Autumn is approaching. The days are getting noticeably shorter, the nights colder and in response, the body seeks warmth and fuel. Hence, the foods we savor most in as the season changes are hearty, full-flavored dishes that provide the body with the energy resources it needs. Autumn is the season when consumer tastes turn toward fuller-flavored wines as well. These include the fullest bodied of whites and a wide range of red wines. The cool weather invites enjoyment of heartier meals as well as wines. It can be an interesting time as well to visit wineries if they are in your vicinity. Harvest and crush are critical moments in winemaking, and it is impressive to take in the sights and smells of the new vintage. Do not expect, however, to talk much with winemakers. They have lots to do at harvest time and their minds are focused on the decisions at hand.
Sorting Grapes Before Crushing
The diverse viticultural regions of Italy provide us with a fine range of cool-weather wines. The Piedmont region of northern Italy is home to the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. There are arguably no more autumnal wines in the world than these two. The complex character of the Nebbiolo grape yields wines with a dazzling interplay of floral, leafy, herbal, spicy and woodsy aromas that are interwoven with the pure red cherry and raspberry fruit of the grape. Autumn is also white truffle season in Piedmont, and the combination of truffle and well-aged Barolo or Barbaresco is a memorable food and wine pairing. Other lesser-known Piedmont reds include wines made from the Dolcetto and Barbera grapes. Look for recent vintages to fully enjoy their vibrant, youthful exuberance.
From Tuscany, Sangiovese-based reds offer purity of fruit in a wide range of styles. Beginning with Chianti and moving to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino, Carmignano and the bold Brunello di Montalcino. Full-flavored Italian white wines are abundant and well-matched with cool-weather cuisines. Try a Pinot Bianco from the Alto Adige, a Falanghina from Campania or a Carricante from Sicily – all can be wonderful companions for the rich recipes of autumn.
The south of France produces a range of flavorful whites that are rich enough to pair with robust foods. Most of them come from districts more famous for red wines - Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Corbières, Lirac, Côtes du Rhône – and they are often made from lesser-known white grapes like Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc. They are well worth sampling, however, especially if you are serving garlic and herb-laced Mediterranean recipes. Southern France is also home to a panoply of full-flavored red wines, some at very friendly prices. Try reds from the Languedoc-Roussillon areas of St. Chinian, Corbières, Faugères, Minervois and the Côtes de Roussillon. These wines, when well-made, successfully combine luscious fruit flavors with attractive earth and spice nuances. No compilation of hearty French reds would be complete without mention of the famous Rhône wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Hermitage, Cornas, et. al. These famous Rhône reds combine deep fruit flavors with a delectable array of herb, smoke and spice nuances, and most will age gracefully for a decade and beyond.
A small area called Madiran in the Pyrenees is the source of one of France's most robust reds. Made from the Tannat grape and tough and tannic in its youth, good Madiran can pair well with hearty stews and other flavorful recipes. Look to the Mediterranean Coast of Provence for the sturdy, full-blown, age-worthy red from Bandol, not recommended for the faint of heart. Bordeaux, of course, produces some of the best reds for cool-weather consumption. From the grandest of the Médoc Classified Growths to the vast range of Bordeaux Supérieur and simple Bordeaux appellation reds, this is the time to year to break into these classic wines. The dry white wines of Pessac-Léognan in Bordeaux are often overlooked but are fine expressions of the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes (Sauvignon Gris as well). They offer a distinctive, oak-aged and exotic character that will grace your autumn table with style.
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – a Classic Pessac-Léognan
The Mediterranean coast of Spain provides the world with some the best buys among richly flavored reds. The red wines of the Monastrell grape from Alicante, Jumilla, and Yecla are noted for their strength and smoothness as well as their amazingly low prices. One can also find many good Spanish red wines from Navarra, Toro, La Mancha, or the Ribera del Duero. These wines are often made from Garnacha (Grenache) and Tempranillo grapes – a favorable blend that lends elegance and complexity to the aroma as well as depth to the flavor.
Let us not forget the southern hemisphere, home of the vast Australian vineyard country. Shiraz, known as Syrah to much of the world, is a rich red that is widely grown throughout Australia and shows very well on its own or blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. In either form, it can be a deliciously round, smooth, and spicy wine that is often affordable enough to be a house wine. Australian Chardonnays are among the world's richest and can provide great pleasure when accompanying a full-flavored meal.
South Africa offers an ever-increasing range of wines that will enhance your autumn table. Look for Chenin Blancs from old vines in Stellenbosch, Swartland, Paarl and beyond. These whites can offer amazing breadth and depth of flavor. Red blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, sometimes with a dollop of Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc or Pinotage abound in the market and are among the Cape’s finest red wines.
As activities move indoors, autumn can be a good time to explore some hitherto unknown wines that provide the heft and substance one seeks for cold-weather consumption. Try a wine of the Godello grape from Valdeorras in northwest Spain. It is a delicious and substantial dry white. The Furmint grape of Hungary is famous for sweet wine renditions, but the dry Furmints are rich and flavorful whites. While most consumers are quite familiar with Argentine Malbecs, you might try a Mendoza Bonarda or Bonarda blend. These are full and smooth dry reds that will add to an autumn table. Additionally, the Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) grape is grown successfully in many areas beyond its native Austria and Hungary. In the US, you can find good versions in wines from Washington State, Colorado, Michigan, New York and more.
Michigan Blaufränkisch Label
This is only a brief synopsis of what is available and much more awaits the interested consumer who ventures forth to try some of these distinctive bottlings. There is so much good wine made in the world, it's a shame not to sample some of the diverse and fine quality wines that are available. Ask your wine merchant for advice in selecting wines to meet your taste, but do take the time to enjoy a new, rich and flavorful red or white this season.