As surely as the sorrow-faced dog that lies beneath it begs for scraps, the Thanksgiving table wants for novelty. Few dare mess with the recipe: starchy stuff and a super-sized fowl stuffed with more stuff. It's a comforting stuffiness, but if you must change it up, these alternatives to the old Chard-Pinot dyad won't rock the gravy boat too much, while enhancing your reputation as savvy bringer of wine.
Arrowood 2012 Russian River Valley, Saralee's Vineyard Viognier ($30) The rap on this Chardonnay alternative is that it's hard to pronounce. Just say "vee-un-yay," and say it fast. Unfortunately, it's too often been treated like Chardonnay, leading to grotesque renditions fit only for deep-fried turkey. Viognier tends to show pretty, stone-fruit aromatics—peach, apricot—that benefit from fermentation in stainless steel or, as in this case, used, aroma-neutral barrels. Like a fresh and fruity Riesling, with a cool scent of peach ice cream, this wine fills the palate with light, sweet flavors of apricot juice. Accented by a vegetal tang, it's shows barrel fermented richness, but it's no butterball. Also check out: Storybook Mountain Viognier.
J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Meunier ($50) Now that everyone and their uncle has mastered the pronunciation of Pinot Noir, hit 'em with this. Whether you say "mean-yay," "mun-yay" or "moon-yay," just mumble it like a Frenchman and don't draw out the syllables, open-mouthed—there's string bean in your teeth. Pinot Meunier is an offshoot of Pinot Noir that's used as a blender in Champagne. J's still wine version won't disappoint Pinot fans, with "fruit wrap" aromas of jellied, dried cranberry, strawberry and raspberry, spiced with a bit of nutmeg and singed wood. Cool, sweet and tangy red-fruited flavors point to the "like with like" school of wine and food pairing: cranberry sauce and turkey leg. Also check out: La Follette Pinot Meunier.
Landmark 2011 Sonoma Valley, Steel Plow Grenache ($35) Grenache ("gren-AHSCH") is often said to be the Pinot Noir of . . . wines that aren't Pinot Noir. Identical to the Meunier in its light, ruby hue, the Landmark is its aromatic foil: savory scents reminiscent of sage and raw steak that needs cooking, and soon. Subtly cherry-fruited on a crisp, crunchy palate, it's herbal and astringent on the fine, dry finish. Sweet-tooths may not be pleased, but your French wine snobs may lend the approving nod. This is the last vintage, unfortunately; although the grapes grow right next to the winery, Landmark's sticking to the tried-and-true: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Also check out: Quivira Grenache.