Shorter days and longer nights, and a dusting of snow are sure signs that fall is here, and for most wine drinkers that means a switch in wine styles as you prepare for cooler weather. That means out with the light whites and fruity reds and in with the richer, more intense flavours that can stand up to heartier fall recipes and cold nights.
Menu items of roasted birds, venison, risottos, braised beef brisket, pumpkin ravioli, mushrooms and all manner of squash come quickly to mind. You can add to that stews, pork belly, grilled meats and classic cassoulet from southern France and, well, you get the idea — richer, beefy, spicier wines will be required to keep up with much bigger flavours.
In terms of wine styles and grapes that means less un-oaked whites and a little less of the aromatic grapes such as sauvignon blanc, riesling, ehrenfelser and friends. In their place think zinfandel, shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha, mourvèdre, petit sirah and most any boisterous red blend. Styles differ between countries and blends but the texture and tannins for the most part are soft and round although, more and more, with better acid to balance off the fruit.
To get you ready for the season, I've put together a list of full-bodied reds built to tame rich foods and the cool, rainy, snowy days to come. I've chosen the $20 mark as an upper barrier to keep the selections affordable. My advice is get a some friends together for dinner and have everyone bring a bottle or two to allow for maximum food and wine pairing experiments throughout the evening.
We begin in Argentina where malbec, cabernet and, thankfully, more and more red blends are coming to market. Argentina is red hot with consumers and it all starts with malbec. The Renacer Punto Final Malbec ($15) has a savoury, black cherry demeanour laced with bay leaf and liquorice. Any grilled beef would be a perfect match, especially if you add some homemade chimichurri sauce. The Cobos Felino Malbec ($18) will have wide appeal with its glossy, smooth black fruit with a dash of stone and mineral. Black cherries and poultry spice layer over excellent acidity. My blend choice, from some of the highest vineyards in the world, is the Amalaya ($20), a mix of malbec, cabernet sauvignon and tannat. Expect more wild red fruits and earth that bring plenty of power to the table.
Spanish reds, blends included, are crazy good these days, and the price even more attractive. We start with Castaño C Monastrell ($12.50) from the master, Daniel Castaño. This wine is so juicy and supple, with earthy plummy fruit that begs for oven-roasted foods. Garnacha, tempranillo and cabernet are the story behind Borsão Garnacha Selección ($15). Look for smoky, meaty, black raspberry jam and orange peel flavours throughout. Braised beef will be a winner.
California is on a bit of an upswing as the post–Mondavi era of next-generation winemakers get underway in earnest. Last week I tasted over 350 labels in the Golden State and came away with new respect for the latest in zinfandel. Just over the $20 mark but well worth the reach is the Edmeads Zinfandel ($23). Mendocino is the place, and the methods are decidedly low tech. Simplicity yields lush black fruit, soft tannins with a dash of coffee and caramel plus some petite sirah and syrah. Chili would be a great match.