Earthy yet vibrant whites and flavorful, versatile reds are what you want to uncork this season.
Okay, it might be time to retire the rosé until next spring. Sure, you can drink whatever you want whenever you want, but isn’t your palate just a wee bit sick of all that juicy strawberry and candied watermelon bursting out of the glass? These seven wines are the antidote to SPF (Seasonal Palate Fatigue). Give them a try, along with the suggested food partners, and bring on sweater weather!
Stemmari Grillo ($11)
If you are looking for a fall and winter white, this is it. Produced on the sunny Italian island of Sicily, Grillo is historically the grape used to make the fortified wine Marsala. But when it’s vinified dry, it’s able to take on that rare combination of fruit-forward vibrant acidity and restrained earthiness. Stemmari’s version is kept on the lees for five months in a stainless steel tank, which lends elegant body and a fuller mouthfeel (while still maintaining mouthwatering freshness). It has tropical notes of mango along with citrus and white peach blossom.
Fall food pairings: Sautéed scallop risotto with shaved white truffles; roasted chicken with rosemary; cheese fondue with accoutrements.
Stemmari Nero d’Avola ($11)
What’s pretty amazing about Nero d’Avola (which is hailed as the most important red grape on the island of Sicily) is that it’s deceiving. In the glass, it looks like it’s going to be a lot bigger and bolder than it really is. Sure, there are some tannins, but they are soft and velvety rather than intense and harsh. It also has gorgeous red fruit, including strawberries and pomegranate, and a touch of heady violet. Because it has structure but not too much grip, it can stand up to a lot of things on the table while not getting lost next to richly flavored sauces and slow-cooking methods.
Fall food pairings: Roasted vegetable lasagna; braised lamb shank in a red sauce; standing rib roast.
2014 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint ($14)
Mention Tokaj and your mind may immediately think of the classic botrytized [note: also referred to as noble rot, a beneficial grey fungus] wine from the region of the same name in Hungary. That’s indeed one of the world’s best dessert wines, but the grape used to make it – Furmint – is also used for some super intriguing dry wines. The nose of this one has herbaceous tones that mix with stone fruit, including peach and apricot, while the palate shows juicy acidity and a line of minerality from the area’s mineral-rich soil. It’s definitely something to keep in your arsenal this season, as it’s nothing quite like any other white out there.
Fall food pairings: Chicken sautéed with butter and sage; bucatini with pancetta and rosemary; slow-roasted cod served with herb-roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
2014 Trinity Hill The Gimblett ($30)
New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay is known for wines that show purity of fruit and intensity, and this Bordeaux-style red blend is no exception. It’s made from a blend of 49% Cabernet Franc (for aromatics), 39% Cabernet Sauvignon (for structure), 9% Merlot (for richness and weight on the mid-palate) and 3% Malbec (for a touch of complexity and color). The resulting wine – aged in small French barrels, some of them new – is extremely complex, with blackberries, dried herbs and ripe tannins. Drink it now, or cellar it for up to 10 years.
Fall food pairings: Venison tenderloin with au jus; seared duck breast with blackberry sauce; flank steak with Bordelaise sauce.
2014 Qupé Central Coast Syrah ($20)
Generally dark, inky and intense (though lighter styles do exist), Syrah is the wine you want to break open when you are serving the most richly flavored dishes this fall and winter. This one hails from California’s Central Coast, and it’s a blend of mostly Syrah (88%), with some Tempranillo, Grenache and Mourvèdre added. The 2014 vintage saw super ripe grapes and an early harvest, and this wine has silky tannins and blueberry, blackberry, black pepper and savory notes, including black olive. But the alcohol remains a balanced, restrained 13.8%, meaning the finish is never hot, nor is there any residual sugar to make it feel clunky in the mouth.
Fall food pairings: Slow roasted spice-rubbed brisket; baby lamb chops coated with goat cheese, black pepper and olives; Coq au vin.
Niro Pecorino d’Abruzzo ($17.99)
Thoughts of hard, salty cheese may come to mind, but Pecorino is actually a grape, too. (The word in Italian refers to the ancient tradition of herding sheep, which are attracted to the fruit.) Native to Italy, the varietal is being rediscovered for its freshness, aromas of sage and flowers, full-bodied, complex palate, and mineral-driven finish. It’s produced using cryo-maceration to extract maximum aroma and flavor, fermented in stainless steel, and sees no oak. The result is a wine that screams to be paired with food, including that salty cheese.
Fall food pairings: Cornish game hens with lemon zest; herb-coated seared black cod; chicken lemon rice soup.
Warre's OTIMA 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30)
Think Port can only be served after dinner, either with or in place of dessert? This one challenges you to rethink that notion. Its gorgeous caramel hue in the glass is joined by signature Tawny Port aromas of nuts and dried fruit. But it’s the palate that’s really surprising, which is more delicate and lighter than you would expect, with some dried fruit and an elegant finish that’s never cloying. Serve it slightly chilled for the best experience, and for something really original, make it the wine you serve with a grilled cheese bar.
Fall food pairings: Grilled cheese on a French baguette with melted brie, toasted pine nuts, arugula and honey; risotto with chicken, cranberries and walnuts; pine nut torte.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.