Time to turn to richer autumnal whites
Light whites are the stuff of summer but when the weather turns, looksfor a white with a bit more richness, texture – and alcohol
I wrote a few weeks back about red wines for drinking in the autumn. This week it’s white wines. I am not arguing that we should forget about Sauvignon, Semillon and other refreshing white wines completely; they will do fine as an aperitif, but once the weather is colder we eat more substantial foods. These are better suited to white wines with a bit more stuffing. Something with a little more texture and a touch of richness is required.
Even a degree or two more of alcohol doesn’t go amiss. These wines, which are more like red wines in structure, can be served a few degrees warmer too: 8-10 degrees (domestic fridges are around 4 degrees) will show your finest Chardonnay or Alsace Riesling off at its best.
White wines from warmer climates tend to be bigger and richer, although nowadays many growers pick early to keep alcohol levels down and acidity up. However, with a little effort, you can find white wines with substance.
A great many autumn vegetables have a subtle sweetness that makes them ideal for white wines with plenty of fruit and possibly even a touch of residual sugar too. I mentioned squash ravioli and mushroom risotto with red wine a few weeks back, but butternut squash risotto calls out for a white wine with a bit of attitude, as does one of my favourite autumn dishes, roast vegetables (squash, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, onions) served with a chilli sauce. Viognier, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris are the best options here.
I see curries as colder weather fare, despite the fact that they originate from very hot climates. Once the temperature drops, I start cooking spicy stews. My favourites are made with chicken or fish, a handful of lentils and plenty of aromatic spices. White wines with a bit of flavour work really well here. Best of all is Grüner Veltliner; the waiters in my local Indian restaurant, Jaipur, know to open a bottle as soon as I arrive. Failing that, Pinot Gris is very good too.
Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris come in various guises. We are very familiar with the inexpensive light, low alcohol versions that have invaded our supermarket wine shelves. However Italy, Alsace in France and Australia all offer a very different version of this grape, rich and mouthfilling and sometimes with a touch of sweetness on the finish. From Alsace, Hugel and Trimbach offer good examples and are widely available.
For Italian Pinot Grigio, look at the alcohol levels and the price; if both are higher than the standard 12-12.5 per cent, the wine will be richer and more food-friendly. This style of wine can make for a very good companion to chicken, pork, ham and bacon.
In Alsace autumn means choucroute; over here we have bacon and cabbage. My own quick supper version is stir-fried cabbage with bacon and onion. All go nicely with Pinot Gris or an Alsace Riesling, which has more body than its German counterpart.
I return to Chardonnay, one of the great grapes of the world. Its problem lies in its versatility; it veers from light and crisp to full-bodied, creamy and rich with toasty oak. I am not generally a fan of very oaky Chardonnay, but there are wines (such as the Springfield Chardonnay below, one of my favourite wines) that offer plenty of flavour without ever having seen the inside of a new oak barrel. These are some of the most versatile food wines of all.
Viognier seems to have dropped out of fashion in recent years, possibly because it is so difficult to do well, but those rich stone fruits, sometimes accompanied by a creamy texture make for wonderful autumnal drinking.
Look out for Yalumba and Willunga from Australia or Laurent Miquel from the Languedoc.
Even less fashionable but increasingly good are the white blends of the southern Rhône. Based on Grenache Blanc, the best have varying proportions of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. Powerful, often with plenty of warming alcohol, these wines might seem a little heavy and overbearing in the summer, but they are very welcome in the colder months.
Autumn is about cider too, as the Irish harvest is now in full swing. I have been enjoying the occasional bottle of Dan Kellys, Ballyhook Flyer or Cockagee in recent weeks; they really go very well with any creamy dish, but for a real treat try a bottle with chicken, pork or even pheasant normande made with apples and cream.