Fall is my favorite season. Yes, I do love skiing, I love the beach, I love spring time rain and cherry blossoms…but I am most happy in the fall. The almost-cold nights, cool days, earlier sunsets and piles of fresh leaves to tear through with my huskies are just a few things that come to mind. Yet nothing can beat a night on the back patio covered in sweatshirts around a warm grill, or a late-fall camping trip to the Shenandoah with a bottle (or few) of the wines listed below. Each to me provides a sense of earth (or minerality), spice or warmth which to me pairs best with the crisp fall air, scent of fallen leaves and transition to more hearty cuisine!
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 expereince. Especially excitng 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 versalitity and variety, I often recommend people to try Gruner as a cool-weather alternate. A few producers to look for are Alois Kracher, Weingut-Steininger, and Loimer Lois.
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 (E. France), German, Alto Adige or even the US/Canada. 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 spicey 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!
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 appelations Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Cornas bring wines with some seroius 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 St. Cosme, Philippe Faury, Ferraton Pere & Fils, or Michel Chapouteir you can expect good examples of the beauty in wines from St. Joseph.
5. Negro Amaro (Salice Salentino, Salento, Puglia, Italy): Deep, dark color, rich fruits, earthy attributes, slightly tannic and really pretty aroma’s sum up a lot of wines I’ve tasted recently from the Negro Amaro grape. I’m specifically talking about Salice Salentino (a blend of primarily Negro Amaro and a touch of Malvalsio Nero) which comes from Puglia in the heel of southern Italy and to me is the most elegant example of what the Negro Amaro grape can do. That said, I recommend trying any Negro Amaro based wine from the Salento region which is in Pulglia, where Negro Amaro has been grown for over 2600 years!. These wines can be medium to very big in fruit and structure, are often described as bitter and having sizable tannins, and go great with tomato based sauces, pizza, or red wine braised beef. Look for examples from producers Le Veli or Azienda Agricola Taurino.