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Tailor Thanksgiving wine to your hosts, not the meal

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So here it is, the day before Thanksgiving, and again you've waited until the last minute to make a crucial holiday decision: which wine to bring to the feast. A lot could be riding on this choice.

First-time guest at a significant other's holiday table? Take the long view. Years from now, you don't want your future brother-in-law recalling how you showed up with plonk, do you?

Traveling to see out-of-town relatives who will be doing the cooking, cleaning and hosting? Bring a wine that will make them happy you came.

Instead of standing in the wine store aisle, muttering unintelligibly about whether viognier goes better with turkey than pinot grigio, here's an idea: Choose a wine to go with the company. The thing about the Thanksgiving meal is that no single wine suits every dish. This is America—we'll have one of everything, if you please. And seconds, too. Sure, you could go with a big chardonnay that marries well with the bird, but it might be wiser to tailor your wine to your situation. Here are some ideas:

If you're spending the day with an easy-going group that has a healthy appreciation for sweeter whites, take a bottle of Sawtooth Estate Riesling from the Snake River Valley of Idaho. This is straight-ahead sweet and refreshing, not syrupy. Sip it while nibbling strong cheese before dinner or with sausage-spiked stuffing and slow-cooked greens during the meal. Plus it's from Idaho, a surprise for some people, even though the "Famous Potatoes" state has had a thriving wine region for a while. (The producers of The Muppet Movie certainly didn't see that coming in 1979 when they had Steve Martin's waiter character sneer when he served Kermit and Miss Piggy a bottle of Idaho's finest.) This one is best shared with those who don't take themselves—or their wine—too seriously. It's $9.99 a bottle at Triangle Total Wine stores.

If your family likes wine, and plenty of it, consider something low in alcohol. Nothing spells disaster like seeing Grandma face-down on the dining room table after two glasses of heavy red. Quinta Touquinheiras Clemen Reserva Vinho Verde 2009, will help prevent guests from getting too smashed to remember the pumpkin pie. Typically enjoyable but forgettable, vinho verde gains new life in this winemaker's hands. The expected citrus tastes are followed by a pleasant minerality and a distinctive clean finish. This is a great wine for lightweights and those who know secrets they shouldn't tell. It's at Wine Authorities in Durham (2501 University Drive, 489-2884, www.wineauthorities.com) for $10.99.

Dreading the inevitable political argument with your Republican cousin, especially since this month's midterm election knocked so much blue off the map? Bring along a red friend to soften him up. The 2008 Sur de los Andes Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, is bold and well balanced with delicious cherry and plum up front and some nice oak on the finish. At $10.99 per bottle at Seaboard Wine Warehouse (802 Semart Drive, Ste. 118, Raleigh, 831-0850, www.seaboardwine.com), it tastes more expensive than it is, which should help with any deficit-spending issues.

And then there's your snooty, wine-snob uncle who keeps Sideways on his Netflix instant-play list and still isn't drinking any *@%*! merlot. Ply him with the 2008 Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir, for just $15.99 per bottle at The Wine Merchant (1214 Ridge Road, Raleigh, 828-6929, or 4240 NW Cary Parkway, Cary, 469-1330; www.winemerchantraleigh.com). Listen to him praise the rich ruby color. Watch as he sniffs out the notes of vanilla and berry. Know that he has spent twice as much as you did on a bottle this good, but don't tell him what you paid.

Uncorking the Beaujolais nouveau has become as much a Thanksgiving tradition for some as carving the turkey. If you're headed to a foodie gathering where the table will resemble a Bon Appetit cover, don't bring just any supermarket Beaujolais. For about the same money—$13.99 at Seaboard—you can take a bottle of 2010 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais Nouveau "Primeur," which has just been released this month. Nothing's cooler than showing up with a mysterious French stranger.

And if you're just plain happy to be going wherever you're going on Thanksgiving Day, bring a bottle of bubbly to share with whoever will be there. Biltmore Estate Méthode Champenoise Blanc de Blancs is a good, relatively dry chardonnay sparkler that you can find at just about any grocery or big wine store for about $20. It has some heft and body, and the tiny bubbles tickle. Your host will no doubt give thanks for it—and you.

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