Autumn in a glass
Picking a wine is as much about mood as it is about taste. We might have had a fabulous Indian summer but when it gets dark at 7.30pm, and a chill closes in as soon as the sun goes down, it’s impossible to continue pretending that autumn is not here. I like the seasons for bringing a rattling impetus to make changes, small as well as large. It’s as impossible to ignore as a deadline hurtling towards you at 90mph. What, you’re still doing that? How boring are you? Why are those plans you made in late spring still lying in dust sheets? Come on. Move. Live.
Like I said, small details as well as big plans: there are dahlias on my kitchen table instead of long blue delphinium spurs. There are also different wines in my fridge and stacked in boxes on the floor.
September is the time to discard all those refreshing summer wines that seem as out of place now as a pair of shorts on a shoot. Let go of the steely sauvignon blanc, albariño, sparkling pink and the pale rosé from Provence. They can make a reprise deeper into winter when they’ll gleam, cold and angular, against the frost outside. These golden days, dark evenings and parks full of glistering leaf colours are a moment, the season in pivot. It’s not that I don’t want to drink rosé in it. I do. But I want a rosé with more intent. I want it to be deeper coloured, to evoke rosehips and wild raspberries, have a bit of throaty warmth.
White wines that always taste particularly good to me at this time of the year are chenin blancs from the Loire. These are wines I usually appreciate only in theory. That is, I enjoy the procedure of tasting and assessing Vouvray and Montlouis, and so on, but very rarely have the impulse to open one.
Loire chenin can make very impressive and exciting wines: not always perfectly dry, crunchy with the taste of windfall apples and grittyskinned conference pears; simultaneously savoury and sweet, like wild honey or beeswax; riven through with a kind of golden light like sun shining through russet leaves in an orchard. You see why they seem to suit this particular moment? I tasted a handful this week and was struck by how very much I wanted to drink them, suddenly, loving the combination of succulence and piercing acidity.
Loire chenin is also really good with a fish pie, the more creamy the fish mixture and the more buttery the mash the better. And chuck some prawns and smoky fish in there too. Off-dry Loire chenin is also a perfect match for an old-school autumnal classic, pork cooked in prunes and cream – again, the acidity swipes cleanly through the dairy but the wine has enough weight and sweetness to meet the fruitiness of the prunes. What more of an excuse do you need?
I also look for chardonnay that’s a bit richer. Sometimes this is no more difficult than picking the same vintage of a wine that you loved in spring, pristine and glassy back then, now developing so that it tastes ample and warm. Otherwise it’s the nuttier styles I look for: montagny and meursault perhaps. Or simply a chardonnay that has a light gloss of oak, and which is golden in colour and somehow also to taste. Don’t restrict yourself to France: South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are now making beautiful chardonnay, cushioned and mealy but with a glittering wash of acidity coursing through it.
As for red wines, if you’re lucky enough to have old burgundy or claret at your disposal then now is as good a time as any to open them. It’s not unusual when trying to describe such wines to reach for words and phrases you might find in a Keats ode – good old red does have a mulchy smell reminiscent of turning leaves. In a good way. Also, these wines are good with game: burgundy if the bird isn’t too well hung and strongly flavoured; claret with a casseroled pheasant.
Ageing rioja is another red that matches the season; combining a gentle, mellow roundness with the pleasing scent of decay. Also it’s good with slow roast pork and crackling and a tray of roasted root vegetables, or with casseroled rabbit and parsnip mash. But then so is a white burgundy.
Now I’ve made myself hungry. And thirsty. Autumnal wine recommendations on the right. Hope you like them. email@example.com or visit planetvictoria.co.uk
Keats, fruits and leaves: mellow, misty evenings call for wines with a little more heft and texture