Fall Wine Pairings

Seasonal pairing essentials


After a summer of enjoying whites and lightly chilled reds, it’s time to kick down the doors to the cellar and start pulling bottles once again.  One thing I love about fall is that the changing seasons make hearty reds the star of any table.

Last year, I did a round up of wines right for the season. This go-around, I’m taking it one step further and sharing wines and recipes that epitomize the fall to me.

These days, there is less and less seasonality with wine. Why can’t you enjoy a big monster red in air-conditioned splendor during a 100 degree heat wave? You most certainly can, but there is something extra special when the air is redolent of the light edge of decay and smoke that seems to accompany the change of the seasons in these parts. So with that in mind, join me as I explore my autumn table.

Photo courtesy Kamal Wijeratna via Flickr/CC

Autumn Vegetables

After a summer of crisp, garden fresh vegetables, I am looking forward to the soft, sweet, caramel glaze of a garden’s autumn bounty. There is something delightfully instinctive about my enjoyment of a tray full of roasted carrots, parsnips, squash and rutabagas!

While I love these sorts of things, they don’t always love wine. Or rather, perhaps wine doesn’t love them. As you roast these vegetables you not only convert starch to sugar, but you concentrate those sugars, sometimes to incredible richness. That’s what makes them crazy delicious, right? Yup. But pairing wine with sugar is always a challenge.

Photo courtesy hflournoy1 via Flickr/CC

Choose a Complimentary Pairing

One of the basic rules of food and wine pairing is contrast or compliment. Here, with sugar-laden vegetables it’s an easy call. I would definitely call for some complimentary pairings. The sheer levels of sweetness these veggies can attain will make most contrasting pairings seem like you’re drinking battery acid.

So what’s the right wine? Something a little sweet, yet rich and dense? Get this, it’s Pinot Gris! Pinot Gris, which sometimes has a helpful touch of tannin as well, frequently has earthy flavors and noticeable residual sugar which supports its ripe orchard fruit. That works perfectly with the similar flavors found in these vegetable dishes. Don’t be afraid to buy a particularly rich version!

From here: Methven Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2009

From there: Hugel Tradition Pinot Gris 2007

Photo courtesy theuptownlife via Flickr/CC


Pasta is an autumn dish? Maybe not the pasta, but certainly the sauce. Late summer pasta is all about fresh tomato sauces, pesto and garden vegetables, but as we move into the cooler months, out pop the great mushroom sauces and long simmered meat sauces. I love them both and while they both deserve detailed pairing recommendations, there is also the possibility of combining the two into one ridiculously delicious and aromatic concoction. I call this veal and mushroom ragu.

Quite simply seasoned with a touch of vegetable, some garlic and noticeable rosemary, this slow simmered sauce of ground veal and Portobello mushrooms is a winner every time I make it! It’s also very wine simpatico, working well with almost every red wine from Abouriou to Zinfandel. I have found that the dish works best with some of the rustic, funky wines of Europe. Wines that still seem to have a little dirt floating in the glass.

Try the spicy black fruit of an Austrian Zweigelt

Or the snappy red fruit of an Italian Piedirosso

Photo courtesy avlxyz via Flickr/CC


Since I touched on it, I would be remiss if I didn’t properly cover the issue of pasta with mushrooms, or even better, with truffles. Let’s get the truffles out of the way first. By truffles I mean real truffles, not that nasty industrial truffle oil. Truffles are expensive, it’s true, and the ideal wine to pair with truffles, old Burgundy or Barolo, is going to be expensive as well. Hence why there are mushrooms!

Mushrooms, even wild mushrooms, are relatively affordable, and deliver a nice alternative to the spicy, earthy, aromatic beasts that are truffles. Like truffles, mushrooms seem to have an affinity for Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo wines with some age on them, and when tasted with pasta tend to be light enough to get by handsomely with a simple Burgundy or Nebbiolo. I love both of these wines and wouldn’t hesitate to pair mushroom-based pasta dishes with either.

A classic Nebbiolo with some edge from Valtellina: Nini Negri Quadrio Valtellina 2005

A maturing Burgundy on the cusp of forest floor: Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2006

Photo courtesy alexdowle via Flickr/CC

Simmered Meat Sauce

After giving the full treatment to mushrooms, I have to return to pasta and give the long simmered meat sauce it’s due. Traditionally, we refer to these styles of sauces with the rather generic “Bolognese” moniker, though that tends to refer to a rather specific style of preparation.

The end results do tend to be quite similar, concentrated meat and tomato flavors, with a dense underlying sweetness and spiky, palate refreshing acidity. Sounds like it’s time for my two favorite food wines! Bring on the Barbera and Sangiovese. Yes this gets repetitive, but Barbera and Sangiovese are the contortionists of the wine world, managing to fit well in many food-pairing boxes!

Two of my current favorites are a classic Sonoma County Barbera and a very fine Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese! Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Barbera: Sebastiani Vineyards Barbera 2007

Sangiovese: Pedroncelli Winery Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 2007

Photo courtesy yashima via Flickr/CC

Braised Meats

One of the issues I have, living as I do in a relatively compact NYC apartment, is the heat generated by cooking. It is no coincidence that warm weather cooking involves much more pan searing than roasting, having the oven on for hours in the summer can overwhelm my air conditioner. When the weather turns cooler, having an apartment filled with a permeating warmth and savory aromas makes it feel like home.

I love braised meats, but one of my all time favorite braised dishes is Osso Buco. Slippery, tender veal imbued with the essence of the meat, married to a deeply complex braising liquid. What could be better? I have to admit that I prefer my Osso Buco served with egg noodles as opposed to the classic Risotto Milanese. All the better to soak up all those juices!

Photo courtesy stu_spivack via Flickr/CC

To Pair: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

So what to drink with Osso Buco? I find it to be one of the greatest foils for wine on the planet. Obviously Italian wines are a natural pairing, particularly those from around Milan, but as I said, there are virtually endless pairing possibilities.

Sticking with Italy, check out some of the earthier options that Sangiovese offers. A nice bottle of aged Vino Nobile di Montepulciano offers great contrasting flavors, with an intensity to match the dish yet won’t break the bank!

On the classic side: Torcalvano Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

On the modern side: Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCg 2006

Want to Learn More?

Check out these Classic Food and Wine Pairings!

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  • Snooth User: Flying 44
    697996 20

    Then why are you showing a Mommesin wine bottle???? That's neither Barbera nor Sangiovese...

    Nov 10, 2011 at 11:49 PM

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