Awesome Autumn Wines
Sep 05, 2014 12:30PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
As summer comes to a close, people tend to pack up their white wines and rosés with their bathing suits in a box marked “do not open until summer.” The grill gets covered; the jackets and red wines come out to protect us from the (hopefully) steadily cooling temperatures. Palates tend to shift with the seasons—heartier dishes and hot soups calling out for robust Cabernets and rich Alsatian whites—and people gather around hearths and fire pits instead of pools and picnic tables.
But while the crisp whites of summer may not appear to jive with sweater weather, there is a great deal of varietal variation that could turn your image of, for instance, Pinot Grigio on its head. Offered below are my top picks for this autumn—some classic varietals and some not—all guaranteed to make this pre-winter season, from football Sundays to pumpkin carving, a supremely satisfying one.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
I know, you may think I’m crazy, but Pinot Gris, the French cousin of the Italian Pinot Grigio, has long been celebrated for its food friendly nature and the dry, rich character indicative of Alsatian white wines. Alsace is a thin region running north to south about 27 miles, ideally situated between the Vosges Mountains to the west, and the Rhine River to the east. Its altitude combined with persistent sunshine, lack of rain, and well-draining, volcanic soils make it perfect for the production of medium to full-bodied, aromatic white wines. Pinot Gris is the third most planted grape here and can be remarkably potent aromatically, with floral, honeyed, and cider-like aromatics and rich flavors of pit and orchard fruits. A wine like this begs for traditional Alsatian dishes of pork, sauerkraut, potatoes, and vegetables, pungent in flavor and a great match for a Pinot Gris like that of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, one of the region’s finest. You can typically find it for around $25.
To counter, the Pinot Grigio from Italian producer Vie de Romans named “Dessimus” (after the vineyard where it is grown) will forever change your perception of the often insipid, character-less, mass-produced Pinot Grigios from Northern Italy that have flooded the market. Friuli’s cooler climate lends the wine a much crisper acidity, but by allowing it to age on its lees—the byproduct of sugar and yeast—the wine develops a more voluptuous texture. It also spends a short time on its skins, picking up the slightest pinkish hue. It is brilliantly layered and generously flavored with notes of white cherry, grapefruit, tangerine, white flowers, and salted hazelnuts with copious minerals on the finish. At $41.99, it may not be your everyday Pinot Grigio, but it is absolutely worth the splurge.
One of the two most important grapes in Italy, Sangiovese makes its most notable wines from the hills of Tuscany, where it has mutated into as many as 14 unique clones, each suited to different parts of the region. The grape has benefitted from significant improvements in viticultural practices over the last 40 years, which has led to a marked increase in quality across all price points. It is no longer simply just the Chianti of old served in a straw covered bottles that graced pizza parlors across the country as candle holders. The particular clone of Sangiovese I’m spotlighting is Prugnolo Gentile, grown most prominently in the DOC of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (not to be confused with the grape Montepulciano grown further south in Abbruzzo). The regional wines have not yet risen to the level of acclaim that Chianti Classico Riserva and Brunello de Montalcino have, but there is serious value to be found here, most notably in the wines of Fattoria del Cerro. The balance between tannic structure and fruit concentration is remarkable. It is the fall table wine, ideal for lamb, steak, or even a Wednesday burger or pizza night. It shows Sangiovese’s more dark fruited side with black cherries and licorice alongside classic notes of dried herbs and underbrush. Most importantly, it is approachable and affordable at $22 a bottle, and a great stepping stone into the more serious and age-worthy wines of the region.
If you thought rosé season was over, think again. Thanks to the very recent shift in perception that has very clearly separated white Zinfandel from the general population, a more diverse selection of rosés is now available, from the lightest of pinks to the deepest of ruby, almost borderline red wines. The depth of color depends on both the varietal used, and the amount of time the wine spends extracting pigment from the skins—thicker skinned varietals can produced darker more robustly flavored wines and vice versa. In the case of Polvanera’s Rosato from Puglia, Italy, the thick skinned Primitivo (also known as Zinfandel), produces a brilliant, almost garnet colored wine that will be impossible to leave behind with summer. A nose of fresh Mediterranean herbs, strawberries, black raspberries, and cherries draws you to a palate that is simultaneous round and bright. While this wine makes a great food companion, this is best suited to a cool evening on the deck with friends and family. At $20, you’ll be pleased with how well it performs in the crisp autumn air.
Sure, not all wines are going to transition smoothly into the fall. Just make sure you’re not closing the door on what could potentially be an awesome autumn selection.