The best of 2011 autumnal wines

Posted on In Focus Sep 2011 - by Tandoori Editor
The best of 2011 autumnal wines

Wines have a wonderful tendency to be seasonal so with autumn upon us, what wines should restaurants be looking at? Chris O’Leary finds out.

For a country notorious for its poor weather, one of the perks of living in the UK is autumn. The transition from summer into autumn is usually marked by an appealing breeze, one that urges us to go out and enjoy the beautiful weather, albeit while wearing a jumper or a light jacket. It is also a time to stimulate the senses, as the green foliage develops into a range of beautiful red, orange and yellow hues that turn even the blandest outdoor scenery into fine art.
 
But autumn is also a season for curling up by a fireplace – ideally at home and enjoying hearty food and drink. It is a distinctly festive time, one that restaurants would do well to channel to attract the custom of those who love the abundant pleasures of autumnal flavours and aromas. 
 
The obvious way to do this is through food; the less obvious being wine, particularly for Indian restaurants. But for those bold enough to delve into the world of wine, there are countless varieties that present drinkers with a range of colours and flavours that pair beautifully with the ways in which autumn interacts with all our senses. An autumn wine list is also a fantastic excuse for chefs to create a few seasonal dishes for some sublime pairings!
 
In reality, each and every wine region of the world – from Chile to Italy – produces wines suited to autumn drinking. For the sake of this article, I have compiled four regions that get me particularly excited for the fall season. Best of all, the wines I mention will typically cost no more than £8, which means that you can pass on savings to your customers while still making a healthy profit!
 
Nashik, India
I must admit that I find myself second-guessing my inclusion of wines from Nashik, India given the reality that more often than not my previous experiences with them have been less than satisfactory. It would be rather foolish, however, to dismiss this as a wine region as recent tastings have made me reconsider Nashik as a newly emerging member on the pantheon of quality new world wine-making countries. The vineyards to look out for are Chateau Indage, Grover Vineyards and – my favourite – Sula Vineyards.
 
These quality wines from Nashik show strong characteristics of individual varietals – from Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel. What makes them unique is a certain smokiness – no doubt a result of the region’s terroir – that is unmistakable. This is an aroma that may at first seem unappealing, but one that will begin to go down very, very nicely by the second or third sip. 
 
Kerry Damskey – Sula Vineyards’ Chief Wine Maker – sees his wines coming to life in an autumn setting, by a campfire sipping his light and aromatic Shiraz with lovely grilled meats, followed by smoked marshmallows washed down with his Chenin Blanc. “Both our Shiraz and the Dindori Shiraz are perfect autumn wines as they have hints of smoky aromas and flavours that can be paired very well with popular autumn food,” says Damskey.
 
“The Dindori Shiraz,” continues Damskey, “goes well also with mildly spicy lamb and also pairs delightfully with dark chocolate. The Shiraz is also peppery and will go well with the warm peppery foods of autumn. The wines have a bright deep colour that is very similar to the dark colours of the grapevine in autumn. You could also serve our Chenin Blanc with bright pumpkin dishes of the season where the sweetness and acid cut through the sweetness of the food.”
 
Damskey urges chefs to pair his wine with their dishes, but with just one qualification: “A very spicy curry will not work with any wine!” 
 
Mendocino, California
Mendocino County ranks among the best-kept secrets in California for British drinkers, as most are probably still working their way through its more famous siblings Napa and Sonoma Valley. Mendocino, however, produces some first-rate wine, particularly Petite Sirah, a varietal that pairs beautifully with Indian cuisine with notes of berries, chocolate and spice when made well.
 
Parducci Cellars – recently named America’s Greenest Winery – makes a particularly delicious version of this varietal and a selection of other wines that make for outstanding autumn drinking.
“Autumn brings the bounty of local foods,” says Parducci winemaker Mark Beaman. “The temperate weather usually drives people to cooking and dining outside and hopefully hosting friends and family for meals.  Our wines are meant to be enjoyed with food and the climate in autumn lends itself to leisurely meals.”
 
Beaman is particularly passionate about drinking his wines in autumn, not least because he served Parducci’s range at his wedding reception last November. He recalls: “We had a beautiful afternoon wedding and served a braised beef paired with our True Grit Petite Sirah. As the evening became more chilly and we moved on to a heavy dark chocolate cake the wine was a perfect complement to the season, the food and the intense moments we shared.”
 
Beaman suggests that wine pairing rules like white wine with fish and red with lamb can be broken with Indian cuisine: “Don’t be afraid to drink the right white wines with heavily spiced meats like lamb curry or korma!”
 
Marlborough, New Zealand
In the realms of New World wine, Marlborough is the king of Sauvignon Blanc, producing a crisp version of the varietal tasting of zesty grass, green capsicum and tropical fruit.
 
Saint Clair is a local vineyard with an excellent presence in the UK that recently caught my attention through its mouthwatering rendition of Sauvignon Blanc. While this is probably its best in the Saint Clair portfolio, the rest of their range including Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir are all worthy wines.
 
Senior Winemaker Matt Thompson says, “I think New Zealand’s cool climate wines are among the best to pair with Indian food. By virtue of the cool climate they are moderate alcohol, higher acidity than most, and because of the resulting longer ripening times they are intensely flavoured.” Thompson notes, “I think particularly the likes of our Rieslings, Sauvi-gnon Blancs, and of our red wines our Pinot Noirs are the best matches.”
 
Some of Thompson’s favourite autumn wine combinations are earthy mushrooms with his Pinot Noir and apples with Riesling. While one struggles to think of a traditional dish that incorporates these ingredients, it would be foolish to bet against Indian chefs – who are among the UK’s most inventive – to make the perfect autumn curry to pair exceptionally with Marlborough’s renowned wines.
 
Western Cape, South Africa
Lastly, I have chosen a vineyard called Boer & Brit, a wine that shakes things up a bit both in terms of its unique blended wines and flamboyant packaging. 
 
What I like about Boer & Brit is that their wines are a bit irreverent, yet delicious, with ‘Field Marshall’ – an audacious blend of Tinta Amarela, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache and Carignan – and ‘The General’, which is a Claret without Cabernet!
 
According to winemaker Alex Milner, “The rustic reds are perfect for autumn drinking, as a drop in temperature always favours red wines and also the comfort food folks eat as the winter sets in. The Suikerbossie White (Chenin Blanc) makes perfect autumnal drinking with its fresh citrus and peach aromas and flavours, and its mineral spicy finish.”
 
Milner tips his Gezina – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – for being a natural with Indian cuisine, particularly spicy southern Indian fish curries. According to my palate, all will do wonderfully with Indian, though I agree with Milner in that it would be wise to avoid super spicy dishes with the Boer & Brit range.
 
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the wines that will make for fantastic drinking this autumn. Ultimately wine preference is up to individual tastes – though what will be universally appreciated is the restaurant that goes out of its way to offer customers seasonality for both food and drink.
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