If you’re like me and hate standing in the wine aisle feeling lost, then this is a clip and save column for you. You’re going to want this one bookmarked on your phone when you head out to shop for fall wines.
It can be tough to know where to start when you’re wine shopping, unless you’ve got a broad range of experience, a photographic memory or a ton of money. I’ve got more experience than most folks — hey, it’s my job to know this stuff! But I have a terrible memory and no money, so I appreciate any list of recommendations that starts like this:
“These are quality wines under $15 that taste expensive as hell,” said my neighbor and one of my go-to wine guys, Alfonse Mele, senior wine consultant at Dep’s Fine Wines in Covington. “They’re all unique. You could pour these in order for a great tasting, or pair them with just about any holiday meal and impress your guests.”
His first recommendation is a sparkler: 2010 Gerard Bertrand Cremant from the Limoux region of France, which sells for just under $12. When you need a bit of bubbly, it sounds just right. Mele jokes that it’s a “good palate cleanser after a long day inhaling pollution,” but I suspect he recommends it more often for its tart, Granny Smith apple and citrus flavors and tiny bubbles.
To serve with appetizers like cheese and charcuterie, Mele suggests a cool weather pinot, the 2010 Cescon Pinot Grigio. You’ll notice it by the piece of root stock tied to its neck. Take it home and plant it and see what happens (nothing will, but you’ll feel virtuous like you did on Earth Day).
From northeast Italy’s Friuli Grave region, this fresh, dry white would also pair well with shrimp.
If you want a versatile white to take to a party, Mele suggests a chardonnay, the 2010 Creme de Lys. Sounds French, but it’s from the Sonoma Valley in California. According to the tasting notes, it’s lightly oaked and buttery and would be good during the obligatory squash course at Thanksgiving. The vineyard also suggests pairing with cheese pizza or grilled salmon with butter sauce.
When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve been disappointed by Beaujolais Nouveau more often than not, so I’m always on the lookout for a wine that really loves turkey. Mele recommends the 2009 Hahn Estates Pinot Noir from Monterey County in California. Flavor? “It’s all strawberries and cinnamon,” he said. “And for $10 a bottle, you can afford to start drinking during the Macy’s parade.” Memory point — there’s a rooster on the label. Rooster, turkey; turkey, rooster.
I am sure that fall is here when my cats start staying in at night, and I suddenly want to drink red wine again. My cocktails on ice give way to a big glass of full flavored red as soon as I pull a sweater on over my T-shirt. For the first chilly backyard Chiminea evening ahead, I want to try this big, bold, inky-dark blend of Cab, Merlot and Petit Syrah from California, the 2010 Carnivor Cabernet. Online reviews call it “spectacular,” and whenever I can get a spectacle for not much more than a 10-spot, I feel like I’ve got a real bargain. Mele reports that the flavors are “chocolaty, with a little black cherry,” which sounds delicious.
I had one more base to cover. I know tailgating is usually all about beer, but why wouldn’t wine be a good choice? Mele agrees, and has some advice.
“The Bota boxes are great for tailgates and camping. No corkscrew, nothing breakable, totally recyclable, and the wine is really drinkable. I think there’s a bumper sticker now that says ‘Real men can drink box wine,’ and I’d broaden that to include real women, too.”
Wine Spectator has rated the Bota Old Vine Zinfandel higher than 85 points in the last two years, and Mele insists that this year’s will be good, too.
“There’s a serious grape glut out there. Good grapes are being used for boxes, not just bottles. You’ll see the quality stay high for a while.”
The Zinfandel is big and jammy, and can stand up to whatever your tailgate fare will be, especially juicy burgers and meaty grilled sausages, a hot thermos full of beef stew, or even grilled marshmallow s’mores.
So cut out this column and stick it with your shopping lists. Don’t let autumn leave you without a good bottle of wine.
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