IT wasn’t much of a summer, I’m afraid. The empty ballparks, the missing actors and musicians, the fraught travel, the social distancing – little was there to divert attention momentarily from the pitiless price of the Covid-19 pandemic and the destruction caused by climate change.
At least fresh summer fruits and vegetables were bountiful. But now that gift is nearing its end. If you’re like me, you’ve been eating tomatoes like crazy, and have maybe even considered preserving some for the winter.
As summer segues into autumn, the taste for wine begins a seasonal transition, too. It’s never as simple as white wines in the heat, reds in the cold. Though that formula at least has some logic to it.
Whites and rosés are often the best choices for fresh vegetable preparations and other seasonal dishes. As the weather cools and the oven is revved up once more, many of the roasts, stews and bean dishes will be better suited to reds. And, for wines of all colours, we’ll be looking for a little more body and weight.
Shopping online at New York City retail stores, I found a dozen wines that are great for this transitional season. I picked more reds than whites, though most of the reds are still rather light-bodied.
For this roundup, I restricted myself to bottles costing US$20 to US$30.
These wines – one pétillant naturel, one rosé, two whites and eight reds, presented in no particular order – all have a few things in common: They are refreshing, delicious, light enough for end-of-summer dining and substantial enough to take us into fall.
Montenidoli; Vernaccia di San Gimignano Fiore 2018
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is one of those Italian whites that got a bad name in the old days of careless overproduction. But, when made conscientiously, the wines befit a storied history that goes back at least to the 13th century. This wine, made by Montenidoli from organically grown grapes, is crisp, with floral and citrus aromas and flavors. It’s more concentrated than you might expect, and is just right for end-of-season caprese salads, fresh tomato sauces and pestos.
Scar of the Sea; Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2018
Scar of the Sea, run by the husband-and-wife team Mikey and Gina Giugni, makes an array of wines from the Central Coast of California as well as a bunch of ciders. This bottle is an excellent introduction to the style: savoury and restrained, floral, lightly fruity and resolutely expressive. It’s perfect for when the weather cools enough to roast a chicken. Gina Giugni has her own label as well, Lady of the Sunshine, which makes very good sauvignon blancs and chardonnays.
Domaine Ilarria; Irouléguy Rosé 2019
Who said you shouldn’t drink rosé after Labor Day? Even though this is a long-time favourite rosé, I’m still surprised by its quality each time I open a bottle. It’s much darker than a typical French rosé, more the ruby colour of a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, made of tannat and cabernet franc grown in schist. The flavour is elemental, like something you might imagine concocted from rocks and blood, which, believe me, is a great thing. Peio Espil, the proprietor of Ilarria, practises hands-off farming, and works naturally. The wines get better and better.
Luis Seabra; Douro Xisto Ilimitado 2018
The evolution of the Douro Valley of Portugal, famed for centuries for its fortified port wines, has been fascinating to watch. With a diminishing market for port, the region has produced more and more table wines, and they have become finer and more evocative.
Luis Seabra makes state-of-the-art Douros: graceful, appetising and elegant. Xisto Ilimitado is made with a typical blend of red port grapes grown in schist soils. It’s savoury, complex, aromatic and thoroughly delicious.
Castro Candaz; Ribeira Sacra Mencía 2017
Castro Candaz is one of the many projects of Raúl Pérez, one of Spain’s leading itinerant winemakers, who produces gems from all over the country and beyond. For Castro Candaz, Pérez, in partnership with another winemaker, Rodrigo Méndez, focuses on mencía grapes from the Chantada region of Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, an area where the hills are more sandy than is typical in the slate-rich Ribeira Sacra. It’s a concentrated, earthy wine, with plenty of minerality. Try it with chili con carne.
Domaine Maestracci; Corse Calvi E Prove 2016
Since Camille-Anaïs Raoust took over this estate in 2012 from her father, Michel Raoust, she has pushed to farm biodynamically and has improved the winemaking. It’s situated in the Calvi region in the northern part of Corsica, where the leading red grape is niellucciu, or sangiovese. In the south, the leading red grape is sciaccarellu, or mammolo, a lesser known Tuscan grape generally used for blending. This red combines both grapes, along with grenache and syrah, to create a gorgeous wine that is floral, focused, lightly tannic and thoroughly Corsican. Domaine de la Pépière; Muscadet
Sèvre-et-Maine Château Thébaud 2014
This is one of my favorite muscadets from one of my favourite muscadet producers. It’s made from a parcel of vines grown in a particular sort of fissured granite, and is aged for more than four years before it’s released. It’s dense, with great minerality, a creamy texture and incisive acidity, yet still light on its feet.
If you adhere to the old “R” month myth for eating oysters, this is your perfect September wine. It will also go beautifully with other shellfish and seafood preparations, and with creamy sauces.
Goyo García Viadero; Ribera del Duero Joven de Viñas Viejas 2018
Goyo García Viadero is dedicated to farming and making wine with minimal intervention. This absolutely delicious wine comes from old vines of tempranillo that are simply fermented in steel vats and bottled, without the addition of sulfur dioxide, an almost universally used stabiliser. The wine is vibrant and alive, with deep, pure flavours of dark fruits and flowers, just the bottle for a platter of sausages.
Manenti; Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2018
Cerasuolo di Vittoria from the Vittoria region of south-eastern Sicily combines the body and richness of nero d’Avola with the limber freshness of frappato. It’s almost always a winning combination, especially in the hands of sensitive farmers and producers like Marita and Guglielmo Manenti, a husband-and-wife team who farm organically. The result here is a sweet-and-bitter, earthy wine with lively acidity.
Anne-Sophie Dubois; Fleurie Les Cocottes 2019
Anne-Sophie Dubois organically farms about 20 acres in Fleurie. She is one of a small number of Beaujolais producers who generally do not use semi-carbonic maceration, the typical winemaking method in the region. Instead, she makes her Fleuries in a method more typical in the rest of the winemaking world, destemming the grapes and fermenting them in the usual fashion. Those wines often require some aging. However, with this cuvée she does use the semi-carbonic technique, in which whole bunches of grapes are piled into large vats. Those on the bottom are crushed and begin to ferment, producing carbon dioxide, which induces a different, intracellular fermentation in the bunches on top. The result is a Fleurie that is great to drink now: fresh, energetic and pretty, with an underlying earthy note.
Division-Villages; Oregon Gamay Noir Les Petits Fers 2019
This American gamay is fun to contrast with the Dubois Fleurie. Division-Villages is the easygoing, less-expensive label of Division Wine, and though this wine is modelled on a Fleurie, it is more akin to a Beaujolais-Villages, as the name Division-Villages suggests. Like the Dubois, this is made using the semi-carbonic method most common in Beaujolais. It doesn’t have the complexity or heft of the Fleurie, but it is delightful and insanely easy to drink. Serve lightly chilled.
Brand; Germany Pet-Nat 2019
The young Brand brothers, Daniel and Jonas, work naturally in the north of the Pfalz region. I’ve had a number of their wines, and they are all unpretentious and delicious, including this pétillant naturel, made with silvaner and weissburgunder, otherwise known as pinot blanc. It’s not complex or contemplative. It’s just a wine full of citrus and herbal goodness, perfect to go with snacks and a football game. NYTIMES