With the change in the weather comes for many of us a change in our wine drinking habits. Time to put away the unoaked fruity chardonnay and super chilled sweet rieslings and break out wines that remind us of falling leaves, cool nights, and comfort foods out of the oven. Think ham, turkey, and mom's cooking. Below are my suggestions for fall; it will be here sooner than you think.
1. Gruner Veltliner:Hands down one of the most food-friendly wines in the world, Gruner Veltliner (Austria's most planted grape variety) can be medium bodied with ripe fruit flavors, minerally-earthniess that represents its terroir, and good acidity which makes it a go-to food wine. In fact, I find that most Austrian wines tend to go great with a plate of food- especially pork, fried chicken, roast meats and especially schnitzel! Gruner Veltliner is generally consumed in its youth but has great potential for aging and when it matures becomes quite the wine experience. Especially exciting is that in general, these wines are outstanding values- often being well under $20. While I love Riesling from all over the world for it's versatility and variety, I often recommend people to try Gruner as a cool-weather alternate. Look for Hagen, a small family producer distributed exclusively by Grapevine. This wine is available in the Carolinas and nowhere else in the US.
2. Gewurztraminer: Ok, so I just did a show on Gewurz (as it's often referred to) but it's for good resason- it's "that time of year". These spicy, medium bodied white wines are almost designed for fall weather. Enough fruit and zest to keep you remembering the summer, but enough spice and texture to warm you up on a cool night. I recommend going out and buying a bunch of different Gewurztraminer's and seeing what you like- Alsace (Dopff & Irion), German (Valckenberg), Delle Venzia (Caldaro) or even the US(Husch Vineyards). There are many to choose from and they range quite a bit stylistically, so get to tasting and let me know if you come across any you like. One more thing- NO Thanksgiving table is complete without a few bottles of Gewurz. Gewurztraminer is the perfect match for ANY dish that ends up part of a classic Thanksgiving feast (have a bottle of Pinot Noir or Zinfandel on hand as well!).
3. Cru Beaujolais (Burgundy, France): I am NOT talking Beaujolais Nouveau- that light, uninteresting red that is released on the third Thursday in November of its harvest year and which is celebrated around the world. I am talking about the 10 Crus of Beaujolias which produce wines that are light to medium (even to more full) bodied and loaded with fruit and elegant tannins. Each Cru has a different style ranging from light and fresh (such as Brouilly) to spicy and concentrated (St. Amour) to full bodied, rich and showing best with 5 or more years of age (Moulin-a-Vent). Lighter style Beaujolais can pair nicely with a variety of poultry or even an oily fish, whereas the more structured versions do well with wild game, ham, or even beef carpaccio. Though diverse in style, they all tend to have some level of earthiness to them which to me pairs best with all things autumn! The producer to look for is Joseph Drouhin who makes Cru Beaujolais that ages beautifully.
4. Syrah from St. Joseph (Northern Rhone Valley, France): Sryah from the Northern Rhone can be truly remarkable. Peppery, earthy, rich fruits, and when mature, integrated, smooth tannins that keep your palate begging for more. These wines go well with a variety of meats and hearty dishes and in to me are some of the most exciting wines in the world. The problem is, they can be pretty expensive. The appellations Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Cornas bring wines with some serious bang...but also some serious buck (entry level is $40-50). But, there is an area of relative value to be enjoyed- St. Joseph. Syrah from St. Joseph (which can have some Marsanne and Roussanne blended in) is a very rustic, old-world example of how the Syrah grape can perform. These wines make you think of chewing on bell peppers covered in raspberry, cherry and dirt- which to me is a thing of beauty. There are some pretty poor examples out there that are flat, lack fruit and really can turn people off. But, from producers such as Delas Freres you can expect a good example of the beauty in wines from St. Joseph.
5. Pinot Noir (France, Oregon, California): Pinot noir is a natural match with food during September and October. The riotous colors of changing leaves, the heartier food that starts to hit our tables and the joy of the holidays all perfectly complement the Burgundy-hued, fresh fruit and spice characteristics of this noble grape. No doubt pinot noir can be fickle; in fact, red Burgundy (the original pinot) is notorious for the general lack of a relationship between quality and price. From the grape's ancient home of Burgundy, I recommend the Joseph Drouhin Laforet Pinot Noir, all light cherry, raspberry and bittersweet chocolate. Yet another choice is the Drouhin Cote de Nuits Villages, so grapey yet moderate in tannin. All these wines perfectly express the somewhat harsh yet ultimately nurturing climate that produces some of the most sought-after wines in the world. The United States also is the home of at least two pinot havens: California's Sonoma Valley and Oregon's Willamette Valley. Grapes get a bit riper in California and can develop darker characteristics, sometimes even a caramel tinge, often described as the perfect glass of cola. Seek out the Schug Carneros Pinot Noir, layered with cherry, raspberry and moderate tannin, as well as the Merry Edwards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, chocolaty, deep and rich.
In Oregon, the aromas and flavors are dialed down a notch, making the wines seem almost a cross between those of Burgundy and California. The widespread use of French oak adds delicacy, and sometimes I even taste an echo of the hazelnuts that grow rampant in the orchards interspersed among the vineyards. Go for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir, a serious mouthful of berries and cedar. Another excellent choice would be the Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, soft and pretty, with elements of milk chocolate percolating through the finish.
Pinot noir is surely the wine of the season, and if you are new to the grape I highly suggest you seek out some of these bottles. That way, when your oenophile friends break out their favorite juice, which I'm sure will often be pinot, you won't experience the dreaded disease of pinot envy.