With current temperatures and humidity remaining high, many of us are likely still enjoying crisp and refreshing white, rosé, and sparkling wines, and the thought of drinking something heavier seems impossible. However, soon it will be autumn, and the cooler weather will bring crisper evenings, more time outdoors on porches and decks, and food from the barbecue, grill, or smoker.
The change in season also brings out the heartier wines. White wines with more weight on the palate and aromatic complexity take over from the bright, lean, high-acid summer go-tos. Fuller-bodied red wines, with more structure from tannins and heavier flavor extraction, become welcome companions that promote conversation, comfort, and inspire contemplation.
Virginia wine has many options well suited to this time of year, including familiar varieties such as chardonnay and cabernet franc. Here are some less-well-known examples that are worth seeking out.
Rkatsiteli is perhaps not a variety that immediately jumps to mind when it comes to white wine in Virginia. It’s one of the oldest known grape varieties and it originated in the country of Georgia. The wine is spicy, floral, and a bit textural on the tongue. These characteristics make it a good pairing for roast pork, smoked vegetables, beans, and stews. It also pairs well with Asian- or Middle Eastern-spiced cuisines, such as dishes from India, Lebanon, and Vietnam.
There’s not a lot in Virginia, but I can recommend two excellent examples: the 2019 Rkatsiteli from Blenheim Vineyards ($19, blenheimvineyards.com) and the 2017 Wildkat Rkatsiteli from Stinson Vineyards ($27.99, stinsonvineyards.com). The Blenheim bottling is a bit lighter in weight with a floral nose and flavors of apricots, roasted peaches, and tarragon. Stinson’s version utilizes skin contact, a process similar to how red wines are made, which extracts more flavor, color, and tannins (also known as “orange” wine). The result is a darker, heavier wine with aromas of honeysuckle, Asian pears, and dried apricots, and flavors of white peaches, pumpkin, and a slight bitterness on the finish reminiscent of grapefruit and orange peel.
Both of these wines benefit from being served a bit warmer, which allows the many aromas and flavors to fully express themselves.
Petit manseng is beginning to fulfill its early promise, drawing rave reviews and gaining recognition here in Virginia. Made into a white wine, it has full and complex aromas and flavors that often include honey notes, spice characters, and tropical fruits. With a heavier body and lots of complexity, it’s a perfect wine for fall.
I highly recommend the Michael Shaps Wineworks 2017 Petit Manseng ($30, virginiawineworks.com). If I could have only one white wine from Virginia to drink during the autumn months, this would be the one. It exhibits lime, white flowers, and wet stone on the nose. It has a broad, rich, luxurious feel with complex flavors of lemon-lime, beeswax, and papaya. A very long finish extends with a pleasant hint of white stone.
Like rkatsiteli, this wine is better when served a bit warmer than most white wines.
If there is one grape variety that many identify with autumn, it’s pinot noir. This red variety produces wines of medium weight, relatively lower tannins, and complex flavors of red and black fruits, Asian and baking spices, and savory characteristics such as mushroom, fall leaves, and dried tea leaves. While there isn’t a lot of pinot noir in Virginia, Ankida Ridge Vineyards makes an excellent example, and the 2017 Pinot Noir ($44, anikdaridge.com) is a great wine from a great vintage. On the nose are aromas of cherry, plum, blackberries, and baking spices, echoed in the flavor, along with a pleasant cola and a long finish that presents hints of vanilla. Fans of pinot noir should also be on the lookout for Ankida Ridge’s yet unreleased 2017 Pinot Noir Reserve, which should be available soon.
For some red wine fans, the bigger and bolder the better. In other regions, cabernet sauvignon fits that bill, but it can be difficult to fully ripen in the local climate. As a result, you don’t see a lot of cabernet sauvignon as a single variety bottling in Virginia. Instead, big red wines often consist of blends that may also include cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, and tannat. However, the right vineyard site combined with an excellent vintage year can bring success, and this is the case for the Pollak Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50, pollakvineyards.com). On the nose there are hints of vanilla with lots of red fruit and a bit of stewed black plum. On the palate, there are red fruits, vanilla, baking spices, cinnamon, and a hint of smoke with a lingering finish that includes some crushed stone characteristics. This wine has solid tannic structure and great potential to age, but is also balanced and approachable if you are drinking it now. It’s a wonderful wine and winner of the 2020 Monticello Cup.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to try these wines as you raise a glass to autumn in Virginia. These bottles showcase great things happening in local vineyards and wineries, and they will definitely reward your time and attention.