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Herbaceous, juicy wines for the autumn transition

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October is a month of transition. Sure, there might still be some precious sunlight many days a week, but the pitfalls of cold and dreary weather start to increase the closer we get to Halloween.

For this time of year, I often think of slightly earthy red wines, with not a lot of tannin and body. They pair well with simple foods like burgers and portobello mushrooms. And they tend to be drinkable with a variety of cheeses, including night cheese (yes, it’s a thing). Ergo, I’m a fan of these kinds of wines.

Grape harvesting this season really kicks off in the Northern Hemisphere.

For $15, the 2017 Terramata Barbera d’Alba is a recent favorite hailing from Cantina Vingnaioli, a growers’ cooperative in Piedmont, Italy. Terramata smells and tastes both fruity and earthy with notes of black raspberry, button mushrooms and rosemary. It’s slightly herbaceous, light-to-medium bodied, extremely interesting and balanced. Wines such as this are what I crave to see more of at this price.

“Barbera d’Alba” means wine from the barbera grape, native to a small area very close to the Italian city of Alba. As the saying goes “what grows together goes together,” so it’s hardly a coincidence that Alba is also known for the Piedmont white truffle, one of the more magical things you can pair with the earthy wine. In case you don’t want to splurge on some baller truffles, mushroom risotto would be another fanciful option with the barbera.
Heading west, the winemakers in Oregon have built quite a culture of quality and integrity, and the foundation is largely on the plantings of pinot. Most well-known pinots are from the Willamette Valley, which sprawls roughly south of Portland.
Foris Winery is in Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, and its 2016 pinot noir ($25) stands up to most Willamette pinot I’ve had under $35. There are many typical pinot characteristics here, including notes of cherry, dried herbs and a tiny bit of sweet spice — likely coming from the wine being aged in oak barrels. To the point, this wine is juicy. The fruit notes keep coming and coming, without the wine exhausting the palate or overwhelming you like some sort of obnoxious jam.
I think most long-time lovers of Willamette pinot know why their prices have gone up, so getting a hold of these kinds of wines at a lower price is a welcomed addition to wine-drinkers. This feels like a mop-up wine, meaning you could put any lighter meat, cheese, snack, grilled vegetables on the dinner table and this will be immensely enjoyable.

New Zealand isn’t exactly known for pinot noir, but they absolutely should be. Sure, sauvignon blanc produced in Malborough is the most common to represent New Zealand. Yet, there is so much more to the Kiwi wine scene.

The style of Craggy Range’s 2016 pinot noir is somewhere between Sonoma, California’s, pinot noir, and the pinot that comes from the motherland of Burgundy, France. At roughly $30, an expression of fruit, complexity and overall deliciousness, the Craggy Range has more of a backbone. A wine with a touch more acid, such as the Craggy Range, tends to drink not as well on its own but lends itself to some beautiful moments with food.

These wines are readily available at any local independent store or restaurant. It’s just a matter of knowing the right distributor.
Regardless, there are many similar wines out there on the market. Ask your favorite wine pros for any suggestions; they’ll be happy to share.

Justin King is an advanced sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and was named 2017 Best New Sommelier by Wine & Spirits Magazine. He is owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in DeWitt, and Bar Mitena, a Spanish wine bar opening in Lansing.

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