Discover the wines of fall
VAIL — As exhilarating as that first dusting of snow was, don’t let it fool you — there are still a few sunny fall days to go before we’re coaxed into full-on winter. And what would help with that coaxing? A perfectly chosen-for-the-season bottle of wine, that’s what.
Fall can be a capricious time, with sun-dappled sunny afternoons that suddenly snap chilly in the shade. For Ben Daroca, sommelier at Larkspur restaurant in Vail, this makes it the perfect season to enjoy rich, white Burgundies.
Dappled light and French white
“These wines have a vibrant, glowing, shimmering viscosity that reflects the beautiful golden light of the fall,” Daroca said. “And their nutty richness pairs perfectly with so many foods that are in season this time of year—root vegetables, squash, turnips, beets.”
He lined up three exquisite 2011 vintage Burgundies on the bar: Meursault Vielle Vignes, Bouches-Cheres Premier Cru and Corton-Charlemange Grand Cru, all produced by Buisson-Charles.
“To taste the difference in these wines can be life-changing,” Daroca said. “Fall is a reflective time, and these have a pure expression of a sense of place and meaning. And it’s not just about what they can do for your palate, it’s what they can do for your soul. You can actually see the soul of these wines through the light.”
Meredith Hughes, a Larkspur bartender and wine distributer in the valley who also loves the Buisson-Charles Burgundies, chimed in with another favorite.
“I really like the Joseph Druhin Burgundies,” she said. “He sources grapes from all over the wonderful growing region, and his wines embody the spirit of all its corners.”
Warming Reds, Oaky Whites
On a recent rainy, cold Friday, fall evoked a different sensibility altogether.
“Going into colder temperatures like these, people gravitate to heavier reds, like cabernets and zinfandels,” said Patrick Linn, manager and sommelier at Beaver Liquors in Avon. “Or, more heavily oaked chardonnays. One of my favorites is the Matchbook from Duncan Hills, Wash. It’s a great value, and it has a nice oak structure, but isn’t overly done. There’s a good balance between citrus and fruit, and a smooth, soft finish. And as for reds, I like the Chateau Gloria St. Julien, a French Bordeaux. It’s a very good drinking wine — medium bodied, but great flavor with strong fruit — and it’s perfect for the heartier foods we like in the fall.”
Like Daroca, Rob Farrer, sommelier and dining room manager at Grouse Mountain Grill, leans toward the drier, leaner white wines of France for the season.
“We’re coming off the decks, there are more smells in the air, fires in fireplaces,” he said. “These triggers remind me of the Yves Cuilleron whites of southern France — marsanne, rousanne and viognier. These are wines that are big in that area, but too often overlooked here. Marsanne and rousanne both have a nutty, soft, warming spice. But viognier is a special, delicate grape that, unless it’s handled well, is most often not quite right. Cuilleron’s Viognier has the ultimate expression of Condrieu, a village in northern Rhone. Its unique charm reminds me of exotic white flowers — a mysterious quality you have to think about and pay attention to when you’re tasting. I really like introducing people to these wines, especially this time of year.”
A Rose By Any Other Name
At Eat!Drink! in Edwards, owner Pollyanna Forster loves to recommend rose in the fall.
“I think it’s perfect for this time of year, when people are starting to go for earthier and richer flavors, but still want to hang on to that last little bit of fun from summer,” Forster said. “For the past six years, we’ve offered our own Muse rose. We have made it in Spain with blended finished granache and viura wines to achieve a rose that’s so complex and structured, in blind tastings, people often think it’s red. But when it’s served slightly chilled, it goes very well with everything from braised meats and turkey to ham, lamb shanks and short ribs.”
The Influence of Oak
Author and wine expert Karen MacNeil has likened the influence of oak on wine to that of sauce on vegetables. Too heavy, and the flavors of the vegetables are lost; all you taste is sauce. Just right, and the sauce enhances the vegetables’ distinctive flavors.
What is the perfect balance of oak to grapes? Larkspur’s Daroca says it’s subjective.
“We speak of weight and texture with oak in wines. But the winemakers know their grapes. Oak is one tool they choose to express their will, make their statement and achieve the vision they have for their wine. I invite everyone to come in, exercise their palate and enjoy their own discovery.”
So what’s the best wine to enjoy in the fall? Even experts have differing opinions, but all would agree that the best way to find your favorite is to experiment and pay attention to your senses. Eventually, you’ll come across one that not only speaks to what you love about the season, but what resonates with both your palate and your soul.
Madeleine Berenson is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (www.larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999.