Wines for all (food) seasons

Do wines have seasons – and if so, what should we drink in the fall?

In summertime when “the livin’ is easy,” most of us prefer light, fruity wines, quite independent of the fare. In cooler months, we trend toward heartier whites and reds and favor bubbly at year’s end with a wide range of starters and main-course items. However, for those with even moderately demanding palates, wine seasonality is best based not on weather or whim, but on the flavors of the fare usually served at that time of year.

For example, spring lamb pairs perfectly with reds fashioned from the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal – the protein of the meat smoothing the tannins of the wine. And oysters at their cool weather peak of perfection mate harmoniously with Chardonnay and French White Burgundy – the whites enhancing the mineral quality of the bivalves with a touch of lively citrus. On the other hand, some matches are awful with most young wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes mating poorly with any dish containing tomatoes, especially ripe end-of-summer varieties. A tinny aftertaste is the usual result of the combination. And Chardonnay with asparagus – particularly those of early spring – is a no-no, generally leading to unpleasant vegetal flavors.

So to aid consumers with matching wine to the fare of fall, here’s advice from a few savvy metro-area professionals, followed by some of my favorite pairings for the season. (Prices listed are typical retail for 750 ml bottles):

Dustin Wilson, wine director for Eleven Madison Park restaurant in Manhattan, says that “with sweeter squash, like butternut, I prefer New World Pinot Noir, finding the ripe fruit of the wine a nice complement to the vegetable, and I enjoy older white Burgundy or Rhône with roasted mushrooms – the bit of age and textures of the wine adding to the earthy flavors of the fare. And while for squab the choice of wine generally depends on the accompaniments, with duck, especially the honey-lavender coated version served at our restaurant, I generally recommend Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the ripe fruit of the wine pairing perfectly with the savory, smoky and peppery tones of the bird.”

Billy Rattner, wine director for the Xaviar’s Restaurant Group, finds that “when the first chills of fall begin to arrive and the menus offer a bit more heft and heartiness, I look to wines of greater structure and savory spice, the whites from Italy’s overlooked and much-maligned Soave region such as the luscious 2011 Cantina del Castello Cru Pressoni ($24) and  2011 Filippi Castelcerino ($30). In reds, I go for wines from grapes of the Rhône that show earthy and spicy richness, like the 2011 Domaine Jaume La Friande Côtes du Rhône ($10) and the 2009 Arnot-Roberts Hudson Vineyard Syrah from Carneros, California ($50).”

“At our Tarry Lodges in Port Chester and Connecticut, we feature wines from Sicily and Campania with the early fall regional menu,” says co-owner/sommelier Nancy Selzer. “These reds from hot southern regions of Italy are bursting with rich, dark fruit that matches fare like our ricotta mezzaluna and braised items like osso bucco. Two choices of note are a 2009 Sicilian Firrato Etna Rosso ($10) and a 2010 Terradora Anglianco from Campania ($13). For later in the season at Thanksgiving dinner, I prefer American wines like the 2010 Copper Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir from Oregon ($24) and the 2010 Palmina Barbera from Santa Barbara, Calif. ($24).”

“I love Rosé wine in autumn,” says Jeremy Noye, a senior wine buyer for Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale. “For me these wines deliver dry, refreshing qualities and some of the more powerful types like those from Bandol and Sancerre deliver good, tactile sensations that allow them to hold up well to the many flavors of fall food. Later in the season, I certainly begin to think about richer Syrah-based wines and those made from Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Barolos and Brunello di Montalcinos.”

Thomas Carter, the wine director for Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, also likes wine from the Syrah grape with fall fare, particularly Côte Rôtie reds from Michael Stephen and Cornas from Frank Balthazar. In addition, he touts the red Burgundies from Denis Bachelet in Gevry and Morey St. Denis from Domaine Dujac.

The 2007 Scherrer “Old and Mature Vines” Zinfandel ($28) and the 2009 Olson Ogden Unti Vineyard Syrah ($44) are two personal favorites that I find match a wide range of fare, from the squashes and mushrooms of early fall to game birds, venison, pumpkin, and the many flavors of Thanksgiving dinner. Hailing from California’s Alexander Valley, the Scherrer Zinfandel shows a dark crimson hue and intense bouquet and taste of cherries, ripe berries and anise with a hint of vanilla in the finish. The Unti Vineyard Syrah from Dry Creek Valley has a deep purple color and a bouquet and taste of blackberries, currants and an elegant finish with a touch of spice. And those seeking good value to match the many flavors of Thanksgiving dinner should go for the 2009 Rosenblum Vintner’s Cuvee Syrah ($10), with a rich, berried bouquet and a taste perfect to mate with the likes of cranberries, peppery stuffing and roast turkey.

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