As we head into fall and the temperatures drop, my choices for go-to wines always follow suit. While there aren’t specific “fall” wines, of course, I tend to prefer the heavier whites and lighter reds during this time. For reds, Syrah- and Grenache-based wines, Carignan, and Valpolicella Italian reds strike me as fitting. These reds are mostly light- to medium-bodied and have a range of flavors that should pair well with seasonal autumn food. Similarly, with whites, I’d suggest Viognier, Sancerre or Torrentes. While I also love heavier, oaked Chardonnay and many Pinot Noirs, those have become the norm and I thought it would be more fun to get familiarized with some new wine grapes. Get your glasses ready!
Viognier is a full-bodied white wine that originated in southern France. It’s known and loved for its aromas of peach, tangerine and honeysuckle, but as well, Viognier can be oak-aged to a creamy taste with hints of vanilla and spices of nutmeg and clove. Depending on the producer and how it’s made, it will range in intensity from light and spritzy with a touch of bitterness to rich and creamy. If you love a bolder white wine like Chardonnay, you’ll like the weight of Viognier, and this is definitely something to try as a fresh alternative. It’s often a little softer on acidity, a little oilier on the tongue, a bit lighter overall and has those beautiful aromas.
Viognier is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in regions of North and South America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Wine to Try:
Darioush Viognier 2015
Sémillon is also loved for its full body, like Chardonnay, but with flavors typically closer to Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. The primary fruit flavors in Sémillon are lemon, apple, pear and green papaya. There’s something sort of waxy about the taste of Sémillon, often described as lanolin. Depending on where Sémillon is grown it can range from being a zesty, palate-cleansing wine like Sauvignon Blanc to a richer, creamier, lemon-flavored wine closer to Chardonnay. It’s an important blending wine – most notably found blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle in White Bordeaux blends. As well, the dessert wine Satuernes is made mostly with Sémillon. This grape is found mostly in France, native to Bordeaux, and Australia. Sémillon wines are usually a great price for their quality.
Wine to Try:
Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Sémillon 2016
Torrontés is an aromatic white wine that originated in Argentina. It has sweet and memorable floral aromas of rose petals and flavors of white peach, apricot, and lemon zest. But, while the wine smells sweet, it is usually made in a dry style. This makes it a very interesting wine to enjoy because its salty lean taste is in opposition to its aromas. If you are a fan of Albariño or dry styles of Riesling, those wines are similar in aroma and taste to Torrontés, so this may be something to try. Torrontés is native to Argentina and still mostly found there, as well as in Chile.
Wine to Try:
Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes 2016
Carignan is a red grape variety of Spanish origin that is more commonly found in French wine but is widely planted around the globe. Carignan makes a medium-bodied red wine as well as serves as a major blending grape. Besides France, Carignan is found in Northern Spain where it’s commonly called Cariñena or Mazuelo and it also grows in Sardinia where it’s labeled as Carignano del Sulcis. For the longest time, Carignan was considered a low-quality wine grape, however many producers are reinvigorating old vineyards and making tremendously rich, delicious, red fruit-driven wines.
If you love the lighter-styled wines of Zinfandel, Merlot or a Côtes du Rhône blend, then Carignan should be on your radar. These wines are fruit-forward, rich and smooth with much lighter tannins than Cabernet. The lack of tannins makes Carignan great with food!
Wine to Try:
Lioco Sativa Carignan 2015
Grenache is a red-wine grape grown extensively in France, Spain, Australia and the US. It is particularly versatile both in the vineyard and the winery, which may explain why it is one of the most widely distributed grapes in the world. Grenache is the French name for the grape, but it has a number of synonyms. In Spain, where it is one of the country’s flagship varieties, especially in Priorat, it is known as Garnacha, and on the island of Sardinia it has been known for centuries as Cannonau. It has unique flavors of candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon, is medium-bodied, and high in alcohol, but has a deceptively lighter color and is semi-translucent. Depending on where it’s grown, Grenache often has light aromas of orange rinds and ruby-red grapefruit. When Grenache is grown in Old World regions such as Côtes du Rhône and Sardinia, it can have herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco.
In France, Grenache is most widely planted in the southern Rhone Valley and throughout both Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. It is most commonly found alongside Syrah and Mourvedre in the classic Southern Rhone Blends (more on those below), and is the main grape variety in Chateauneuf du Pape.
Wine to Try:
Domaine Lafage Cuvee Nicolas 2015
Some of the best wines in the world are blends of several grape varieties and that is the case with GSM or “Rhône blend” wines. The GSM red blend is made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre and it’s a classic from the Côtes du Rhône region. There are 19 different grapes used in Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf du Pape wines. But, of the 19 varieties, there are really just 3 varieties that define the style. When you taste Côtes du Rhône you’re tasting all three grapes together — red fruit flavors come from Grenache and dark fruit from Syrah and Mourvèdre. France isn’t the only place making GSM ‘Rhône blend’ wines… you can find them in California (particularly Paso Robles), South Australia and even Spain.
Wine to Try:
Gramercy Cellars The Third Man GSM 2014
There are 5 levels of Valpolicella wine, which comes from the Valpolicella region in Veneto, Italy, including styles like Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone. Valpolicella Ripasso is a great transition for Napa Cabernet lovers who want to explore Italian wine. This wine is Medium to full body and rich, soft, and complex yet accessible.
Valpolicella is typically made from three grape varieties: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. Most basic Valpolicellas are light, fragrant table wines produced in a novello style, released only a few weeks after harvest. Valpolicella Classico is made from grapes grown in the original Valpolicella production zone. Valpolicella Superiore is aged at least one year and has an alcohol content of at least 12 percent. Valpolicella Ripasso is a form of Valpolicella Superiore (aged 1 year and with high alcohol) made with partially dried grape skins that have been left over from fermentation of Amarone or recioto, mixed with fresh Valpolicella Classico.
Let me know if you try anything you like in here, and cheers!