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!