This week’s Happy Hour column is making an early appearance thanks to Thanksgiving.

I have no experience in this, but I understand that our dear friends way up to the north, and yes, that means a good bit above Baton Rouge, receive school holidays and workday vacations when the snow comes down so hard and heavy that traffic cannot move and everyone just stays home.

It’s a Free Day to do as you wish, as long as what you want to do is in your house. And the power stays on.

Thanksgiving, when it comes to picking a wine, is sort of like that. You get to enjoy what you want. It’s a Free Day.  You can make no bad decisions about wine. Nothing can be chosen that is wrong. And no smart-aleck can tell you that drinking (insert the name of your favorite wine here) with cranberry sauce is stupid.

The terrible pressure of other opinions cannot hold you back. Go for it, with gusto.

As most of you who follow these diatribes each week know, I am a big proponent of the drink-what-you-like-school. On any given day, why waste time forcing a beverage on your soul that you are not happy about? But on Thanksgiving, you are freer than you are on any other day of the year.

The reasons are multiple, but simple. First, it’s a holiday. ‘Nuff said there. Holidays are for having good times. Second, it’s on a Thursday. How many Free Days do we get mid-week? With all the shuffling around that has been done to keep us from receiving mail on Mondays or Fridays that fall near old holidays, but not on old holidays, having a Free Day on a Thursday works just fine.

Lastly, the day is all about good food. And while we are mostly in agreement about what those foods are, they cover a wide range of aromas and flavors. You’ve got your fowl, sometimes game, maybe a ham, seafood in dressing, the aforementioned cranberry sauce, multiple fresh vegetables, breads of yummy varieties, sweet or mashed potatoes, gravy, olives and pickles, and all manner of desserts.

Then around the table are assorted moms and dads, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins (many of whom you don’t even know), and friends who are either in need of a family day (what, are they nuts?) or just seem to show up at important moments like this because they know that your family’s table is the place to be in New Orleans for special occasions.

With all that food and all those people, now you tell me what one wine goes with the whole enchilada? See, you have to have many wines. And you can please everyone by serving all the favorites, when at other times it would never work and would lead to endless discussions about forward fruit, mid-palate drop-out, and high acid in the finish.

Phooey on all that. Let everyone have the wine they want because with something on the table, and with someone around the table, that will be the perfect wine for Thanksgiving.

Let me offer a few thoughts, and then do whatever the hell you want.

Sparkling Wine

Wonderful as a beginning beverage. Sparkling wine (champagne if you can afford it and if the group is worth it) is low in alcohol, does not tax the palate, and provides a perfect accompaniment to pre-dinner snack items, like nuts or canapés. If you are serving canapés, maybe champagne is the way to go, and maybe you can afford it.

Italian proseccos are coming on strong, and they are reasonably priced, most under $14. If you are footing the bill, you won’t mind people slugging them back. Same is true of Spanish cavas.

The American sparkling wines are a bit pricier, but they have more structure. They also have more alcohol.

Mionetto Prosecco de Valdobbiadene
Nino Franco Rustico

Segura Viudas

(A little word of caution: with inexpensive sparkling wines from anywhere, watch the sugar levels. Buy only wines marked Brut or Demi-Sec. Don’t go any sweeter. Sometimes the sugars are laid in with a heavy hand to mask shortcuts in the winemaking.)

American Sparkling Wine:
Domaine Carneros
Mumm Napa
Roederer Estate

At this festive, family time, you may want to consider dry riesling white wine. Many Americans are confused by riesling wine and assume that the wines are sweet. Not the case with dry riesling. It is an excellently bracing white wine that refreshes. Chill it down and serve it liberally.

Some very nice dry riesling is coming out of Washington State and also New York. Of course, Alsace in France is the recognized home of this grape, but, again, if finances are a factor, consider an American substitute from the northernmost reaches of our country on both coasts.

I will not be commenting here about chardonnay. If you like chardonnay, and you know who you are out there, then you probably know what you like. Same is true for pinot grigio. And since you will probably be buying multiple bottles, Thanksgiving is not such a good time for experimentation.

In the red range, pinot noir makes a grand statement on the table and works well on its own or with just about every dish. There are several styles. The lighter style usually hails from Burgundy, France or the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. A bit heavier, intermediate style is from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Carneros region in California, Santa Barbara, and also the Sonoma Coast areas in California.

Then there’s the recently-arrived-on-the-scene style, which is quite a bit heavier and appeals to big red wine drinkers (by that I mean people who drink bolder red wines, not people who are heavy and drink red wine, or … oh, never mind), and these stronger, more alcoholic styles in pinot noir usually come from the Central Coast of California or Anderson Valley in California.

As I did with some of the white wines noted above, I am not going to tell you folks who enjoy cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah or petite sirah what to look for. You know what you like, so go for it.

After dinner, maybe you would enjoy a nice glass of Cognac or a Tawny Port. In these beverages, let price be your guide. There is a definite connection between styles, quality and cost in these items. "The more expensive, the better" is a good rule to follow.

Above all, enjoy. Give thanks for what is on your table, what is in your glass, and who you are with. Embrace all of them. Your experience at this time is a precious gift.

All of us at hope you have a truly pleasurable and memorable Thanksgiving. As far as we are concerned, we are grateful to have readers like you. Thank you.