As summer draws to a close, my feelings are bittersweet. As in years past, I’ve begun to reflect on all that I’ve done for the past few months, all of the fresh produce that I’ve had on the dinner table and of course, all of the delightful, refreshing wine that I’ve consumed. There was no shortage of rosé this summer and I’ve added some newly discovered pink wines to my repertoire that are sure to be go-tos for years to come. Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Mulderbosch Vineyards Rosé from Stellenbosch, and Prieuré de Montezargues Rosé of Tavel AC, just to name a few. I always have a hard time parting with the summer, yet my sentiments are sweetened by the prospect of a new season and all that it holds in store.
The daylight hours are gradually growing shorter and the nights cooler. The first hints of fall can be detected in the air and my taste is slowly beginning to favor red wines over whites and rosés. As autumn approaches, I’ve begun to formulate my list of favorite wines for fall, choices which are influenced partially by the cooling weather and largely by the produce that appears at this time of year, the bounty of the harvest. Rich butternut squash soups, savory mushroom ragùs and apple desserts are the first dishes that come to mind, along with hearty stews, roasted vegetables and pumpkin breads. So, what will I be drinking this fall?
Syrahs for Sweater Weather
On chilly autumn nights, I tend to crave a rich, robust red wine with spicy, earthy qualities…bring on the Syrah! The red wines of the Northern Rhône Valley certainly fit the bill here, embodying the full-bodied, warming spicy character that takes the chill off. The wines of Crozes Hermitage offer some of the best values from the region, especially those from renowned producers such as Paul Jaboulet, E. Guigal and Maison Chapoutier.
A few to try include 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert ($50, IWC – 92 pts), 2007 E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage Rouge ($22, WA – 88 pts) and 2007 Maison Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage Les Varonnieres ($48, IWC – 90-93 pts).
For a special occasion, an early fall harvest celebration or, dare I say it, for your Thanksgiving wine (it will be here before we know it!), try a Syrah from Côte Rôtie or Hermitage. The 2003 Domaine Delas Freres Côte Rôtie la Landonne ($167, WA – 96 pts) and 2004 Maison Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal ($99, WA – 90+) are excellent choices in the splurge category.
Fall Wines from the Rhône Valley
Grenache-Syrah blends from the Southern Rhône Valley,with their irresistible lushness and jammy quality, are ideal for taking the chill off of autumn evenings. Wines that catch my fancy at this time of year come from the appellations of Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, and reputable producers such as Chateau de Beaucastel, Domaine du Pégau and Clos des Papes. This fall, cozy up with the 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape ($125), the 2000 Domaine du Pégau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Reservée ($85) or the 2004 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape ($75).
Don’t forget the Rhône Rangers when making your fall wine selections! Producers in California’s Central Coast have been key advocates of Rhône grape varietals outside of the Rhône Valley. “Rhône Rangers” is not just a cute moniker, this is an actual non-profit organization that promotes Rhône style wines in the Golden State. We are big fans of their efforts and would drink these yummy single-varietal wines and blends ‘til the cows come home (if it weren’t for certain other responsibilities). Our favorite Rhône Ranger wines include the 2009 Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara ($30, WA – 92 pts) and the 2008 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge Paso Robles ($43).
Italian Wines for Fall
Each fall, I find my mind drifts toward Italian wines, especially those of Northern Italy. Many of Piedmont’s wines, whether from Nebbiolo, Barbera or Dolcetto grapes, tend to possess an appealing layer of earthiness, reminiscent of a berry patch or the forest floor. Italian cuisine from this region offers that same earthy quality, pronounced by the use of wild mushrooms and game meats. Italy works magic with foods of the fall forage! These Northern Italian foods and wines are a match made in heaven and it’s no wonder that they have such an appeal during the autumn season, when we start to crave heartier fare and more robust wines.
Keep in mind that wines from the slow-ripening Nebbiolo varietal, renowned for its extremely powerful tannins, can age for decades, so best to go for one that has had some time in the cellar. Both Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmont’s most prestigious appellations, are made from 100% Nebbiolo. Signature qualities of Barolo wines include red fruit character, floral aromas of rose or violet, and hints of tar, mushrooms and leather. Barbaresco is the not as powerful and concentrated as Barolo, but shares many of the same enchanting characteristics.
Many Barberas offer a great value from the region, typically showcasing lively cherry flavors, wonderful, food-friendly acidity and the underlying earthiness that I’m after in the fall. Dolcetto, the “little sweet one”, is another great value from Northern Italy. In general, Dolcettos are supple, fruit-forward wines with sweet plum aromas and flavors, delicate tannins and soft acidity. Barbera and Dolcetto are both easy to drink, palate pleasers in a nutshell!
Here are some of Northern Italy’s finest from renowned producers:
2005 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco ($62)
2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana ($87)
2006 Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Vigna Chiniera ($75)
2004 Alfredo Prunotto Barolo Bussia ($70)
2007 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili ($149)
2008 Ca Rome Barbaresco Chiaramanti ($69)
2007 La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian ($24)
2009 Moccagatta Barbera d’Alba ($19)
Cabernets for Coat Season
As temperatures continue to drop and we start donning our jackets more frequently, rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons have a definite appeal. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape has a far-reaching reputation and is widely planted throughout the world’s wine regions from Bordeaux to Australia. Well-loved by grape growers, for its resistance to disease, and wine lovers, for its satisfying richness and tannic structure, Cabernet Sauvignon is just the thing for a chilly late-fall evening.
When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignons for the fall and winter season, California is often my go-to region. Stellar California producers that are sure to quench my thirst this fall include Ramey Wine Cellars and Altamura Vineyards.
Founded by David and Carla Ramey, Ramey Wine Cellars is located in the charming town of Healdsburg, in the heart of Sonoma County. David Ramey is one of California’s leading winemakers, recognized for contributing innovative techniques to New World winemaking, while staying true to Old World traditions. David has a graduate degree in winemaking from the University of California at Davis and began his career working at the legendary Chateau Pétrus in Bordeaux, where he was exposed to the great French winemaking traditions. Back home in California, he went on to make wine at Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate, helping to establish these well known wineries. David’s work, pioneering the use of native yeasts, as well as malolactic and barrel fermentation, has successfully created a luxuriant wine style that has garnered acclaim the world over.
Ramey Wine Cellars specializes in Cabernet blends, Chardonnay and Syrah, and crafts both a single-vineyard series, as well as an appellation series. Ramey’s Cabernets are spectacular expressions of Napa terrior. The 2006 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($40) and single-vineyard 2008 Ramey Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard ($149) are both excellent and fitting choices for the fall season.
Well off the beaten path in Napa Valley, Altamura Vineyards and Winery is the only winery located in Wooden Valley, situated high amidst pastoral, rolling hills. Frank and Karen Altamura established the winery in 1985 and practice a careful, hands-on approach to grape growing and winemaking. Frank’s passion for winemaking is clear in each bottle of the winery’s highly collectible wines. The 2007 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($99) is highly rated by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator and one need only have a sip to become a devotee of this exceptional winery.
Finally, the 2007 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($42) is a wine of outstanding quality and value. This decadent wine, offering lavish layers of black currant and dark chocolate, is the archetypal Napa Valley Cabernet, with all of its seductive charm and power. There is no doubt that it will keep you warm and fuzzy as the temperatures drop this fall and winter.
Faust Cabernet Sauvignon is the inspired project of Agustin Huneeus, owner of the renowned fine wine estates Quintessa, in Napa Valley, and Veramonte, in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. Ten years after Quintessa’s first release, temptation knocked on Agustin’s door, luring him to create a wine dedicated not to Napa’s terroir, but to majestic Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa’s reigning grape varietal, and we couldn’t be more grateful!