MAYBE it's the mood, or the angle of the sun, but Thanksgiving always seems like a time of year when the day never quite arrives; it just skitters off the surface of the hours between bouts of night. Even so, the sky does colorful somersaults, passing through shades from the pale butter yellows of afternoon to the softening pastels of dusk, and on to night. Oddly enough, these colors correspond to those you might find in a Thanksgiving wine glass.
We tend to get so wrapped up in a wine's aromas and flavors and textures that it's easy to forget about one of wine's most pleasurable aspects: its color. Pick up a wine glass, hold it up to the light, swirl it gently and take a moment to soak it in. It might be brilliant and golden, like a California Chardonnay, or a beautiful deep ruby color, like a Burgundy with a little age. It could be almost clear, tinged with the pale green you sometimes notice at sunrise, like a Roero Arneis, or a deep, dark purple, like an Argentine Malbec.
As you think about wines for the feast day, it's worth taking the time to think about the color, and how it will play off everything else on the table -- or even in the kitchen. In the swirl of activity, or even at the table, when it's so nice to slow down, it's worth taking a moment to stop and consider the beauty of the wine.
At mid-afternoon, there's still plenty of energy in the sky and in the kitchen, where chopping, sautéeing and stirring are still in full swing. Fresh and ebullient aperitifs, such as the bright, wheat-colored Brut sparklers from J Vineyards & Winery or Roederer Estate, practically radiate light. Among still wines, the nervy, yellow-green whites of Northern Italy such as a Roero Arneis from Giacosa or Marco Porello will fit the mood, as will a terse, silvery Riesling from, say, Frankland Estate in Australia, or from Dönnhoff in Germany's Nahe region.
By late afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys have hit the flat-screen, and the table is getting primped for the feast. The light coming through the windows has condensed; the yellows are deeper, more concentrated -- roughly the vibrant yellow-gold of California Chardonnay. Some are oak-tinged, such as the pale yellow-amber of Walter Hansel's Chardonnays, while wines from Dutton-Goldfield or Patz & Hall give off a brighter, golden-apple hue. Or consider a spicy, oak-aged blend in which Sauvignon Blanc leads, with its darker, gray-gold tone, such as a Bordeaux Graves from La Louvière, with its deep gray-gold tone, or the savory Napa version, Mondavi's Fumé Reserve, which is a classic.
AS the sun makes its slow descent to the horizon, the shadows lengthen and soften. The light right now is buttery and deep, almost enchanted; a magical wine is called for. If there's an older Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet in your cellar, now is the time to crack it open. Or consider the spectacularly bronzed older Blancos from López de Heredia in Rioja, which has recently released older vintages such as the splendid, affordable 1999.
At twilight, the sun is melting into pink and orange. Pick up the pale strawberry-hued sparkling rosé from Mionetto, in Italy's Veneto region, or the luminous, pale copper-toned vin gris of Pinot Noir from Robert Sinskey. For deeper, cherry-red shades of pink, locate a lovely Lirac from Domaine de la Mordorée or a classic Bandol such as Domaine Tempier or Bunan.
By the time the sky is dark enough for red wine, uncork a cru Beaujolais. With its vivid color -- a ruby-red tinged with violet -- and its unabashed fruit, Beaujolais such as Jadot's reliable Moulin-è-Vent, Château des Jacques or Domaine Piron Morgon Cote de Py, is soft and pleasing, perfect to entice guests to the table -- and it gracefully bridges the feast's spectrum of flavors.
For a deeper tone and a tad more heft as the evening wears on, go with reds from the Rhône or Rhône-style reds from California. Seek out meaty blends such as the plummy Côte de Tablas from Tablas Creek or Terre Rouge's brick-garnet Tête-à-Tête; either will charm its way through turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes.
Or go for new-style Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blends from Australia. They're uncomplicated reds with brilliant black raspberry colors and flavor, such as Hewitson's "Aunt Harry" blend from the Barossa Valley.
MERLOT from Washington state is the ideal weight for the Thanksgiving feast, and Merlots from L'Ecole No. 41, Tamarack and Chateau Ste. Michelle, each a succulent saturated ruby, are awfully compelling. For pure, inky depth, the purple mountain Malbecs of Mendoza in Argentina, from such stalwarts Catena and Alamos, enthrall.
Let's leave room on the table for when the sun has departed, and candle power and firelight flicker gently.
Alongside the pecan and pumpkin pies, consider a caramel-colored tawny Port from Dows or Fonseca, an amber-hued Vin Santo or one of the magnificent dessert wines from the Royal Tokaji Wine Co. in Hungary.
Royal Tokaji bottles several tokaji aszus from different vineyards and vintages, from the lighter, candied-orange aszus in its Red Label series to the rare, sienna-toned, wildly concentrated, excessively indulgent 1999 Essencia, to be consumed in tiny sips and savored like the end of this magnificent day.