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Posted by Robert Whitley on October 19, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Fall Classics


It was on a damp, chilly autumn afternoon just outside Beaune, in the heart of France's Burgundy region, that I came to the realization that wines are seasonal.

I stood in the doorway of a humble country restaurant with a wood-burning stove that served a dual purpose, in that it also warmed the dining room. The day's special was braised rabbit with chanterelle mushrooms. The aromas were savory and inviting, making the special an easy sell for the waiter.

The only question would be the wine selection. Only the day before, it seemed, I had been basking in the warmth of an Indian summer and quite content with a crisp rose or a fruity Beaujolais at lunch — lighter, refreshing wines generally served chilled.

This day was different. The regional cuisine had shifted, almost overnight, to heartier fare — bouef bourguignon and the aforementioned braised rabbit and earthy chanterelle mushrooms. It reminded me of a similar autumn experience in Italy, when I happened upon the truffle festival in Alba. The golden porcini mushroom was in season, as well.

It is a time of year that calls for earthier wines, with more body and complexity, to complement the roasts and stews and earthy flavors of fall cuisine. I've selected seven of my perennial fall classics for your enjoyment. 'Tis the season.

Eberle Winery's 2015 barbera, Kokopelli/Steinbeck/Partridge vineyards, Paso Robles ($32) — Eberle's barbera has long been one of California's finest. The grape variety is indigenous to Italy's Piedmont region, which most likely accounts for its compatibility with earthy dishes that incorporate mushrooms, onions and the like. A perfect complement to braised veal shank.

Georges Duboeuf's 2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy ($35) — From the Maconnais subregion of Burgundy, this superb Pouilly-Fuisse sings with an inviting earthy minerality and a generous helping of ripe pear and green apple. Richer and weightier than you might like on a hot summer day but perfect for serving after the autumn leaves have started to turn.

Ledson's 2014 Mes Trois Amours, Sonoma Valley ($40) — Red Rhone-style blends are always a hit when summer gives way to fall, because the wines have more richness and depth without coming across as heavy. This blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre is on the black-fruited side of the spectrum, with an attractive touch of wood spice and a leafy, dried herb note. A perfect companion with game.

Renato Ratti's 2014 Ochetti nebbiolo, Langhe, Italy ($25) — Ratti is among the finest producers in Italy's Piedmont region, which is most famous for long-lived Barolo and Barbaresco. The Langhe is a subregion outside the Barolo and Barbaresco districts, but its money grape is the same: nebbiolo. Ratti's Orchetti nebbiolo is easy on the wallet; it will cost you a third of the price of a top Barolo. But it will give you nearly as much satisfaction. This vintage shows notes of truffle and dark cherry and has milder tannins than the more famous wines of Barolo.

Sartori di Verona's 2013 amarone della valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($40) — Amarone, with its richness and heft, is most definitely a cool-weather wine that pairs perfectly with osso buco and other braised meat dishes. Sartori's 2013 is a beauty, with smooth, supple tannins that mask the weight of the wine. It shows dark fruits and spice and a long, persistent finish.

Siduri's 2015 pinot noir, Russian River Valley ($35) — Winemaker Adam Lee is best-known for his single-vineyard pinot noir, but most of those are twice the price. His so-called appellation wines may not possess all the nuance and subtlety of the vineyard designates, but they have exceptional value and can stand alone on their own merits. This 2015 Russian River pinot has all the depth and complexity that a Russian River pinot should have, without the hefty price tag.

Wente's 2015 chardonnay, Riva Ridge, Livermore Valley ($22) — Wente was among the first to plant chardonnay in California, and the "Wente" clone has been a staple of California viticulture for the past 40 years. So it stands to reason that the Wente family knows a little something about making top-notch chardonnay. The 2015 Riva Ridge chardonnay is a beautifully balanced example of what Wente can do, showing excellent richness and depth without losing touch with the acidity that provides its backbone. And because it's the Livermore Valley and not Napa or Sonoma, the price is oh-so sweet!

Castoro Cellars, Paso Robles (California) Syrah Whale Rock Vineyard Estate Grown 2015 ($30)
  Whale Rock Vineyard is in the Templeton Gap District, one of Paso Robles' 11 new sub AVA's.  This bottle shows the ripe and spicy possibilities of the area, with rich black fruit, fall spice, pepper and moderate oak toast.  The finish brings the spice and pepper into focus without covering the fruit, and invites another sip.  Go for something rich and a little fatty as a pairing.
92 Rich Cook

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This Issue's Reviews
 
Two New Paradigms
Paul Lukacs

The contemporary wine world largely defines quality in terms of varietal typicity, the ability of a wine to taste of the grape or grapes with which it was made. For all the talk of terroir these days, we--consumers, critics, and winemakers alike--tend to focus first on grape varieties. But who decides what exactly a certain variety should taste like? What are the models or paradigms that we should use to assess typicity and hence quality?
An Embarrassment of Riches: South Africa Vol. II
Michael Franz

I returned from South Africa five weeks ago, where I spent more than seven days tasting very intensively across virtually every imaginable wine category…including fortified wines. I found so many terrific wines to review that I barely scratched the surface in my column last month, so you'll find a substantial set of new reviews set below in this column. The quality of the wines included is absolutely stellar, but what is really astonishing is the value they offer. Many countries and regions are sending good wines and good values to the USA, to be sure, but right now there is no place that can match the quality-to-price ratio of what we're getting from South Africa.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Duck Breast with White Beans


Two things inspired the creation of this splendid dish: the fact that we had a duck breast in the freezer, and the rapid disappearance of summer tomatoes (sadly, this may be the last week for them at our farmers' market here in the mid-Atlantic region). The resulting dish is elegant enough to serve at a celebratory dinner, but because it is straightforward and simple to make, it can also been enjoyed as a week-night supper. As for wine, an elegant, full-flavored dish calls for a wine with a comparable character. In this case, it should be red, as the duck tastes meaty and rich. A Cabernet or Bordeaux-styled red will work well, but so too will a lighter wine such as a Pinot Noir or earthy Loire red. We tried nine different wines, and these were our favorites. We recognize, though, that other varieties and different styles can work equally well.
On My Table
Another Exciting Burgundy-Oregon Alliance
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

A salient quality of the 2015 Nicolas-Jay Bishop Creek Pinot Noir is its roundness on the palate, a structural balance so ideal that you sense you are tasting greatness. It is a generous Pinot Noir but not dense or fleshy in texture. Acidity enlivens its richness from within, and tannin grounds the taste, both components supporting the wine's spherical beauty. Aromatically, the wine is intense with dark fruit notes, black cherry and plum, as well as savory notes of warm spices, damp earth and smoke. The wine aged in French oak barrels that were half new and half neutral, and while you can detect characteristics of oak -- the smokiness, the fine grip of oak tannin on your tongue -- you would probably not label the wine 'oaky.' Despite how impressive this wine is now, it has everything it needs to age gracefully for many years.