Top Wines for Fall

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As the season changes, so should your wine list. Learn what’s hot for this fall season.
By Amy Payne October 2011 Wine

It is that time of year again. The leaves are turning yellow, football season has commenced, and the Pumpkin Spice latte is back on the Starbucks menu. As your menu changes to reflect fall flavors, your wine list should, too.

“Fall wines tend to emanate the signs of fall, both in color and in taste,” says Michael Taylor, senior wine director of ENO Wine Room in Chicago’s InterContinental Hotel.

Alsatian Riesling

Many people stereotype Riesling as sweet, but Alsatian Rieslings are fermented to dryness. They have fuller body and higher alcohol than their German counterparts due to the “rain-shadow effect” created by the Vosges Mountains. It is one of France’s driest and sunniest wine regions with a semicontinental climate that allows the grapes to ripen to higher sugar levels while retaining their naturally high acidity. Typical aromas include dried apricot, overripe peach, candied ginger, honey, petrol, and slate.

“My favorite fall wine is Riesling, which is great transitional wine from the hot and sticky summer season to the cold and wet winter months,” says Scott Smith, sommelier and managing partner of the Rockford, Ill.-based SBS Consulting Group. “It pairs exceptionally well with traditional late-summer and early-winter dishes.”

Food pairing: scallops, turkey, veal, curried butternut squash soup

Burgundy Pinot Noir

Wine production in Burgundy dates back to 200 A.D. and fetches some of the highest prices at auction internationally. For example, in June 2011 during an auction at Christie's Geneva, a private American buyer bid $123,889 for a 750 ml bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945. Pinot Noir is a thin-skin varietal, making it a prima donna demanding perfect conditions. The quality is heavily dependent on producer, vineyard and vintage, creating the allure for the perfect Burgundy. Typical aromas for Pinot Noir include red cherries, strawberries, and cranberries, violets, tomato leaf, cured meats and black tea.

“In preparation for fall, I am putting away the Sauvignon Blanc glasses to prime the Burgundies,” says Taylor. His favorite Burgundy for fall is by François Mikulski from Pommard, which is located in the Côte de Beaune.

Food pairing: chicken, turkey, duck, truffles, risotto

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, meaning new castle of the pope, is situated in the Southern Rhone Valley. Bottles that are embossed with a papal crest on the shoulder are 100 percent estate-bottled. The region has a Mediterranean climate and is known for the pudding stones, or galets, that are made of quartzite and smoothed by the river. The galets store the day’s heat, keeping the vines warm at night. Although 13 varietals are permitted in the final blend, the main grapes used are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Typical aromas include strawberry compote, raspberry, black cherry, raisins, powdered sugar, grenadine, black pepper, and picholine olives. The palate is slightly sweet and oxidative, which makes it pair well with spicy or hearty cuisine.

“I tend to choose medium-bodied reds this time of the year, such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, and various blends from the Rhone,” Taylor says. He recommends Domaine de Marcoux from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Food pairing: cassoulet, duck, short ribs, lamb

Piedmont Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo, named after the morning fog, nebbia, is a thin-skinned grape varietal that thrives in rhw Piedmont region of Italy. The region has a continental climate, and the Alps provide a rain-shadow effect. Although the region has more Denominazione di origine controllata, or DOC, zones than any other region in Italy with 16 DOCGs and over 40 DOCs, the two most prestigious are Barolo and Barbaresco. Typical aromas include dried sour red cherry, tar, dried rose petal, red licorice, fennel bulb, truffle, clay, and cinnamon. Structurally, it has high tannins, high acidity, with medium-plus to high alcohol. All of which make it ideal for pairing with food, especially rich protein to tone down the tannins.

Andres Munoz Honiball, restaurant manager of Chicago-based NoMI, recommends Elio Grasso Langhe Nebbiolo. “You don’t have to wait a decade to let it open up and taste like what the grape is supposed to taste like,” says Honiball. “It is soft and subtle with rose and tar notes and has enough acidity and tannins to complement a fall cuisine.”

Food pairing: black truffles, risotto, stew, rich meat and game

Spanish Tempranillo

Rioja, located in North-Central Spain, is the most well-known region for Tempranillo. The wine can be blended with Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. When phylloxera struck France in the 1850’s, French winemakers purchased juice from Rioja to bridge the gap of their loss. Rioja is traditionally aged in American oak barriques due to the history of transatlantic colonial trade, which gives it the distinct aromas of vanilla, dill and coconut. Other aromas include stewed strawberry, tart raspberry, Twizzlers, sun-dried tomato, bay leaf, and green tobacco. Structurally, it has medium-plus acidity and ranges between medium and medium-plus alcohol.

“My favorite fall wines are ones that complement the wonderful food, such as Côtes du Rhône, Burgundian Pinot Noirs, and Spanish Tempranillo,” says Jaclyn Stuart, wine director for Margaux Bistro & Wine Bar in Sheboygan, Wis. “At Margaux, I change the wine by the glass each time the menu changes, which is seasonally. This ensures that the wines offered will pair with chef's menu selections and the current season.”

Food pairing: grilled octopus, poultry, barbecued meats, steak