Story by Dave Eckert
I absolutely adore this time of year. The days are still warm, even hot on occasion, but the evenings most often bring cooler temperatures, lower humidity, and a nice gentle breeze. It’s the best time of year, in my opinion, to sit outside with your loved one, some good friends, or the family pet and enjoy a glass or two of wine. I call it the best of both worlds, which is exactly the kind of wine recommendations I’ve put together. Call them transition wines, if you like. They are wines that can bridge the gap between the dog days of summer and the cool, crisp days of fall. I’ve separated my wine picks into categories for your reading, shopping, and sipping pleasure. Here’s hoping there’s a pick or two to please your palate.
To me, sparkling wine is a wine for all seasons, all times of day and night, and all types of cuisine. Here are a few of light, bright, inexpensive sparklers to welcome in autumn.
Bread & Butter Prosecco, Italy ($16 SRP): A brand you can find almost anywhere, but a new bottling for me, the Bread & Butter Prosecco is everything you want a sparkling wine to be light and bright but loaded with notes of tree fruits accompanied by a creamy, long, and elegant finish. Try this pleasing Prosecco with creamy cheeses or a nice, grilled salmon.
Brilla Prosecco DOC Rose, Italy ($15 SRP): I’m not sure what’s prettier about this wine-the elegant “jewel bottle,” the lovely pink hue, or the delicate, fruity notes on the nose and the palate. All of that, along with the $15 price tag make the Brilla Prosecco Rose an absolute delight. Try with shellfish or sip it on its own. You will not be disappointed.
Sunday Funday Sparkling Rose, California ($11.99 SRP): Okay, the name’s a little cheesy, but the wine is the real deal. With lovely aromas of ripe red fruits such as wild strawberries and raspberries, with a slight hint of sweetness on the palate, the Sunday Funday Sparkling Rose is perfect for dishes with a little spice or smoke. Pair this with some Kansas City barbecue. You will thank me later!
Cantine Ermes Grillo Vento de Mari, Sicily, Italy ($10.99 SRP): Grillo is a relatively new wine variety discovery for me, and one I’ve come to really enjoy. This version, emanating from the windy, sun-drenched coasts of Sicily, combines tropical fruit notes with hints of citrus. I think what I enjoy most about the wine, though, is its delightful minerality and terrific, palate-cleansing acidity.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier, Australia ($15 SRP): Native to France’s Northern Rhone Valley, Viognier can be one of the brightest, most layered, and elegant white wines on the planet. Overcropped and grown in a climate too warm for the variety, it can also be flabby and uninteresting. South Australia’s Yalumba winery captures the essence of Viognier while giving it an Aussie twist. Bolder than your average Rhone Valley Viognier, the Y Series packs plenty of ripe fruit along with the grape’s signature honeysuckle aromas, then balances it off with a lovely core of crisp acidity resulting in one of my favorite New World Viogniers.
Marqués de Cáceres Rias Baixas Deusa Nai Albariño, Spain ($18.99 SRP): You can’t imagine how delighted I was when this terrific Rioja house ventured into Rias Baixas to begin Albarino production. Rias Baixas can be found in Northwest Spain in Galicia along the Atlantic coast just above Portugal. You can smell and taste the sea air in every bottle. This 100% Albarinao exhibits a bright straw yellow color with a bouquet of citrus and mineral notes along with the grape’s signature acidity. Add a lengthy, fruity finish, and you have one delightful bottle of wine.
Château de la Ragotière Muscadet, Vieilles Vignes, France ($17.99 SRP): From the appellation Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, the grapes for this gem are grown just miles from the Atlantic coast of the region on low-lying vineyards with gently rolling hills. The appellation is known as one of the best for the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which comprises all Muscadets, but the Vieilles Vignes (old vines) are, in my opinion, what makes this bottling special. Those older vines give the wine both more concentration and a core of rich, ripe fruit not often seen in Muscadets. Give me a bowl of fresh mussels steamed in white wine and onions, a baguette, and a bottle of this, and I’m a happy man!
Umani Ronchi Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy ($16.99 SRP): From the coastal region of Abruzzo comes this unsung hero of a wine. On the east coast of Italy, bordering the Adriatic Sea, Abruzzo is a beautiful region of Italy where almost half the region’s area is national parks and nature preserves. The region grows both red and white wines, including Pecorino (not the cheese, the wine grape). The Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino features citrus and herbal notes on the nose and on the palate. Ripe enough for Chardonnay lovers, yet crisp enough for fans of Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is a definite crowd-pleaser.
Tenuta di Fessina Erse Bianco, Etna, Sicily, Italy 2020 (SRP $24.99): I’ve yet to have an Etna appellation wine, white, rose, or red, that I didn’t like. This one, I love! Home to one of the world’s most active volcanos, Etna is also home to some of the most exciting wines and vineyards. Tenuta di Fessina Erse Bianco is a blend of traditional Sicilian varietals- Carricante, Catarratto, and Minnella, I found notes of flint, extremely high acidity, and a slightly salty finish. This Bianco needs food. I’d suggest a whole Branzino fresh from the Mediterranean.
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc, Walker Bay, South Africa ($17.99 SRP): One of the best Sauvignon Blancs I’ve had from South Africa, Southern Right has both concentrated flavors, delightful acidity, and a lovely minerality. Ocean breezes and long sunny summers also leads to evenly ripened grapes, which, in turn, produce a harmonious and balanced wine.
Mohua Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.99 SRP): I find many Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs to be overaggressive-like Jimmy Cagney shoving that grapefruit into Mae Clark’s Face in The Public Enemy (look it up if you’ve never seen it). But this wine is nothing like that-elegant and stylish like Audrey Hepburn, even a bit sexy like Sophia Loren. Okay, enough with the movie references. The Mohua Sauvignon Blanc is layered with aromas of fruit and herbs and flavors of lemon, lime, and yes, a little gooseberry. Delicious!
Perhaps my favorite category of wine, I simply adore roses. They are great with cuisine, terrific on their own, and, like sparkling wine, appropriate at any time of the day or night and at any time of the year. In the fall, as Thanksgiving approaches, they are my most likely “go to” wine. Let’s start with three dazzlers from France’s Rhone Valley.
Domaine de Fontenille, Cuvee Fontenille, AOS Luberon Rose, France ($14 SRP): A bland of Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre grown in clay-limestone and stony soils, this is a rose lover’s rose with exotic fruits and a nice hint of earthiness, which the French call garrique. It is also bone dry, as all good roses should be, in my opinion, with an intense and lingering finish.
Chateau Mourgues du Gres Galet Rose AOC Costieres de Nimes ($13 SRP): “Les Galets” refers to the terroir of rolled pebbles called “gres,” which are responsible for the undeniable minerality in the wine. A combination of ripe fruit and that unmistakable minerality make this wine a delicious, complex, and food-friendly wine. The $13 price tag makes it a steal.
Alain Jaume “Le Cretace,” AOC Tavel Rose ($27 SRP): At the pinnacle of the Rhone Valley Rose hierarchy is Tavel, which can give Bandol a run for its money as perhaps the finest producers of Roses in the world. Alain Jaume’s “Le Cretace” is one of the finest Tavels I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. A blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre, the wine is fruit-forward from the dominance of the Grenache, but rich and ripe thanks to the contributions of the Syrah and Mourvedre. Think roses and strawberries with elegance and acidity and you have a sense of what this wine is all about.
STUDIO by Miraval Rose, IGP Mediterranee, France ($15.99 SRP): The IGP Méditérranée on the southeast coast of France stretches over ranges over ten departments of France, offering a warm and dry Mediterranean climate, and land dotted by lavender fields and olive tree groves. Such is the backdrop by this wonderful rose, which is strongly influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. A blend of Cinsault, Grenance, and two indigenous grapes I am unfamiliar with, Rolle and Tibouren, the wine is a pale pink with a note of grapefruit and flowers, and a soft, silky elegant finish. If you prefer elegance over extract, and subtlety over power, this is your rose!
A lot of my wine-loving friends are eager to start pulling the corks on their full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, and Syrahs. I am, too, but I’m enjoying other red grapes as well. Such is the case for my first two red wine suggestions, both from Chile’s Marques de Casa Concha, high-end offerings from Concha y Toro.
Marques de Casa Concha Pinot Noir, Chile ($22 SRP): I really like the MDCC Pinot, which is surprisingly concentrated for a South American Pinot Noir. With aromas of strawberry and raspberry and layers of licorice and spice, the wine offers something new and interesting in every sniff and sip. Grown in the cooler Limari Valley, the grapes lend the wine a freshness and vibrancy I find quite attractive.
Marques de Casa Concha Heritage, Maipo Valley, Chile ($79 SRP): Remember those full-bodied wine-drinking friends I mentioned earlier? Well, this is a wine for them. Big, bold, deep, and dark in aroma, flavor, and color, this wine boasts tons of concentrated dark red fruit aromas and flavors. Yet, despite its power, there is an underlying core of elegance to the wine, and an almost silky texture that belies the wine’s strength. Save this beauty for a hearty roast or tenderloin.
Corvo Colomba Platino Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy ($19.99 SRP): Back to Sicily I go to one of the most recognized wineries on the Island, Corvo. Nero d’Avola is an iconic grape on Sicily, and this is one of the better versions I’ve had. Serving up a complex bouquet of cherries, followed by red berries flavors, I’d recommend this beauty with all sorts of red meat!
Duca di Salaparuta Calanica Frappato Terre Siciliane IGT ($10.99 SRP): Produced from 100% Frappato, one of the most versatile grape varieties on the island, Calanica Frappato is, in a word, delicious. With distinctly fruity aromas and flavors, I’d serve this slightly chilled and as an aperitif, though grilled chicken wouldn’t be a bad pairing either.
Lucente Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy ($30 SRP): I will finish my red wine recommendations in my favorite place on the planet-Tuscany and two so-called Super Tuscans. Lucente is the second wine of Tenuta Luce’s flagship wine, a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot. It is also a delightful melding of fruit, tobacco, and earth. You will find wild berry and jam on the nose and the palate, both of which are accented by tobacco, spices, and a hint of toasty oak. Complex and elegant, I’d be sure to decant this lovely bottling at least an hour prior to serving.
Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia, Tuscany, Italy ($35 SRP): A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this Super Tuscan takes its name from a farmhouse on a hill of the property called “Le Tassinaie,” which means “the place of the stones.” Extremely well-balanced, the wine boasts aromas of ripe dark berry fruit along with notes of vanilla, leather, and the signature Tuscan element, tobacco. In the mouth, the wine is firm, but not aggressive with smooth tannins and a long, fruity finish.
That’s it. I hope you find a bottle or two to enjoy as we all enjoy the transition from summer to fall. Cheers!