I don’t believe in the “no white after Labor Day rule,” but I do (loosely) subscribe to the no rosé after Labor Day rule. In summer I drink a few whites and lots of rosés. Every once in a while, I’ll get crazy and drink a chilled red, maybe a Lambrusco, during warmer weather. But for the most part, I think reds should be reserved for winter, when I love a robust Malbec or full-bodied Syrah.
All this to say, in fall, when the leaves are turning colors and the temperatures are cooling, I find myself at a loss on which bottle to open. I need what I’d call “transitional wines” to get me through the season, so I turned to a few experts to see if I was alone in this quest.
Victoria James, beverage director of Cote Korean Steakhouse in NYC, agrees that autumnal feelings require a special kind of wine: “In between the warm summer months and cold winter months, one needs a wine that can transition your palate effortlessly,” she says.
So once she confirmed that I wasn’t crazy, I wanted to know why I gravitate toward certain wines in certain seasons. I asked Mary Ewing-Mulligan, the first American woman to become a Master of Wine and the president of the International Wine Center, about it. She says that the temperature itself has much to do with what we favor seasonally: “Lighter wines have a high refreshment factor that serves us well when the weather is hot and humid. They can take a good chill without sacrificing too much of their taste. The same is true for many rosés.”
Claire Paparazzo, the sommelier of Dirty French in New York City, says it makes sense that we crave “lighter” wines during warmer weather. “In the summer, people want to feel less full,” she explains. “Reds for instance with heavier skins have more tannin and aren’t as easy to drink as a rosé or a light red … with a chill on it.”
As for why we want “heavier” wines in the winter, well, Mary says that since we crave warmth during that time, we also crave “wines that are fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol because they are inherently more warming.”
So that leaves us in the fall months searching like Goldilocks for something with just the right balance. But Mary says finding a transitional wine is as easy as drawing upon what you enjoy in the previous season. “If you favor white wines and were drinking crisp, fairly light white wines during the summer—such as Muscadet, dry Riesling or Assyrtiko—a full-bodied Chardonnay could become appealing in cooler weather,” she recommends. “Rosé drinkers might turn to fairly low-tannin reds such as Pinot Noir. Chardonnay drinkers might find a red wine such as Merlot or Cotes du Rhone more appropriate to the season.”
To help us find that perfect fall wine, Mary suggests a few vinos to try, followed by specific bottle recommendations, from others:
Cabernet Franc wines, including Chinon from France’s Loire Valley, tend to be a bit lighter than many Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Chianti and Chianti Classico wines are likewise less intense than Brunello di Montalcino.
Alsace Pinot Gris is a big step up in richness from the Pinot Grigio you might drink in the summer.
The better Pinot Noir wines from California offer the fruitiness of summer wines in a serious, substantial style.
Chardonnay is enjoyable when it is chilled only slightly, and therefore can be suitable as a transitional wine.
J.L. Chave Selection St Joseph Blanc "Circa" 2016
Claire from Dirty French says her go-to transitional fall wine is a Rhone white. “They are richer and tend to pair better with fuller-flavored foods,” she says, and she recommends the Jean-Louis Chave Selection St. Joseph Blanc “Circa” 2016. “This wine is fabulous with chicken and Dijon creme fraiche sauce.”
“In between summer rosé and beefy winter reds, the light and crunchy gamay wines from the northern crus of Beaujolais are perfect,” says Victoria from Cote. “With a slight chill on them, they are the perfect segue to richer wines. The best part? They won’t break the bank! Serious and quaffable options are available around $20 plus!”
Her colleague at Cote, sommelier Amanda Geller recommends the 2017 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie cru Beaujolais. “I can’t think of a better fall wine than Beaujolais,” Amanda says. “But not the nouveau stuff that uncles bring in bulk to Thanksgiving. Cru Beaujolais is fresh and light in body but doesn’t skimp on complexity—and it’s just delicious.”
“White wines that have undergone partial skin contact fermentation are the perfect summer-to-fall transition wines,” says Rosie-Jean Adams, general manager and sommelier at Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans. “These wines still have the bright acidity of white wines but also contain the tannins and vegetal qualities of some reds. A perfect example is an “orange” wine from DaTerra Viticultores, Gavela da Vila, made from 100 percent Palomino grapes. Peach in color, this wine exhibits notes of candied ginger and mandarin on the nose. The palate shows baked apple, golden raisin and a hint of smoky olive at the end. This wine is noticeably tannic for a white but is far from astringent. It has a very pleasant, medium-bodied mouthfeel. With its combination of vibrant fruit and savory spice aromas, the Gavela da Vila provides a real sense of nostalgia for me. With one foot in the refreshing cuisine of summer fruit salads and the other in a rustic pumpkin pie crust, this wine seems to be the sensual embodiment of seasonal change.”
“Summertime heat begs for light bodied wines like rosé, but as the weather begins to shift, I like to look for wines that match the seasons,” says Mike Brewer, chef and sommelier of Copper Vine in New Orleans. “California and Oregon Chardonnays and Pinots are great wines to ease into fall. The buttery mouthfeel of a Chardonnay pairs perfectly with richer fall dishes like roasted chicken or gumbo.” He recommends the Trefethen Estate Chardonnay, which comes from the Napa Valley and was once named the “Best Chardonnay in the World.”
Mike from Copper Vine recommends another U.S. based wine: Anne Amie Vineyards Two Estates Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. “A light-bodied red wine with high red fruit flavors and a subtle earthiness like a Pinot, is perfect for when the weather is still humid but you’re ready and gearing up for the holidays,” he explains.
And for those who have a hard time giving up rosé: There’s always … rosé. “Our 2017 Pinot Noir Rose is big and bold enough to stand up to the savory flavors of fall yet crisp and clean to match the changing weather,” says Ellen Sorenson, Harry & David’s in-house sommelier. “With fruity flavors and aromatics that include strawberry and melon, this luscious wine is a must-have for Thanksgiving and the entire fall season.” And it is a silver medal winner at the Oregon Wine Competition, to boot.