Temperatures soared last week in Whistler as summer coughed up a last gasp of heat. But time waits for no one and, as if on cue, the autumnal equinox will be upon us as early as next week.
That means shorter days and cooler nights and for thinking wine drinkers, it's time to shift away from summer wines. This week we take a look at the latest in what I like to refer to as workhorse reds.
The job of any versatile, serve-it-daily red is to be widely available, tasty and affordable; no easy task in the modern wine business. Sources of such wines change over time and since the last time we looked at this category back in 2007 much has changed.
Argentina is now firmly ensconced as a producer of workhorse reds with its famous malbec but cabernet sauvignon and blends containing malbec and cabernet are making inroads as well. Spain is also rising to the occasion with both garnacha and tempranillo based blends while the Rhone Valley and the south of France home to grenache/syrah blends remains a fixture of workhorse wines. Australian shiraz and shiraz blends are struggling but remain in the mix as is the story of California reds.
The styles differ between countries and blends but the texture and tannins for the most part are soft and round and inviting but the difference in 2011 is a slightly more acidic undercarriage is now acceptable if it is natural and balanced with fruit. They are often better with food and usually something like grilled chicken or sausages or most any kind of beef grilled on the barbecue. The protein cuts through the youthful tannins or rough edges that define young red wines especially in the finish. Cheese is also a fine option for the fall and winter.
Now, where to start?
Three Spanish reds blends get the ball rolling beginning with the Castaño C Monastrell 2009 ($12) from the monastrell master Daniel Castaño. You will love its fresh, supple and juicy palate. For an extra fiver the Auzolan Joven Tinto 2009 ($17) is an organic blend of garnacha, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon grown just outside the Rioja region. Grilled flank steak would easily tame its black cherry jam, plum, savoury, spicy, meaty flavours and firm tannins. Finally do not overlook the Lujuria 2009 ($10) . It's simply amazing what can be delivered for a mere $10 when most of that is tax. Look for coffee, plums, dark chocolate and smoke throughout. Love the price.
France has always been a place where red blends matter and while quality Bordeaux labels have become prohibitively pricey the Rhone and the Languedoc continue to deliver. Two crazy value reds are the Chateau de Cabriac 2009 ($15) a mix of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre that over-delivers for its price and the M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut 2009 ($14) a syrah, grenache and carignan that is simply amazing. Both are youthful reds bearing a whack of flavour all covered in spice and earth and pepper. From burgers to stew you can have a lot fun serving these wines as the days shorten and the nights cool down.