By Rick Riozza
Pandemic or not; quarantine or not; absurdity or not. No matter what craziness is going around the world—the world is still going around. And as it’s been for millennia, around this time of year for us northern hemisphere folks, autumn is in the air.
I’m not the only one who feels the change of seasons, even out here in the desert. Actually, maybe especially out here in the desert—so many of you are very keen to the change in weather, the light, the feel that leads to the melancholy when noticing time slipping by.
Don’t know about all that—but, surely there are familiar things that ring true to the autumn season. Of course, this column easily gravitates to the subject of the smells of the season i.e., those aromas caught in a glass of wine that bespeak of harvest time and comfort wine. Those bright crispy wines that brought us comfort in the past summer heat, well—we’ll see them again next year, God willing.
Of course we don’t share the same autumn-winters as our northeastern neighbors do, but in our version, we still like to cuddle up to a nice bottle of wine as we catch the days getting shorter and dinner time rushing in.
For those of us wine folk who have traditionally taken a trip up to wine country around these times, this year we will be missing out, for there are horrendous fires taking lives and property all around our famed vineyards up north. No need to take the time to describe things—sadly it’s on the news every night. Wine lover or not, we all watch in shock; we all feel empathy—we do keep our brothers and sisters in our prayers & thoughts.
With the comfort of some family & friends and a nice bottle of wine, perhaps we can reminisce of the colorful grapevines, huge leaves and delightful tastings during the Fall season in wine country. Traditionally, in the last weeks of October, the grape harvest crush winds down as the leaf pageant begins its debut. Fall color in the wine country transforms into beautiful fall foliage, with coppers and reds accentuating grapes left on the vine.
And then there are the aromas emanating about the wineries as the new and old wine vats are being filled with the nectar of the land. Now whether or not you’re a Chardonnay fan, there’s no question of the wonderful and stunning orchard fruit aromas that can take your senses to town while the Chardonnay grapes are macerating and fermenting to become wine. Ask any experienced vintner from around the world and they’ll tell you with their eyes—as well as their noses, that of all the varietals fermenting, Chardonnay aromas blow out all the sirens.
Of course all wine is aromatic; indeed, at least 75% of a wine’s taste comes from its smell. But there are special grapes out there whose sweet-smelling molecules are “Olympically” jumping off the charts. The usual suspects that come to mind, of course, are your Gewürztraminer [guh-VERTZ-trah-mee-ner], Riesling [REE-sling/zling] and Viognier [vee-o-NYAY/or as many French vintners simply say, veen-NYAY].
The Gervurst may be the hardest variety to spell and pronounce, but its deep golden color and exotic and heady aromas of litchi nuts, spice, flowers, peaches, and apricots are unforgettable, making it a cinch to spot at a blind tasting.
True Riesling is the most elegant of grapes and is most at home in Germany, where all the top wines, be they sweet or dry, are Rieslings. I always recommend a dry Kabinett for those who aren’t familiar with the German stuff. Chilled up, it’s crisp, juicy, and rich with notes of green apples, rose petals, spices, and stones. All the other richer Rieslings get thicker and sweeter but are none-the-less world class.
A true Vionier from Condrieu, which is next to the Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône of France, will cost you around sixty bucks. Full-on aromas & flavors include honeysuckle, orange rind, peaches, tropical fruits, and minerals. It’s definitely a sexy choice for desert patio parties—you’ll appear as a wine guru when serving this chilled down wine with cheeses.
A California Viognier primer would be in the easy blend of Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($12). Then move on to something like Lava Cap Viognier ($30); far from fruity, this is a complex and sophisticated wine that shows how distinctive the grape variety can be.
Coming back to Chardonnay again, we Californians are blessed with two excellent vintages of the 2017 & 2018. You’ll remember that we came out of a multiyear drought in 2017, and, the results at the hands of our skilled winemakers are rich and opulent Chardonnays, to the point that un-oaked or light oaked wines truly deliver in their flavor profiles. Ditto that with the 2018 vintage, where the weather was so ideal that a natural acidity also came along to balance beautifully.
Back when things were normal, I met and chatted with La Crema’s winemaker, Jen Walsh, at our Rancho Mirage Wine & Food festival. She was pouring the 2017 La Crema Chardonnay Russian River Valley Saralee’s Vineyard ($45). The wine is elegant and focused on the Chard grape. Catch the apple, pear tart, and dried apricot aromas & flavors with hints of crème brûlée. Fresh minerality shows throughout. It’ll be a treat for the holiday table.
Come autumn, one of the most cherished red wines to meet the season is our favorite Morgon Cru Beaujolais. It owns a deep, dark sort of sultry quality to its cherry, pepper, flowers, clove, cranberry, dark berry, violet, raspberry & spice aromas & flavor profile. We’re writing on this baby boomer!
As our column progresses through the remainder of this awfully unique 2020 season, we’ll be taking on all the new and true wine-comers as they traipse across my wine tasting desk leaving a trail of stains as I contemplate on the various colors, aromas, and flavors to well report on. Hope you all continue to follow us. Cheers!