Allow wine to help bridge gap between summer and winter

These early fall mornings, crisp as biting into a Gala apple, remind me that all is not Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to summer wine, especially the minerally, bright-acid wines from New Zealand’s Marlborough region that pair well with many light summer meals.

But as days grow shorter and the mornings and evenings take a turn to the chilly side, I start turning the other way in my basement to where my red wines are stacked.

Or rolling around on the floor, as is sometimes the case in my helter-skelter storage area.

I also find myself cooking a bit more when summer comes to an end.

Like the praying mantis clinging to my walls, anticipating a last-minute meal or two before winter arrives, I start adding a bit of heft to my meals, which in turn deserve a bigger wine to support the layers of flavors in those meals.

Whether I’m braising some elk or roasting vegetables, waiting for a stew to finish or merely peering into the Crock-pot as I walk past, I often find myself adding a bit of wine to the cooking process.

Not to mention the cook, too.

I’m not quite ready for the heavy richness of California Cabernet Sauvignon or a big-bodied Barolo but rather something to bridge the gap between summer and winter.

Although this could be either red or white, my choices are more numerous in the red zone.

Some tasty fall whites include a spicy Gewurtztraminer or Riesling to go with those smoked brats and pork roasts of Oktoberfest or maybe a lightly oaked Chardonnay.

The mouthwatering acidity and slaty minerality of Washington Rieslings, such as the 2008 Covey Run ($8.99) and the Columbia Winery’s Columbia Valley 2008 Cellarmaster’s Riesling ($12), carry enough heft to balance smoked salmon and the full-flavored cheeses of fall.

Some of my favorite fall whites include Parker Carlson’s 2009 Dry Gewurtztraminer ($12.45) and Plum Creek Cellars’ 2009 Colorado Grown Chardonnay ($15).

But there also are many red wines fit for this time when the days are teetering toward winter.

Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Malbec, Zinfandel, Barbera — the list isn’t endless but there’s plenty of variety to keep things from getting boring.

Colorado’s North Fork Valley continues to produce delightful, elegant Pinot Noirs as well as some interesting red blends, including Alfred Eames Cellars’ 2007 Collage (approx. $20), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon tempered with some Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Although the best American Pinot Noirs are coming from the Northwest, particularly Oregon where the varietal has found near-perfect growing conditions, they also are some of the priciest.

So we look elsewhere, including California’s Central Coast.

The Cupcake Vineyards’ 2008 Central Coast Pinot Noir ($14) and the Robert Mondavi Private Selection California Pinot Noir ($11) are two examples of affordable and delightful fall-style wines.

Although the Cupcake Pinot Noir relies almost totally on Pinot Noir, the Mondavi gets a bit of heft with the addition of Syrah (14 percent) and Petite Syrah (8 percent).

Italy’s Piedmont region largely is known for two grapes, Nebbiolo and Barbera. Nebbiolo is used in some of the world’s richest and darkest wines including Barolo and Barbaresco.

Barbera, however, is Italy’s third-most planted grape and if not overly oaked offers aromas of fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

If you visit almost any of Piedmont’s more-famous Barolo producers, they’ll be showcasing their high-priced Barolos but drinking Barbera.

Some of the lighter versions, particularly those labeled Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti (both DOCs), are ready to drink on release.

Depending on how it’s made, Zinfandel can be awfully heavy. However, two recent samples, the Boho Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel from Underdog Wine Merchants (which also markets the Cupcake brands) and the 2008 Vintners Blend Zinfandel ($10) from Ravenswood Winery, convinced me there’s a place for Zinfandel in the autumn lineup.

The Boho Zinfandel (available in Underdogs’ distinctive Octavin Home Wine Bar artisan series, $23 for a three-liter box) is from the old vines around Oakley, Calif., some of which were planted in the 1890s.

Both wines offer great value and something to sip while eating your way through autumn.


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