It may be September, but we denizens of DC know that doesn’t mean an automatic reprieve from hot weather. Though autumn’s official start will arrive in a few weeks, we still have plenty of swelter left. So, what to drink in this transitional time, this ‘tween season not quite summer and not quite fall?
Luckily for us, we’ve got a lot of brilliant local sommeliers to help us over the hump. I asked a quintet to recommend some current favorites to drink now and as the seasons change, and they’ve responded most generously. There’s an embarrassment of riches here – wine recommendations, vinology knowledge to inspire you to learn more, and some tempting food pairings to whet your appetite! So join me as we explore a beautiful array of wines to sip while enjoying the last of the summer heat, as the hazy lazy afternoons slowly give way to the crisp bounty of autumn color.
Carlton McCoy, Sommelier and Assistant Manager, Sou’Wester
Carlton’s recommendation for last of the summer wine is Chablis, which he noted is a classic accompaniment for oysters and other shellfish. That certainly got my attention, as slurping back a dozen is my top September activity. As with all French wines the nomenclature can be slightly confusing to the uninitiated, so Carlton demystified it for us. “Chablis by law must be 100% chardonnay. It is the purest expression of the grape and translates the character of the soil extremely well. The soil is a unique Kemmeridgean clay with outcrops of the same chalk layer that extends from Sancerre up to the White Cliffs of Dover.”
Now I know some of us have the knee-jerk reaction of ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – but Carlton convinced me by further explaining that Chablis wines “rarely see oak treatment and tend not to go through much malolactic fermentation. The result is an extremely complex crisp, earth driven wine with a medium body.” He recommends a bottle of 1998 Domaine Louis Michel “Les Clos” which is a Grand Cru Chablis, and explained that there are four different tiers to Chablis, ending with the seven Grand Cru vineyards joined together around the river Seine. Sigh. I really love the romance of wine!
Not into an oyster pairing? Never fear. Take a bottle of Chablis with you on a picnic, and enjoy it with cheese. “It pairs well with cheeses as light as Crotin de Chavignol and as heavy as Langres,” according to Carlton. Time to stow some away on my next long bike ride.
Matthew Carroll, Sommelier, 2941
Matthew agrees with Carlton that Chablis should get some props. His bottle choice is Jean-Marc Brocard ‘Cote de Lechet’ Premier Cru Chablis, because “this is a stunning example of a wine that can turn the head of even the most ardent ABC drinker (Anything But Chardonnay). This biodynamically-farmed beauty shows off tons of lemon balm, thyme and citrus zest. All of that is hung on a sturdy frame of minerality. It happily reminds me of fresh summer herbs.”
From France to Spain, Matthew’s next pick is Bodegas O Ventosela ‘Vina Leirina’ – a “gorgeous blend from the Northwest corner of Spain transports me to the coast every time that I open a bottle. The menage of Treixadura, Godello and Albarino show off beautiful notes of sea air salinity mixed with crisp white peaches and fresh lime. On par with any summertime cocktail I’ve had!”
Matthew finds the bottle of red wine to drink in the transitional month is Gramercy ‘Inigo Montoya’ Tempranillo, from Walla Walla, Washington. Usually a wine found in Rioja, Spain, Matthew explained that Tempranillo is now being produced in Washington State by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington. “This wine is an incredible multi-tasker at the table and sits in that sweet-spot between Pinot Noir and Syrah. It makes we want to be close to a grill with friends at least one more time before summer slips away.”
Noel Burke, Beverage Director and General Manager, RIS
Noel’s recommendations are meant to highlight the transition to autumnal delights with delicious food pairings. First up, Syrah with salad.
Wait, what? Here’s where ‘tween season pairing gets interesting. Chef Ris Lacoste is mixing up red cabbage, tomatoes and duck confit for a late summer salad evoking the changing produce – cabbage in, tomatoes out. With more complex salad ingredients on hand, marinated in a hot dressing of vinegar and mustard, it’s time for a wine that can take it. Noel recommends 2006 Viader Syrah, Napa Valley, California, with its “ripe tannins and firm structure… that has a nice fruity finish with slight mineral notes.” With a sweet and sour salad like Chef Lacoste is dishing out, the “rich juicy flavors of pomegranate and dark cherries” pairs well.
As squash starts to arrive at our farmer’s markets it will be time for my favorite fall dish, pumpkin ravioli. I’ve never known what’s best to pair with it, though, usually faking it with whatever’s on hand. So it was fascinating to hear Noel’s recommendation – Pinot Noir. As with Chef Lacoste’s recipe featuring sherried mushroom sauce, pumpkin ravioli usually cries out for some cream. Noel picks a 2007 Merry Edwards “Meredith Estate” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California. “We were looking for bright flavors to complement this dish and found them in the this beautiful Pinot Noir. Although this wine could benefit from aging, it pairs well because it is young, bright and chock full of raspberries and blueberries that go so well with the sherried mushroom sauce.”
Finally, if you’re looking for something completely different, Noel suggests 2009 De Ponte Cellars Melon, D.F.B. Estate Dundee Hills, Oregon, which he describes as “a gem of a wine that is akin to France’s Muscadet or Melon de Bourgogne… with fresh banana, pear and citrus notes on the nose and a slight honeysuckle, savory apple and lemon characteristic on the palate.” He pairs it with sea scallops that Chef Lacoste has rustled up with caulilower cream, chanterelles and apples – all ingredients coming into play as fall arrives.
Julian Mayor, Head Sommelier, BOURBON STEAK
For Julian, our DC ‘tween season means that “the days are still warm, but the nights perhaps offer a cooler breeze and encourage foods that start to take on a heartier feel without going full-on into Thanksgiving mode.” Our transitional weather leads to his recommendation of the wines of Alsace. This is a love we share.
There’s a misconception that Alsatian wines are sweet, sometimes cloying. Julian advises trying Domaine Weinbach Pinot Blanc Reserve to overcome that vew. “The Domaine was founded in 1612 by Capuchin monks and today is run as a completely organic and biodynamic winery,” he explains. The wine is crisp and dry, with “pure elegant aromas of lemon/lime and white flowers, and flavors of fresh citrus and green apples. Starts off light but really rounds out the palate. It is great on its own or with lighter appetizers.”
Another misunderstood wine is Gewurztraminer, and Julian waves the flag for a bottle of Marc Tempé Gewurztraminer Zellenberg. “Marc Tempé’s wines are a throwback to a time when new fangled machinery and production was not simply for profit. This is not your perfumey, sweet, clumsy style of Gewurz” – a style responsible for most people’s aversion! “Marc Tempé Gewurztraminer Zellenberg is lively, aromatic, with aromas and flavors of fresh cut flowers and light tropical fruits with a hint of lychee. This wine sees time in oak for a little extra oomph.” What could you pair Gewurztraminer with? “Grilled or pan-seared tuna with curry and herb brown butter makes me drool with anticipation,” Julian said. Um, me too.
Just as Noel offered up some red wine options for the late summer, so does Julian. The sole red varietal produced by Alsace is Pinot Noir, great to pair when grilling. He recommends Domaine Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve, a family-owned vineyard since 1626. “It is a red wine that sees no oak. Medium bodied with a bright nose of fresh red cherries, this wine still exhibits a touch of tannin on the palate to help it go so well with charcuterie, duck, grilled and smoked meats, and many cheeses.”
If you aren’t completely starved yet for a perfect ‘tween season meal with fantastic wines, you’re inhuman. Let’s end with three bottles to have on hand for all those impromptu late summer gatherings that crop up as schedules ramp into fall…
Sebastian Zutant, Wine Director, Proof and Estadio
Sebastian notes that as the season changes but the weather stays warm, he finds himself drinking fuller bodied whites. One of these is the 2007 Mendel Semillon from Argentina. He calls it “delicious,” and as a fellow lover of Semillon I can’t wait to try it. “Full and rich with great tangerine and lavender notes. Very floral and it really smells like very ripe papayas.” That sounds like heaven to sip al fresco at sunset.
There’s also still time to drink rose, and Sebastian recommends 2007 Ferraton Tavel Rose. “This is a nice fruit driven rose with herbal notes and great acidity. I always try to get my rose fix in at the end of the summer, I miss it.” This definitely ties into the nostalgic feel one gets as summer turns to fall, as warm breezes are slowly replaced by cool ones.
“Finally, I also find myself into chilled Beaujolais,” he said, “The 2008 Chateau Thivin with its bright fruity high acid is perfect for the soon to come fall weather.”
We all know that moment when the last grill party ends. I hope these incredible suggestions help soothe the anxiety as summer fades. There’s so much to learn in the world of wine, and I hope to do these round-ups as each season changes to help us all be inspired to drink for the moment. Many thanks to our local sommeliers who educate and share the bounty of the vine. Share your favorites with us too!