A Wine for the Start of Autumn
As the dog days of August finish and cool Autumn storms move in, thoughts turn to red wine.
Well, that and my regular dinner companion doesn’t enjoy white wine as much as I. And since falling temperatures mean heavier dishes, soon I won’t be able to point out that white wines go better with the night’s dinner…
Yet, tonight it’s still hot, and the storm that lurks on the horizon right now simply broods, unable to decide if it will unleash or merely sulk, we choose to stick with summer weight dinner of a terrine de Campagne (homemade thyme and Madeira seasoned pork and veal meatloaf) with cornichons and Dijon mustard, a crudités dressed only with first press olive oil and sea salt, and a light potato salad with aioli. All chilled and perfect for the heat.
A white would work but knowing that good conversation trumps even the best match between wine and food, I head to the store looking for a red to go with dinner tonight.
Beaujolais presents itself. But, somehow, doesn’t grab me. What if the storm does break, and the temperature fall—sipping even a Moulin-à-Vent wouldn’t comfort.
No, we need wine from a grape that has a broader range of styles to match this Protean time.
I like the chances of Cabernet Franc—the other Cabernet.
It has two archetypal styles, one from Loire, the other Bordeaux; one light enough to be chilled, and one big and rich enough for roast meats. Or to act as a warm blanket for us on a cool night, huddled against a thunderstorm.
So, I get two wines, a Chinon and a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. The Chinon goes on ice, the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru on the table. We peek outside to see if the weather has decided what it wants to be tonight.
Sullen, the storm wavers. The heat persists.
Chinon it is.
A favorite from the Loire Valley, this light red chills beautifully. With only mild tannins, it won’t turn bitter in an ice bucket. After few twists of the bottle in the ice bath, we are on the terrace, sipping this fruity, refreshing wine, supping on light fare, looking down 25th street, through the valley of buildings, at the thunderhead, lighting up in dusk reds, yellows, and oranges. A lovely backdrop for dinner.
Still, I’m hoping for a cloud burst after dinner—that Saint-Emilion Grand Cru looks so lonely unopened. And, when I’m sharing such good company, I hate to see anything alone. I want everything to join in the fun.
Five wines under $20 †
Inexpensive wines make up the bulk of most people’s wine drinking. But affordable doesn’t have to mean boring. Bonus—not only are these wines guilt-free for the budget, but they match everyday fare better than more expensive wines. Here for Cabernet Franc the other Cabernet.
†(Prices are what I paid retail in Manhattan, circa 2003. Current, local prices may vary.)
These five wines represent the two major styles for Cabernet Franc: Loire and Bordeaux. In the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc makes a lighter, 100% varietal style, with solid acids, and bright berry flavors, and a dose of minerals or earth. In Bordeaux—Saint Emilion, Fronsac, and Blaye especially—the grape makes up part of the blend, balancing the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, and add an extra dimension of flavor to Merlot. Even if vinified as the major component of wine, as at Chateau Cheval Blanc, it has a more luxurious, riper style, tending towards full-bodied. Most Cabernet Franc from outside Europe tends towards this riper, lusher Bordeaux style. Of course, all are under $20, so you can enjoy experimenting to find the style that best fits the evening.
Note: after spending a week trying to find a Cabernet Franc from the West Coast or the Southern Hemisphere, I was only able to find a few from California at over $20. Seems that the bottles of good Cab Franc I’ve heard said about are chimeras. Or are about as hard to find as a unicorn. So, I went with two from the Loire as those are the most common pure Cab Franc wine available.
Domaine Du Colombier
Cuveé Vieilles Vignes
Baron Francois Importer
Lovely wine I stumbled on a few years ago on my way to a thanksgiving dinner. It was a hit.
Light Cranberry, with bright orange-red highlights. It comes on with a rich nose, of dark cherry tart, and brambly berries. Quiet, but appealing. Light on the attack, opening with reticent berry fruit, then spreading out into smooth, fine tannins. Long, fruit touched, appealing finish, with lightly gripping tannins and balanced acids. Came alive with soft-ripened cheese and fresh figs. Was great with turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings.
An enjoyable, easy wine. Good for sipping, better with food.
Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Chateau and Estate Importers
Big, appealing wine. Garnet, with brick edges. Medium to high viscosity.
The nose came on rich, as dusty cherry-berry tart. Full, but not overpowering.
The attack opens richly, with cooked dark fruit, bacon, grilled meats notes. Medium body, with very fine tannins, and balanced acids. Great meat and tannin finish that lingers nicely. Just slightly bitter.
Great to sip alone, spectacular with grilled rib-eye. Just a very appealing wine—good for food or going solo.
North Fork of Long Island
This is in the Bordeaux style. A personal favorite from Long Island.
Garnet, with brick edges, showing some age. Medium viscosity. It opens with a rich spice nose, with a touch of cooked meat, and ripe dark fruit. Pleasing without being fruity.
This Medium-bodied Cabernet Franc coasts the mouth and provides dark fruit flavors. Mid-palate, solid acids make their mark as the flavors move into wild, brambly berries. Nice acidity. Superfine, well-integrated tannins move into the long, pleasing finish that shows a touch of wood.
Lovely wine. As an aperitif or with food. Think paté. Or a creamy pesto sauce. Was lovely with both.
Ruggero Dell’adam de Tarczal
A Northern Italian Cabernet Franc. Garnet colored, with brick at the edges, and medium viscosity. (Browning at the edges of Italian reds doesn’t necessarily mean it’s close to being over the hill as it might suggest in French wine.) The bouquet jumps out, full of bread, cherry tart, with hints of woods and earth, finishing with smoke and charr notes. The palate works over smoke, smoked meats, red fruit, earthy funk, and after a few minutes in the glass, solid bell pepper notes. Superfine tannins, solid acids. In the lighter Loire style. A long, fruity finish with those superfine tannins, and some funky smoked meat notes.
Nice, interesting wine, good solo or with food (aged Italian cheese, especially). Excellent nose, even more, complexity on the tongue.
Domaine De Nerleux
Clos des Chatains
Robert Chadderdon Selections
Ruby colored, but showing decided age with brick around the edges. Might only keep its fruit for another couple of years. On the nose, robust red and blackberries, and berry tart, with a touch of earth, and floral notes. Intriguing and pleasing.
The attack opens with fruit, which shifts swiftly to acids, then coats the mouth with superfine tannins. Medium-bodied. The fruit stays reserved until the finish when it opens into some berries and moderately lingering superfine tannins. Nice wine. Excellent with aged cheese and dried sausage. Good alone, better with food. But, drink up soon.
New wines Tasted Fresh for Your Perusal
Lini “Labrusca” Lambrusco A fair Lambrusco, fun, without being special. Deep plum with a creamy, light purple head. Sticks all around, leaving a few slow legs in its wake. Reserve nose—doesn’t give much much at all, a whiff of berries. Bright on the tongue, prickly, some creamy fruit notes. Easy enough going down for an aperitif: 3 of 5 🍷🇮🇹 Picked this one up locally at McGoverns Wines in Bay Ridge. For pairing, think pork, especially cured, or even sausages. Hard aged chesses, especially sheep’s milk. Not bad all on it’s own as the sun sinks past the horizon. Even chilled for a warm summer’s eve. A bit under $15.00.
Kentia Rías Baixas Albarinao—Pale daisy color, with a good number of late forming legs. Minerally, even a touch of petrol in the nose, with white peach hiding in the back. Zippy acids in the attack, very minerally, a bit unctuous, mouth-coating, with delicate fruitiness. Modestly long finish of minerals, and acidity, which takes over in the end. Good w/o being spectacular, some intriguing elements: 3 of 5 🍷🇪🇸 Picked this one up locally at McGoverns Wines in Bay Ridge. Summer weight fair—crudites, composed salads, simple chicken and pork. It’s hot out. That kinda food. It’s gigger than a Vinho Verde, but still drinks very easily.
Ribera del Duero Deep plum color, with fat, slow legs, viscous. Tight nose–it wants to come on Rich and full, but it’s hardship to pick up much more than a hot, alcohol sensation (14.5% abv). Big wine, mouth coating, with fine tannins that balance it off. Not a tremendous amount of fruit, one must hunt for it. Long finish. I love Ribera del Duero wines: possibly my favorite Spanish red, but the lack of front end, really any fruit at all takes away from this. 2.5 of 5 🍷🇪🇸. Think red meat. In Spain, it’s lamb and game meat. Here, beef will do well. Carful here. Some of these are huge, stunning wines you want the meal to take second seat to. But this one, you don’t want people thinking about the much, but the centerpice of your table. From McGoverns Wines in Bay Ridge: ~$14.00.
Napa Valley Chardonnay I’m a sucker for big Cali Chards, and this does not disappoint: Light parchment with many long, quite slow legs around the glass, somewhat viscous. Rich, bright, creamy a with a touch of vanilla and banana, almost lemon custard at the end—YUMMY attack. Fully bodied, cream, firm acidity, custardy finish, with mouth-coating richness, vanilla/lemon drops. Very long finish of lemon custard, lingering with zippy acids: 4.5/5 🍷🇺🇸. For this wine, you’ll want to lean rich, creamy, mild, and buttery, with meaty fish or shellfish. Some subtly flavored or simply seasoned poultry and pork dishes wouldn’t be wrong. For chesses, think bold, big flavor to keep up with it. This was a bring from a guest. This one is out of range from most of the typical wines here, a splurge at $35-50 depending on where you find it.
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Perhaps my memory serves me wrong, but I remember J Vineyards Pinot Noirs as being more extracted, a bigger style wine. Anyway, this shows bing cherry with a clear meniscus and the merest touch of deep caramel at the edges — faint cherry notes with a touch of earthiness. The nose does not give up much, and what was there blows off quickly with only brief contact with air, as if it all blows off. It’s medium body, with caramel and faint tannins. Solid acidity. Some berry fruit/fruit leather later. Nothing special: 3/5🍷🇺🇸. Scratching my head about this as I remember big, but memory is frail. Think of pouring this with quail, duck, roast pork, especially dishes with fruit. This one seems to have snuck into our house. No idea of it’s pedegree. This one is, again, out of range from most of the typical wines here, a splurge at $35-50 depending on where you find it. I kinda think it was a guest bring as well.
Solid Monterey County Pinot Noir: Clear Garnet, with a touch of brick on the meniscus. A few long, slow legs. Rich, full nose with a bit of barnyard (a fave), dark fruit, and roast red-meat (umami) notes. Slightly hot. Opens with Dark fruit/blackberries, moving to an umami-earthly mid-palate with some acid and very fin, gripping tannins that show up strongest in the VERY long finish. Somewhat showy—a lot going on even with only a medium body. The umami notes linger: 5/5 🍷🇺🇸. This is a serious Pinot, more Bordeaux (Burgundian if you wish). Think rack of lamb, a roast with herbs, liver, sweetbreads, or mushrooms for a wine like this. It wants big flavors—earthy and meaty. From the Tasting Room club: ~$14.00.
Argentine Torrontes: Slick, bright white, a house favorite. Pale wheat, nearly clear in color, w/several very slow legs. Fairly viscous. Has a round nose, with spice and deep tasty char notes—some clean white fruit notes late. Firm acidity strikes first, followed by mouth coating richness. The toasty-char notes come on quickly and last long into the finish—including some fine wood tannins—which includes flan with, perhaps, mango: 4 of 5 🍷🇦🇷. This is a house favorite. This goes well with Asian spices, including coconut and peanut curries and that flaor range. White meats, tofu, herbs, exotic spcies, and a wide range of vegtables. Got this at a wine shop in Manhattan for under $13.00. Worth the trip.
Frederick Wildman and Sons, Importer
Ribera del Duero Rather a bit less than expected from the glass and bouquet: Deep argent, but clears meniscus, with slow thick legs and fairly viscous. Earthy notes and slightly hot, with dark berries & warm spice—attractive if not deep. Yet, it comes on light in the attack, with find tannins and some berry fruit, and only medium body, which felt odd. Bitter in the back end, with a long finish, and gripping tannins that linger. Better with food than alone: 3 of 5🍷🇪🇸. Think red meat. In Spain, it’s lamb and game meat. Here, beef will do well. From a random wine store we happened to be passing in Brooklyn. Under $14.00.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Slow starting, but ultimately satisfying red. Medium garnet/plum in the glass with long legs all around the glass. The attractive nose show off sour cherry with a touch of earthy. The attack is all acid, very zippy, light-bodied, with some fruity notes over fine tannins—almost like sweet-tarts; long finish of fine-grain tannins, acidity, and light fruit notes. It ends up as a pleasing cherry-currant sweet-tart: 3 of 5🍷🇮🇹. Pair this with rich, meaty dishes, like roast pork, burger, lamb, even goat, or winter vegtables with something fatty added like cheese. Especially hard, aged cheeses. Very flexible wine for cutting through fat and strong flavors. From the Tasting Room wine Club, so ~$14.00.