As autumn leaves drift past my window, I am reminded it is time to visit the wine cellar and dust off a few bottles that were tucked away for summer.
The changing seasons typically require a shift in priorities away from the lighter, easier, more refreshing wines of summer to something more substantial and robust as the days shorten and temperatures drop.
The three grape varieties I studiously avoid in the dog days of summer, with occasional exceptions — cabernet sauvignon, syrah and chardonnay — now move to the top of my list.
Cooler weather calls for richer, weightier wines that can tackle the flavors of fall, such as roasted meats, stews and even game, not to mention the truffles and various mushrooms that are now in season and top of mind.
Cabernet sauvignon and syrah fill this role nicely. Each has the body and structure necessary to handle bold flavors, and their sometimes-aggressive tannin structure is a plus with savory cuisine. Syrah is especially compatible with game dishes because it often has its own meaty, gamey nuance.
Chardonnay is the white grape that blossoms with the change of seasons. Typically higher in alcohol and richer on the palate than crisp, aromatic white wines, chardonnay has the body and weight to stand up to the heavy cream sauces that are more popular in fall and winter. It also works beautifully with roasted fowl and fish, and many stews and casseroles.
These three are also some of the most commonly planted grape varieties the world over, so availability is excellent.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Estancia 2017 Pinot Grigio, California ($12) — Domestic pinot grigio has a generally poor track record and usually doesn't evoke comparisons to top pinot grigio from Italy. But this budget-priced Estancia pinot grigio turns the tables on conventional wisdom, showing mouthwatering acidity coupled with bright citrus notes and good persistence in the finish. Rating: 94.
Renato Ratti 2016 Barbera d'Asti, Italy ($19.99) — Barbera is undoubtedly the most underrated grape variety in the Piedmont district, and perhaps all of Italy. While it sometimes lacks the complexity — and certainly the longevity — of Barolo and Barbaresco, when it's handled properly in the vineyard and the grapes get ripe, it can hold its own with any red in Italy. Ratti nailed it in 2016. The 2016 Ratti Barbera d'Asti is a profound Barbera that delivers rich, ripe black fruits with impressive depth and length. Rating: 93.
Allegrini 2014 Palazzo della Torre, Veronese IGT, Italy ($23) — One of the most reliable producers in Italy's Veneto region, Allegrini utilizes the indigenous corvina and rondinella for this blend, along with a touch of sangiovese, which isn't common in the region because it is difficult to ripen in cooler climates. That's no problem with this vintage. It delivers layers of ripe red and black fruits, a silky texture on the palate and a touch of spice on the finish. Rating: 93.
Argiano 2015 Rosso Toscano IGT, 'Non Confunditur,' Italy ($23) — Argiano's Non Confunditur is something of a baby Super Tuscan, a soft, approachable red from Tuscany that utilizes the international grape varieties cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah with the indigenous sangiovese to craft an earthy red blend that offers notes of tart red cherry, plum and blackberry with supple tannins and a rounded, lingering finish. Rating: 91.
Fort Ross Winery 2016 Pinot Noir, 'Sea Slopes,' Sonoma Coast ($30) — This wine has loads of cherry and spice and smooth, supple tannins. It's a crowd-pleasing pinot noir with a fair price from an up-and-coming AVA. Rating: 90.
Tinto Figuero 2016 12 Tempranillo Crianza, Ribero del Duero, Spain ($31.99) — The 12 signifies 12 months aging in oak barrels, just enough time to impart notes of wood spice and smooth out any rough tannins. With ripe notes of blueberry and a hint of earth, the Figuero 12 offers complexity and youthful freshness. Rating: 90.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.