Greetings and welcome to the fall season — well, almost. I hope you’re finding some time to enjoy some wine. For those of you just tuning in, you can reach me at, Michael@passionvines.com. Please contact me with any wine-related questions and I will use this monthly column to answer them.
Sarah M. from Mays Landing asks, “I heard you recently speak of ‘fall wines’ – what makes a wine suitable for fall?”
When we talk about “fall wines” we think of the weather turning colder and cuisine becoming richer. The food shifts from light summery salads and grilled meats to one-pot meals baked in the oven, or long simmering sauce on the stove top. Suddenly, the texture of our food changes, therefore we need our wines to change along with it. This doesn’t mean we need to ditch white and rose wines in favor of reds. If our fall wines are to have more weight to them, then many red wines will fit the bill. Merlot-based Bordeaux blends and Grenache-based Rhone blends are an easy place to start. Spanish reds based on Garnacha or Monastrell are great options too. Each of those grape varieties has a softness to them, where they have a high level of potential alcohol, therefore more body, and light or no tannins, so the texture is plush. White wines that are lower in acid or those which have some oak treatment are great choices too. Unoaked Viognier, barrel-fermented Chardonnay, and Italian wines like Soave Classico all have muted acidity while emphasizing a satisfying creaminess on the palate. And don’t forget about roses! Find a Garnacha rose from Spain or Malbec rose from Argentina; these give you beautifully ripe flavors with plenty of body to complement hearty soups and stews.
Diane D. from Ventnor asks, “Are there any low-calorie wines that you recommend?”
People are more health-conscious than ever these days, and those counting calories are always going to seek options when it comes to cutting certain items from their diets. When it comes to wine, a general rule of thumb is that a 5-ounce serving of 12% abv wine contains about 125 calories. If you are a fan of bold New World reds, that number can go up to about 180 calories per serving, and if you like dessert wines (white or red) you are adding about another 50 calories per serving. Low-alcohol wines — generally, anything 12.5% or lower — are a great place to start. Grape varieties that fall into this category are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Italian Pinot Grigio, and unoaked Chenin Blanc. Cool climate regions such as the Loire Valley, most of Germany, Willamette Valley of Oregon and Austria all have environments that lead to lower potential alcohol. Red wine drinkers should seek Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, and the wines of Valpolicella. Additionally, note that there are brands who claim to craft low-calorie wines, but since there is no legal definition of low-calorie wines, there is no way to be sure unless a brand includes an FDA-approved label that details ingredients and calories.
Aaron L. from Ocean City asks, “are there any legitimate non-alcoholic wines?”
Two brands making legitimate non-alcoholic wines are J. Lohr’s “Ariel” series and Sutter Home’s “Fre” series. Ariel features a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California vineyards. Ariel uses a reverse osmosis process to strip the alcohol out to create a non-alcoholic wine concentrate, followed by the addition of fresh water to replace the volume lost when the alcohol was removed. Ariel has been around since 1985, so there is a lot of experience there with this process, along with the financial backing of J. Lohr. In Sutter Home’s Fre wines, they use a spinning cone technology to gently extract alcohol while preserving the natural flavors and aromas. This has led the Fre brand to have many expressions, everything from whites and reds to rose and sparkling wines. One important note— by law, to be classified as a non-alcoholic beverage the product needs to be less than or equal to 0.5% abv.
Marc H. from Margate asks, “I’m packing up our shore house and I have a case of white wine in the fridge. Can I leave it there for next year? Will it stay good?”
If you are leaving some wines behind in the fridge while you pack up for the summer, now is a great time to check the vintages on those bottles. Any of your unoaked wines should be consumed within a year or two of the vintage date. So if you are not going to be back until 2021, you may want to start drinking those 2018 wines now. The same holds true for any rose wines. If the white wines are oaked or are high-end items such as Cru-level white Burgundy, chances are good that they will be just fine until you return next year. However, anything that is 5 to 10 years older or more could be approaching its peak. Those age-worthy wines can be finicky, but very rewarding. As for the reds, your high-end wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Piedmont and Spain will likely be just fine. Even limited-edition cult wines from California will be great. But if you are holding on to a light red, such as Beaujolais Nouveau, truthfully it is already past its prime. Kidding aside, the overwhelming majority of red wines will hold up for another year.
Lastly, we finish with me asking YOU a question. Email me the answer, and I’ll reply with a prize.
Q: True or False – Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera are the three most important grape varieties in Piedmont, Italy?
You keep asking and I’ll keep writing!