Autumn Wine Guide

As the days shorten and the weather shows her craggy face, it’s time to consider putting away those summer whites and barbecue rosés and cosying up to wines that bridge the gap between the lighter styles synonymous with summer and the deeper, more robust wines associated with November, Christmas and beyond.

The earthier ingredients of autumn tend to require suitably flavoursome wines and while some believe seasonality is defined by colour, you are perhaps better off choosing wines on the basis of their texture, weight and structure. As such, autumn cuisine requires slightly fuller-bodied wines, so don’t let the colour of your wine deter you this fall.

A richly-oaked Chardonnay from America or Australia can have an effortless allegiance with those chilly autumn nights. Famed for their toasty, nutty flavours and creamy texture, Californian Chardonnay, and indeed many from the New World, tends to have enough oomph and body to be an excellent food match at this time of year. Equally, the classically rich and complex Burgundian Chardonnays or even the slightly leaner in style ones, will balance minerality with fruit intensity.

Riesling, while not everyone’s favourite varietal thanks to a drop in quality during the 1980s, has been brought to life by modern winemaking techniques and this grape varietal is an excellent transitional wine during the change of season. Riesling has a canny capacity to pair well with autumnal fruits like pears and apples, so be bold and make use of this wonderfully varied wine with those seasonally delicious crumbles. When doing so, look for the appealingly dry, clean and approachable style of Riesling from the New World, particularly those from Australia, rather than the more floral styles, but in the main this is a hugely versatile food wine for this time of year.

Viognier, being a slightly heartier white wine, has enough texture and body to work with archetypal autumnal foods, and they are also great for those marginally balmier evenings. These beguiling wines have a seamless synergy with traditional autumn meats like guinea fowl or roast chicken and are subsequently perfect for this time of year. Well-travelled from its original home in Condrieu and increasingly fashionable, Viognier is now producing beautifully aromatic wines in the high-altitude vineyards of Sicily, where the varied temperature enables the grape to fully ripen and produce its archetypally seductive aroma.

The very best white blends, particularly from the Rhône or their well-balanced New World imitators, often utilise an array of lesser-known grapes like Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, in addition to the aforementioned Viognier, and will combine a potent alcoholic kick with concentrated and complex flavours. These wines can provide a suitable alternative to Chardonnay because they will often pair well with bolder, more flavoursome foods.

The finest white wines made from Argentina’s indigenous grape, Torrontes, have a freshly crisp, enticing aroma that is offset with a dry finish, and in a similar vein to Riesling, these elegant wines have an excellent habit of pairing deliciously with autumn crumbles.
Although colour should not dictate your wine drinking habits, as the summer turns to autumn, reds will invariably become the main focus.
As the light draws in, Rioja is an excellent accompaniment with autumnal fare. The best red wines from Rioja are the perfect reflection of the earthy flavours of autumn and the finest boast a deep, spicy and deliciously warm finish with plenty of structure and lovely supple tannins. The quality and diversity of Spain’s flagship wine region has never been more evident and their best interpretations are excellent food wines, and remain an almost failsafe option for a lazy roast on Sunday.

The earlier months of jolly autumn are perhaps a little premature to indulge in an embracing Australian Shiraz but they will certainly have their place with the best of the summer gone. The Barossa Valley in South Australia is immediately synonymous with bold and dense red wines and there are some superbly valued savoury offerings available from this seminal wine region. Full-bodied and loaded with ripe, dark fruits and velvety soft tannins, the Barossa Valley’s finest Shiraz are gutsy, bold reds of style and substance, and they have a deliciously warming quality that makes them ideal for this time of year.
The youthful, lively blackberry and black cherry flavoured bounce of a Burgundian Pinot Noir are equally pertinent replacements at this time of year, as are their New World, easy-drinking counterparts that have similar characteristics to Côtes du Rhône or Beaujolais. 

New Zealand’s expressive and elegant Pinot Noirs, predominantly grown in the cooler southerly regions, tend to boast a supple richness that complements game birds such as quail and duck or equally with veal, lamb or venison. Although increasingly famed for their sublime Pinot Noirs (away from their iconic Sauvignon Blancs) New Zealand Syrah, particularly those from Hawke's Bay, are similar in style to northern Rhône and are great accompaniments to gamey meats like grouse or pheasant. There is an intense varietal distinctiveness to New Zealand Syrah and the savoury black pepper flavours are a great match for a seasonally delicious roast lamb. Waiheke Island is an area noted for the production of powerfully savoury Syrahs, whereas slightly sweeter and increasingly acclaimed wines are emerging in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay, near Napier. In this budding wine region some winemakers are mirroring their Old World counterparts by adding a smidgeon of Viognier to enhance the aromas.

The slightly softer, pepper-tinged Syrah or earthy, savoury red Rhône blends will also warm the cockles as summer becomes a distant memory. For affordable yet delicious French Syrah the Languedoc-Roussillon, with its warm days and cooler nights, provides great conditions for the production of very accessible and easy-drinking Syrah. Throughout southern France and South Australia red blends made from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre are deliciously savoury and often less powerfully fruity, and they are subsequently suitable for the seasonal changing of the guard.

The ripe, soft tannins and intense black fruit flavours of some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignons are pertinent although you may prefer to taste these a little closer to Christmas. 

The deep in colour Carmenère, Chile’s signature grape despite its Bordeaux heritage, produces juicy red wines with bountiful bright fruit flavours and a succulent mouth-feel. Long confused with Merlot and similar in style, good Carmenère boasts spicy, earthy notes which lend itself to seasonal fair like a warming stew, casserole or a hearty risotto. Too often dismissed as producing middle-of-the-road wines, Chile's Carmenère can produce serious delicious and delightfully structured wines. Occasionally used for blending purposes and a member of the Cabernet family, the name originates from the French word for crimson, referring to the brilliant crimson colour of autumn foliage, and thus you have a poetic license to indulge in these beautiful wines as the chillier months set in.  

As you unearth your stew pots and roasting pans and reacquaint yourself with your oven this autumn, don’t let the diminishing summer sun limit your wine selection.

Embrace the long familiar shadows of winter and look towards that fruity yet savoury middle ground, before approaching those heart-warming reds, but most of all enjoy the opportunity to try something new.

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Autumn Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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