Here in Seattle, we’re in between seasons. While there are still sunny days, we’re starting to see more gray skies and we know the rain is a’comin’. I’ve been drinking vats of Albariño and Rosé this summer, but now it’s time to find the best wines to go with the new season. The challenge is choosing wines with enough heft and body to pair with fall foods (like apples, squash and brussels sprouts), but not overpower them.
As I began to think about which wines to choose for our blind tasting, I received a revelatory email from Food & Wine magazine titled “50 Affordable Wines You Can Always Trust.” Wow, really? Sounds great if in fact it’s true. Who wouldn’t want a list of 50 value wines to love? I took their list, rolled into my favorite bottle shop and selected four wines that I thought would pair well with fall foods:
Pine Ridge 2015 Chenin Blanc + Viognier (California): $14. Here’s a white blend from a Napa Valley-based winery that’s perhaps better known for its–how shall we say?–less affordable reds.
Yalumba Y Series 2016 Viognier (Australia): $11. A Southern Australia winemaker takes a stab at a venerable French varietal. Intriguing.
E. Guigal 2012 Côtes du Rhône (France): $16. This red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre is from the Rhône region, one of my favorites.
Marqués de Cáceres 2013 Rioja Crianza (Spain): $13. A red wine made from Tempranillo grapes from a well-known and widely available Spanish producer.
Tribes pick the best fall wines
Before we get to who liked what, let’s make sure you know your Wine Tribe. Take our nifty quiz to identify your palate preferences and associated tribe. Then read on to find out what tribe members with similar palates to yours liked best.
According to Food & Wine, the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier is “one of California’s’ top value wines, year in and year out.” Indeed, this wine was a big hit with the Balanced and Developed tribes. They liked its fragrance of pear, sweet orange and wet moss. And how did it taste? “Like celery, grapefruit and 7-Up, in a good way,” said one taster. Others detected juicy peaches and melons. Tasters were also moved to comment on the wine’s “mouthfeel,” with comments like, “smooth with a bite of acidity” and “effervescent.” This is an easy-drinking wine that pairs well with fall foods but also can be drunk on its own. I’ll definitely be buying more. And I’m talking cases more.
The power of your sense of smell
The Yalumba Y Series Viognier is an interesting wine. I had high expectations because it was recommended by my friend the sommelier, but he failed to mention this wine’s powerful aroma. Powerful in such a way as to elicit colorful feedback from our tasters, including “it smells like the first smell when you open a can of tuna fish,” “Seventh grade science classroom” and “sour funk.” For most of the tribes, the powerful scent overwhelmed the wine’s flavor. Not so for the Complex Tribe. They really dug this wine. They appreciated its crisp flavors of peaches, grapefruit and lemongrass and deemed it a perfect wine for porch sipping during the waning sunny days.
Speaking of scents, the bouquet of the E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone got a universal thumbs-up. Food & Wine says “this Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge is full-bodied and compellingly aromatic.” Compelling indeed, with scents of plums, wood, white pepper, dried fruit and, interestingly, “melted candy bars.” This wine was a favorite of the Developed Tribe, who appreciated its spicy notes of pepper, fig and French toast. But the Balanced Tribe deemed it too acidic and the Complex Tribe too light. The Complex Tribe also panned it because the wine’s taste didn’t live up to its aroma. Everyone’s a critic, but if you’re in the Developed Tribe, I say go for it. This is a smooth and balanced wine that pairs nicely with fall foods, especially this wonderful sweet potato recipe.
The Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza is a Tempranillo-based wine from the Rioja region of Spain. Incidentally, crianza is a Spanish term indicating aging time, specifically reds that are aged at least a year in oak barrels and then sold only after three years of aging in the bottle. This wine was the Complex Tribe’s fave, especially when paired with fall foods. Scents of oak, bright cherry and cedar translated into flavors of soft red fruits mixed with a little leather, dust and oak. The other tribes, however, found the wine too acidic, which manifested in tastes of grapefruit, sour cherry and lemon. But hey, if you are in the Complex Tribe, don’t listen to the detractors. Buy a bottle for your next meal and give it a go.
So, how ‘bout that list?
The Food & Wine list was a great starting point for our tasting, but I was again reminded that different people with different palates like different wines. To summarize:
• If you’re in the Accessible Tribe, you won’t love any of the wines we tried. Sorry, but these are too hearty for your delicate palate.
• Balanced Tribe members should stock up on the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier blend.
• If you’re in the Developed Tribe, your white wine go-to is the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier and for a red, the E Guigal Cotes du Rhone.
• And for you Complex Tribe members out there, your white of choice is the Yalumba Y Series Viognier and your red is the Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza.