a little geeky, but not too much. This is a “pétillant naturel” wine: Effervescence is produced when a wine still in the midst of primary fermentation is sealed in its bottle to trap the natural carbon dioxide trying to escape. It is a gulpable gem. Pibaleau farms biodynamically and produces this wine from the grolleau grape indigenous to certain corners of the Loire Valley. Supremely direct, snappily salty, with flavors of dried strawberries, dry cider and dried red flowers, this is the ideal wine for a Thanksgiving vegetarian.

Couly-Dutheil Chinon Rosé 2013 ($20). A spicy, full-bodied rosé, floral and bold. It’s the perfect red wine for Thanksgiving, just not as red to the eye as it is to the tongue. Every dish I look forward to for this meal – roasted sweet potatoes, a turkey leg, cranberry chutney, Brussels sprouts shredded and sautéed – will jump for joy when mated to a glass of this stand-out cabernet franc.

Feudo di Santa Tresa Frappato 2013 ($12). Fresh, lively, fruity and direct, a 12.5-percent alcohol red wine you can drink all night. Frappato is a grape native to Sicily, delicate and thin-skinned, requiring a great deal of care in the vineyard to preserve its lithe, playful character. There’s a lot of direct cherry and cranberry fruit here, but dried herbs too, smooth and easy.

Benjamin Taillandier Minervois ‘Laguzelle’ 2012 ($16). Another fresh, sappy red, though in a somewhat deeper key. A blend of cinsault, syrah and carignan from this respected Languedoc producer of minimal-intervention wines, the Laguzelle is made with native yeasts and very little sulfur, which produces a pliable, charming red, full-flavored but light on its feet.

The Laguzelle’s winemaking employs partial carbonic maceration, where fermentation is initiated by sealing whole grapes in tank long enough for carbon dioxide build-up to burst the grapes as they weigh down on themselves. This method is most widely employed in Beaujolais (the Thanksgiving red-wine region par excellence), and tends to emphasize the immediate fruit flavors in a wine over its earthier, secondary characteristics.

The wine’s fruit is so delicious and pure that that’s what you want. But a meatier, damp-soil aspect peeks out from underneath, a reminder of sorts that in what feels like an increasingly chilly world, we need friends and family to keep us warm.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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