Wine’s autumnal fruitfulness
As I write, there’s a ragu simmering on the stove. It began with the unhurried dicing of onions, carrots and celery, followed by the browning of the mince, and the addition of wine and tomato. It’s the first of the year, and like the returning blast of the central heating or the wearing of jumpers, it’s a sign that autumn is here, and with it the best season for wine lovers.
Seasonality is a buzzword in the food world, but even though wine keeps in bottle from one harvest to the next without need for pickling or salting, our enjoyment of it is strongly seasonal as it accompanies us throughout the course of a year, from solstice to equinox.
Spring brings the first annual flirtation with white wine after the deep cold of winter. The wines for this season are often “green” – Sauvignon Blanc and Vinho Verde, via crisp Italian whites and a Riesling or two if you’re lucky.
Come summer’s heat, I often prefer the invigorating sting of a cocktail or the illusion of rehydration provided by a cold beer, but there’s no doubt that rosé is on the rise.
Winter, which seems to follow on too quickly from autumn, and last an awful lot longer, contains less abundance. While the farmers’ markets covered in falling leaves are pleasingly romantic, trudging to the shops in ankle-deep snow is a lot less fun. After a certain point, drinking in winter seems to revolve mainly around aged spirits or hot tea.
It seems to me that autumn is the best season for the wine lover. No matter what your taste, there’s something for everyone in the bounty of harvest season. Suddenly, the appeal of a bottle of Côtes du Rhône with a Provençal stew of tomatoes, olives and beef is a little sharper. Roast chicken that fills the house with the smell of crisping skin cries out for a well-oaked Chardonnay with flesh on its bones, in contrast to summer’s now-waspish whites. Roasted squash or sweet potato, often accompanied by warm spices, lend themselves to soft-textured grapes such as Marsanne or Viognier. And then there are mushrooms, so perfectly suited to the two most autumnal of wines – mature red Burgundy and Barolo.
Wine isn’t just a complement to food in autumn. It also forms part of the base for many classic recipes. Wine merchants are rarely stuck for cooking wine, and often there’s more wine in the form of left-over samples than there are recipes – or drinkers – that demand it. But in the autumn, there is always a piece of beef that can be braised in red wine and onions, some moules in need of a splash of something, or a risotto waiting to be gently stirred into existence.
Finally, autumn is the perfect season to open some more mature wines that have been sidelined. A bit of old claret seems appropriate in October when only frothy pet nat would do in July, and the burnished opulence of mature Riesling takes on a fresh appeal as the nights draw in.
When Keats wrote about the “mists and mellow fruitfulness” of autumn, he naturally connected it to wine and the harvest, the “purple-stained mouth” that comes from drinking of that “beaker full of the warm south”. As winemakers across the northern hemisphere bring in their harvest, we revel in the fruits of harvests past. So you can keep your sunshine and sand, the first bluebells of spring – you can even have Christmas. When it comes to the four seasons, autumn is when wine comes into its own.
Jason Millar is the retail director at independent wine merchant Theatre of Wine. He can be contacted at email@example.com and found on Twitter @jasondmillar