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Autumn in a Glass: Musings on a Seasonal Appetite
By Marguerite Thomas
Sep 30, 2014
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Just because fall is in the air, I have no intention of giving up the juicy rosés, the spine-tingling Sauvignon Blancs, and the crisp unoaked Chardonnays that were so cool and refreshing on hot summer evenings.  I’ll still be sipping icy Prosecco and delicate, lightly chilled Pinot Noir no matter the season, but as the days grow shorter, temperatures cooler, and meals more robust…I am probably going to be a bit more discerning about my wine and be less inclined to lazily toss back a glass of that simple Pinot Blanc I guzzled so thoughtlessly in August.  No, in October, I’ll be more likely to seek out a beautifully structured white such as Hanzell Chardonnay, and I’ll take time to really notice and savor its special attributes. 

In cooler weather, when I devote more time to actually cooking instead of simply slapping sandwiches together for dinner, I tend to be somewhat more meticulous about selecting a wine that I think will really go with the meal I’m preparing--and vice-versa, as I occasionally begin with a particular wine then try to come up with a dish to match it.  Take that Hanzell Chardonnay: I feel certain that it will pair deliciously with the rich Suprème de Volaille -- mouthwatering creamy, buttery chicken breast -- that I’ll soon be cooking up.

And speaking of chicken, I want to work out a recipe for a sort of crumble, with meaty chicken thighs and vegetables baked together in a wine-based sauce--like a chicken pot pie, but with a savory topping of oats and nuts rather than a crust.  This simple, rustic meal calls for an inexpensive but substantial red wine, something along the line of Cartlidge & Browne Cabernet. 

That familiar aroma of damp earth, crisp, dry leaves, and bruised grass that my feet kick up as I walk through the fall leaves blanketing the patch of lawn in front of my house inexplicably reminds me of umami.  Inspired by this, I’m going to make a meal loaded with umami.  I’ll use mushrooms, of course, sautéed in olive oil and doused with a hefty splash of soy sauce, along with a smidge of sour cream stirred in just before I spoon it all over a bed of cheese-fueled polenta.  This is a meal made to pair with a medium-weight Pinot Noir such as Davis Bynum “Jane’s Vineyard”.
Few dishes seem as appropriate for autumnal dining as a rich, long-simmered beefy stew.  I often celebrate the season with classic boeuf Bourguignon or short ribs, but this year I’ve a hankering for oxtails braised in wine spiked with rosemary, thyme and orange peel.  I may go all out on the wine to serve with this dish, splurging perhaps on a bottle of V. Sattui “Paradiso” an extraordinarily vibrant, deeply flavored Bordeaux-style red.

I’ve recently found myself longing for a simple, old-fashioned oyster stew, the kind that is nothing more than butter and cream in which oysters are gently poached.  This is the sort of food meant to be enjoyed in front of a crackling fire once the warm evenings have ebbed away.  While I can think of several wines that would surely be splendid with this decadently luscious stew, my imagination calls out instead for a glass of chilled Cocchi Vermouth.  The color of maple leaves about to drop, this charming Vermouth is lightly spicy as well as floral, and it has deep, bittersweet flavors that I expect will be a succulent counterpoint to the oysters.  Farewell summer, hello autumn.

Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County, CA; a beautifully flavored and strategically balanced wine from Sonoma Valley, whose crispness echoes the cool evening air outside.  $75

Cartlidge & Browne Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, North Coast, CA; with an abundance of fruit flavors reminiscent of blackberries, this cab is plush and soft but not over-the-top, a perfect match for hearty poultry dishes.  $13.

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir “Jane’s Vineyard” 2012, Russian River Valley, CA; sleek and silky, with tantalizing fruit flavors, the Pinot has that faint hint of earthiness that will embrace umami-rich mushrooms and richly textured polenta.  $40

V.  Sattui Red Wine “Paradiso” 2010, Napa Valley, CA; a mouthwatering amalgam of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot the wine is as inky as a midnight sky on a moonless night.  With both power and elegance it dazzles with its very dark fruit flavors enhanced by hints of chocolate and black licorice.  $75

Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino; With a base of Moscato wine, this Vermouth is infused with a multitude of herbs and other botanicals.  Smooth, and very, very long, it has earthy notes mingled with a host of flavors including orange peel, caramel, and fennel seeds.  $15 (350ml bottle)