FALL RED WINES SIGNAL A CHANGE OF SEASONS AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THE TABLE
I knew it!
As I’m writing this during the first week of October, there is a heat wave blanketing Southern California. And if history is a guide, there will be more to come in the next couple of months. Most of the Northern Hemisphere is gearing up for cold weather this time of year, but we are pushing triple digits.
Doesn’t Mother Nature know it’s autumn? Winter Wonderland is less than two months away. It’s dark before 6 p.m. and getting darker earlier. Rosé sales have slowed to a trickle.
Our Northern California colleagues are already writing of their anticipation for the season of stews, duck confit and cassoulet, hearty fall and winter dishes that call for heartier red wines. You know, Cahors, Madiran, Taurasi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Who am I kidding? The last time we had snow in Long Beach was 1949, and I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen my breath in the daytime, even in the dead of winter. Santa Ana winds and whatever El Niño brings will likely originate from hotter locales this year, not Alaska.
That’s not to say there is no seasonal change going on. The autumnal equinox has passed and, yes, it’s dark when I get home from work. Rosé still tastes good, but it looks flat in the dark. Rosé is wine of the sun. Should we be drinking Montlouis and white Burgundy now? Peut-être.
There is a season between summer and what passes for winter in Southern California. Except for the palm fronds, leaves are changing color in the neighborhood, and temperatures are dropping at night, like they do in the desert in winter. I don’t feel like digging into my big reds yet (maybe it’d be different if I had a cabin in the local mountains), but I am starting to crave red wines after six months of rosé and crisp dry whites.
Lighter red wines, that is.
The classic that comes to mind is Beaujolais, and after visiting the Beaujolais region and nearby Lyon earlier this year, I admit I’ve been fixated on these wines a lot more than before. I like to drink Beaujolais with lighter foods and heavier ones, too. With light food there is a pas de deux, with heavier dishes, Beaujolais provides an irresistibly charming contrast, lifting up each bite, not unlike what cranberry sauce does for turkey.
Even more remarkably, Beaujolais can take a light chill when the Santa Anas decide to pull a fast one and bake us for a week. Everyone ought to know by now that Beaujolais is the near-universal choice for traditional Thanksgiving dinner, even though dozens of our customers will be choking down Silver Oak or something like that with their candied yams.
Fall red wines aren’t limited to Beaujolais, though. I particularly like the Valpolicellas and lighter Bardolinos from Italy’s Veneto region this time of year. Barbera d’Asti is another inspired choice for after-sunset pizzas, porchettas, prosciuttos and salami. Rosso di Montepulciano is also a fun fall wine, silky and in my opinion, a tad more elegant than most Tuscan Sangioveses. It’s all in the clone! Prugnolo Gentile, baby.
I’ll let you in on a couple secrets: tastes can change dramatically with different dishes; and tastes can change dramatically after traveling places. Ask Samantha to tell you her story of easy-going Beaujolais vignerons offering slices of Rosette de Lyon salami washed down with their house-made red wines, and how she did a 180 on the grape, the region and the wine after a gulp or two. Sans la prétension.
Short of booking a flight on Air France and visiting the Cote de Brouilly, do me a favor and live with these wines for awhile. Sip on them when you get home, serve them to your neighbors with some of your own salami, your next barbecued steak, roast chicken out of the oven, beef stew (with a little red wine poured in), pork loin, turkey sandwich. They are genius wines and they start under $15.
Autumn is the favorite season of a whole lot of people. Halloween decorations were already going up mid-September in our neighborhood. Even if it doesn’t feel like fall, temperature-wise, it does feel like something is changing. Even while we’re sizzling during the next heat wave, we can live vicariously watching Green Bay and their seat warmers on TV sipping on a chilled glass of light red wine.
Yes it’s fall, and in Southern California we may not be ready to do a deep dive into our stash of vintage port quite yet, but we surely can enjoy these red wines of transition. Who knows? Some of them may become your new house wines. And the good news is that many of them are more affordable than what you may be drinking now.