We are entering the time of year when we leave the water and make our way to land. That first sniff of crisp autumn air and first poke of chill on our skin bring waves of nostalgia. That essence of autumness that hits us brings us to the same moment in prior years, whether it was a walk with a secret crush, a defining play on a sports field, or looking up and seeing the moon so early in the day. It’s the end of summer, with beaches, camping, BBQ’s, vacations, and everything that season means to us and the beginning of school, earlier nights and chillier weather, of scenery screaming orange and red from every tree, and the comfort of a blanket or fire. As we switch bright flavors for the enveloping embrace of unami, we reach for reds and fuller bodied whites.
We don’t talk about the seasonality of wine very much. Sure, Rose and Vinho Verde are the wines of summer, and everyone loves to pair wine with Thanksgiving, but there isn’t a lot of interest in Spring whites and Winter reds. For some wine lovers though, each season brings new rotations of favored varieties and styles that are so much more delicious when joined with the appropriate seasonal weather, food and emotion. When it comes to my fall wine pairings, I look for earth, crunch and comfort.
There is a texture to fall air, a lovely snap of life. I love matching that feeling with a red wine from the Loire. This is an underappreciated category, so do not fuss too much about finding a specific label. A Chinon, Anjou, Saumur or Bourgueil gracing a retailer’s shelves is almost always there because the wine buyer loves it. However, Domaine des Hauts Baigneux does produce a fantastic bottling “Les Pentes” ($20), mostly of Cabernet Franc, that perfectly epitomizes the flavor and feeling we are looking for. And that is a textural crunch that echoes the air and food of fall. In general, you will find the range of texture reaching from the slight crackle of a Touraine Gamay, to the full on wooly sweater feeling of a Bourgueil. The fruit veers toward seasonally appropriate cranberries. They pair perfectly with root vegetables, stews, bracing gusts of wind, and outdoor firepits.
In the fall, we can play and work outside all day long without scorching heat leaving us scampering for water or air conditioning. We reconnect with the earth, with the soil, through our activities and our food. Wines with minerality and earthiness match that feeling. Vines grown in volcanic soil might express this better than any other. Two of my favorite places to look for such wines are the Etna DOC in Sicily, and the Canary Islands. There are fewer wines readily available from the Canary Islands, but Fronton de Oro ($25) is a great example. The grape is Listan Negro, and the wine is light bodied with a wonderful transparency that allows that soil to shine. It has an intoxicating mix of berries, iron and savory qualities. It is a special bottle in its uniqueness and deliciousness. Wines from Etna are more well known. Tenuta Terre Nere is a great producer. Their entry level Etna Rosso ($30) captures the area perfectly. It is medium bodied, but all of the earth and mineral components shine through the wine. The Fronton de Oro is a little more delicate, and should be paired with simpler food, while the Terre Nere can handle more richness. Both are clearly of the Earth.
As that chill deepens and lengthens, you might need a little more savoriness. In September, a nice Pinot Noir might suffice, but as we head into November, a wine with more richness is needed. When the weather is just starting to cool, look for Arnaud Dubreuil’s Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune ($25). It shows bright red fruit with savory qualities in the background. Buy another bottle for next fall and see how the savory starts dominating the fruit. For something a little more special, try the Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40). This is super pretty, and very smooth and comforting. As the weather cools even more, you are going to need to amp up the savory. A great choice would be the Presqu’ile Syrah ($25). This has some California sunshine in it, but lots of savory qualities like peppercorns, olives and more.
And of course you can drink whites, still! I tend to look for wines with tree fruits and some texture to them. Benoit Daridan makes a wonderful Cheverny Blanc ($20) that is chameleon-like in the way it adapts to whatever dish it is paired with. Moving to California, Groundwork’s Grenache Blanc ($20) is a perfect fall white, with round, yellow fruit. Either way, be sure to look beyond pumpkin spice everything and find some fall wines that work for you!