The crispness in the air is an indication that autumn has arrived—and it’s time to leave light summer wines behind. And though fall is generally a red-wine-friendly time of year, I’m really excited about fall whites.
What’s a perfect autumn white wine? Well, body is a big part of it. Complexity is, too. Believe it or not, Chardonnay is a great wine for fall. Good Chardonnay is not a light, mindless wine. It’s a wine that needs to be made. Barrel fermentation (new or old) with the lees or batonnage (the French term for lees stirring) adds flavor, texture, and richness to what is otherwise a fairly neutral wine. And, for me, a French take on the Chardonnay grape—a slightly matured white Burgundy—is especially delicious toward the end of the year. There’s even some good stuff from California, as long as it’s made with enough restraint. Stony Hill is always deliciously old-school, and Patz & Hall makes a portfolio of wonderfully crafted Chardonnays that are good when young and can take a few years of aging.
Another variety I love in fall is Chenin Blanc, the great grape of the French Loire Valley—and it’s usually much cheaper than Chardonnay from Burgundy or California. While it can make light, refreshing, summery wines, its best iterations have more body, either through bottle aging or aging in large wooden casks at the winery. Jacky Blot is one producer to look for, making wonderful Chenin from the appellation called Montlouis; his wines are fluid and complex, with both weight and crispness. I also love the wines of Jo Pithon (where do these Loire guys come by such cool names?), who makes astoundingly great whites in Savenièrres that capture the wonderful strangeness of Chenin with its notes of apricots, peaches, lanolin, and beeswax.
Rieslings from Alsace and Germany are also good autumn whites. People tend to think of Riesling as light, fruity, sweet wine, but from these locales it is a force to be reckoned with, sporting loads of minerality, citrus notes, and an evocation of pears, apples, and peaches. In Austria, there are a ton of great producers to discover, and you’ll find great deals from the 2009 vintage, like this wine from the venerable Schloss Gobelsburg. In Alsace, it’s hard to do better than Trimbach, as far as consistency and quality go.
Not only do these wines match the weather, they also match the foods of the season. They go wonderfully with root vegetables, from roasted carrots with butter to sweet potatoes and butternut squash. They admirably wash down game birds and rabbit. And they can be magic with the mushrooms that will hopefully be filling your markets. Personally, I’m ready to leave rosé, Albariño, and Txakoli in the rearview mirror and dive head-first into these autumn whites.