Whether it’s the sudden celebration of everything pumpkin spice, or the findings of dozens of official and unofficial surveys, a quick jaunt through the interwebs tells us one thing: Fall is everyone’s favorite season. There’s just something about the promise of holiday season festivities, or the changing colors outside, or getting to revive all those cozy cowl-neck sweaters you had shoved to the back of the closet back in June, that gets people excited.
For us, it’s the changeover from light, fresh fare and backyard grilling, to hearty, slow-cooked stews, braised dishes, and the rich, stick-to-your-ribs cooking that the colder months bring. Oh, and the wines that go with it.
Here are our top tips for selecting and sipping the best wines to go with cold weather cuisine.
Bubbly All Day
There is one wine that truly defies every season, every mood, and every dish, and it’s sparkling wine. Not only is it one of the most food-friendly wines out there, it also brings a celebratory note to any occasion, whether it’s an actual holiday, a pumpkin carving evening with the kids, or simply making it to the gym.
For Fall weather, instead of going for the clean and lighter style prosecco and cava that you were sipping all summer (at least we were), try a bubbly with a bit more weight and complexity. You will find this in the wines that are produced in the methode traditionelle or Champagne method, or that have spent a good amount of time on the “lees” (those fun little dead yeast cells that settle at the bottom of the bottle and give sparkling wine produced in this way its characteristic toasty, biscuity aromas). Fortunately, you don’t need to break the bank on these wines (although you can, if you’re into that sort of thing). There are plenty of options out there with much friendlier price tags than Champagne.
Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso, Emilia-Romagna, IT, $16: Like dry, fruity red wine? Like bubbly? Well, if those two had a wine baby, this is what it would be. A deep ruby-colored sparkling red wine with gorgeous layers of berry fruit and spice, this is the perfect wine for just about any dish — especially hearty, cool weather cuisine.
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Cava Brut, Penedes, SP, $30: If light, simple, $10 Cava is the easy-going high school student, this Cava is the PhD candidate. It’s a sparkler with great complexity, boasting classic apple and floral notes, giving way to honey, brioche and a pleasant hint of smoke.
Ferrari Brut Rosé, Trentodoc, IT, $35: This bubbly is fresh, elegant, and layered, and absolutely delightful as a pre-dinner aperitif or an accompaniment to the main event. It’s got a soft, piglet-ear pink hue, notes of fresh strawberries, rhubarb, red flowers and almond, and the perfect palate-cleansing juiciness.
Foundry Blanc de Blancs, Sonoma Coast, CA, $55: A little splurge on this California Méthode Champenoise method sparkler is well worth it. It’s got everything — fruit, flowers, classic toasty notes, and just a touch of nuttiness (like your Aunt Barb sitting next to you at Thanksgiving dinner).
Rosé Can Stay (Hooray!)
Sure, we all think rosé is the quintessential summer sipper — and it is. But, there is immense diversity in the styles, hues, and flavors of rosé, making it incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings. From pale pink and packed with aromas of watermelon Jolly Ranchers, to magenta-hued and bursting with berry flavors, there is a rosé for everyone and every dish. For Fall foods, skip the light and lean styles and go for something rich and spicy, like a rosé made from malbec, cabernet franc or syrah.
Vena Cava Rosado, Valle de Guadalupe, MX, $18: For something totally different, grab a bottle of this savory rosé made from 100% grenache, with lots of floral notes backed by a pleasant white pepper spice and just a hint of residual sweetness.
Anarchist Wine Co. Rosé Against the Machine, Clarksburg, CA, $24: This juicy “pink powerhouse” is made mostly from Tempranillo with a touch of mourvedre and pinot noir. It’s got dark berry fruits rounded out with notes of orange peel and a bright, fresh finish.
Muscardini Cellars Rosé di Sangiovese, Santo Giordano Vineyards, Sonoma Valley, CA $24: This quaffable rosé is a pale salmon pink with gorgeous perlage, tons of floral aromatics, ripe berry and mandarin fruit, and the perfect lift of acidity.
Doffo Winery Rosario, Temecula Valley, CA $46: This limited-production, pomegranate-colored rosé of malbec is packed with berry, kirsch and watermelon notes, and drinks almost like a soft, light red. Chill it down to play up the acidity, or serve it only slightly cool to amplify the touch of sweetness.
Whites That Hold Up
There are many faces of white wine, but when it comes to pairing with hearty meals, we like a white that can pack a punch. Like, if the white wine literally had a face, it might be sporting a lumberjack beard or a big set of false eyelashes and some crimson lipstick. Not all white wine is made for salads and fish, okay? Some can stand up to red meat, exotic flavors, and rich, stick-to-your-ribs fare. Grab a bottle of something barrel fermented, oak aged, slightly viscous, or aromatic, and you have yourself a perfect partner for any number of cold weather dishes.
Oliver Winery Creekbend III, Indiana Uplands, IN, $22: Wine from… Indiana? Who knew! Impress your friends and family by bringing a bottle of this fun, food-friendly wine to your next fall dinner. They will be wowed by the exotic aromatics like lemongrass, ginger, and jasmine, as well as the chance to sip — probably for the first time — a wine made from offbeat grape varieties Vignoles, Vidal, and Chardonel.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay, Sonoma County, CA, $24: This wine delivers extraordinary quality for the price. It’s got everything — layers of ripe fruit, lemon meringue, savory spice and caramel, a luxurious mouthfeel, and a clean, crisp finish that lingers on and on…and on…
Cannonball ELEVEN Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, CA, $25: If you are used to only drinking zippy, grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this wine will open your eyes to the myriad styles of Savvy B. It’s got loads of tropical fruits like mango, guava and pineapple, lifted by racy acidity, and just a kiss of toasty French Oak.
Vitkin Collector’s Edition Grenache Blanc, Galilee, IS, $39: Not only is this wine hearty and delicious, it’s also kosher for Passover. It opens up with pear and ripe stone fruit giving way to toasted almond and a touch of vanilla thanks to five months in French oak.
Amped Up Reds
There’s red wine and then there’s RED WINE. While we all love to sip red year-round, there are certain reds that instantly make us want to light a fire, thrown on a vintage jazz album, and curl up with a big bowl of something hot and delicious. These are the reds we want to pair with those hearty braised dishes, stewed meats, game, hard cheeses, and 1000-calorie-per-serving casseroles. Choose a wine with some tannin — those things in wine that come from the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape, and give you that mouth-drying, grippy sensation on the palate; or, seek out wines with notes of dried or stewed fruits, savory elements like green olive and pepper, spices like cardamom and clove, or smoky, earthy aromas to balance out the rich and complex flavors of these heavier dishes.
Chateau Malescasse Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois, $22: If you don’t take our word for it, take the word of just about every wine critic, who all agree – this wine is a seriously amazing bang for your buck. A blend of 53% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Petit Verdot, it’s got grippy tannins surrounded by ripe berry notes, dark chocolate, tobacco, and leather, and it’s screaming to be paired with a hearty beef or lamb stew.
Trapiche Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, AR, $25: This wine goes down as easy as that second slice of pecan pie you couldn’t say no to. It’s got great structure with soft, ripe tannins, notes of cooked plums, blackcurrant, and black licorice, and a warm, gently spicy finish.
Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA, $55: This is a richer style California Pinot Noir, but don’t let its lush, silky texture fool you. It’s also incredibly elegant, offering enticing fall fruit notes like cranberry and spiced plum giving way to sweet tobacco and earth.
Viader “Black Label,” Napa Valley, CA, $150: Go ahead. Treat yourself. You deserve it. And we promise this wine will not disappoint. A heady blend of estate-grown Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, it’s got concentrated blue and black fruit, sweet and savory spices like nutmeg, black pepper, and anise, and a masculine saddle leather note that ultimately leads to a velvety finish…when you finally get there, that is — those flavors go on for days.
- Devin Parr
Devin Parr is a San Diego-based freelance writer and consultant specializing in wine, travel, wellness, and lifestyle. In addition to covering the global wine industry, she is the resident expert in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, serving as the region’s ambassador on behalf of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. She holds a certification in wine expertise from the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy, and is currently pursuing her WSET Diploma. In 2017, she was named one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers. Follow her adventures at @thesocalwinegal and www.devinparr.com.