7 Wines to Help Celebrate the Beginning of Fall

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You only have to spend a few minutes at the bar at New York City’s Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels before it becomes incredibly obvious that Caleb Ganzer, the sommelier there, is having a ridiculous amount of fun with his job. He encourages guests to play drinking games, plans wine-themed costume parties and is reimagining the construct of wine dinners. “We don’t take it too seriously,” he says. “There are so many elements with wine that you can have fun with—that’s something that we’re excited about. “

Any night, Ganzer’s guests have the opportunity to order the mystery wine on the by-the-glass list and guess what it is. The only clue (aside from the color of the wine and the way it tastes, obviously) is that the wine costs less than $100 on the bottle list. Get it right, and Ganzer will open up an entire bottle of the wine for you. He’s had Master Sommeliers play and be stumped, as well as the wine-oblivious give it a shot and win by choosing at random.

And coming this fall, he’s organizing what he calls DJ Sets, which really have nothing to do with music but will be dinners hosted by wine writers, personalities or winemakers. These guest presenters will pour wines that they’re inspired by or that influenced them on their wine path. “It’s less about what they make or what they’re selling and more about things that they want to talk about,” says Ganzer. “They always talk about their wines; I want to do something different that might be more fun so they can talk about something that’s exciting to them. Why not have Adi Badenhorst, a winemaker from Swartland in South Africa, talk about why he loves Champagne?”

Caleb Ganzer (image: Patrick Fahrner)

This past spring, Ganzer threw a Jurassic Park wine party at the Soho wine bar centered around wines from France’s Jura region (aka Jurassic wines). He created an Instagram account, turned the space into a jungle, and 60 people dressed as dinosaurs or characters from the Spielberg movie filled the bar for the wines and dino-themed food. The next dress-up party will come this October: Pirates of Madeira. “I want to tell the story of the shipping industry and all that around Madeira,” says Ganzer. “It would be tough to do an entire party around Madeira, though, so I figure we’ll have to do Champagne, too, just for the hell of it.”

Clearly, this is a man who can appreciate a good theme. So we put Ganzer to the task of choosing a handful of wines to welcome the arrival of fall. Maybe it’s the moon or something in the air, but there’s a difference between a summer wine and a fall wine and a wine that sits right on the cusp. “We go a little lighter on reds in the summer and if we have reds, they’re fresh and juicy, gamay. But as things start to cool down a little bit and I start thinking more about braised meats, roasted things, more fall flavors, orange wine is the first thing for me that comes to mind. The changing of the leaves comes and I just get this orange wine sort of note – it smells like in fall when I stick my nose in the glass,” he says. “For fuller reds, I like wines with a little bit of age and bottles from Roussillon and the Languedoc and Catalunya in Spain that are a little rustic, but also earthy and funky.”

Here, seven wines that will lead you right into into fall:

1. NV Domaine Tissot Cuvée Indigène Crémant du Jura

“This wine [$28] doesn’t strike me as a super summery sparkling wine, but it was the first changing of the seasons fall wines that I thought of because it has a little more depth, a darker fruit profile and a vinous nature that works really well when things start to cool down. It’s a little more contemplative. It’s perfect with everything from roasted squash to those Thanksgiving sorts of flavors. I love this producer [from the Jura] and I’ve probably poured everything they make. I like to stock their DD (a poulsard/gamay/trousseau red blend), and we have their vin jaune and a magnum of their chardonnay, one of the single vineyards, as well. I try to keep a few of them around.”

2. 2014 Costadilà 280 slm

“We poured this wine [$22] last year for our Halloween party. It’s all glera (the prosecco grape from Veneto in Italy), and the 280 slm refers to the elevation of the vineyard. This is a skin-contact, orange bubbly wine, and for me, it’s fall in a bottle. It has that changing leaves sort of color to it; it just reminds me of pumpkin and the time of year when I want to drink it. I don’t even think I could put this on my wine list as anything resembling prosecco, because the type of person who would order prosecco would look at the wine and be like, ‘What are you doing? Is this a joke?’ It’s just that weird. That’s the thing, though, if you treat a grape slightly differently, it just takes on a totally different character; and this is kind of the epitome of that.”

3. 2015 Hervé Souhaut Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet

“Hervé Souhaut has a good story that I don’t think people talk about all that much. He’s from Paris, his wife’s from the Ardeche, and they’ve had this massive compound there for generations, going back to, like, the 1300s. It’s almost medieval on the property. This wine [$32] is viognier blended with a little bit of roussanne. It has this golden, slightly roasted apple to it and also a subtle floral note. It has more of an aged white wine quality, even when it’s young and fresh. But it also has that zippy, bright acidity, which is unusual for both of those grapes. He’s very committed to organic viticulture, and he makes very clean, natural wines.”

4. 2014 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Rosé

“The color of this rosé [$29] is more copper than bright pink or salmon; it almost looks like a very, very old red wine. And the flavors are a little less crisp, bright, clean fruit and just a little bit more roasted cherries and currants. For me, it’s kind of a no-brainer this time of year. I still love rosé after the summer, and this will deliver what you want out of a rosé, but this one is a more appropriate with all those flavors of the fall. The Clos Cibonne rosé is almost always a year behind what other producers are selling, which means 2014 is the current vintage. These guys are super old-school, and they do long large-barrel aging in 100-year-old barrels. This doesn’t add any oaky character but is an effort to get some oxidation going on in the wine. No one else down in Provence is doing anything like that.”

5. 2013 Catherine & Pierre Breton Nuits d’Ivresse Bourgueil

“These guys are rockstars. They make so many wines, and they’re always all on point. Catherine and Pierre Breton were some of the early-committed organic producers in the Loire Valley. For me, they’re the epitome of what you can achieve if you’re committed to great winemaking and expressing wines of terroir. They make sparkling whites, still whites and a ton of different reds that are reasonably priced and super well-made, and they’re honest farmer wines. I’m not super hardcore natural wine dogmatic, but I do love the fact that this is a very clean wine [$34] and doesn’t have sulfur. This one in particular is just very approachable with a lot of those red wine characteristics that you want in the fall: It is fuller bodied and has a little more tannin, but it has that freshness, too. I don’t usually drink a ton a of red wine—I just prefer sparkling and whites—but this has that refreshing nature and that tension in the glass that keeps you coming back.”

6. 2012 Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes Rouge

“Gerard Gauby is making wines down in the Roussillon [in the south of France] in a town that’s called Calce. He’s one of the stalwarts of the region. In the ’80s and ’90s, Gerard was point-chasing, and then he was like, Screw this, I’m just gonna make some super fresh wine. He started doing more biodynamics in the vineyard and getting a little bit, you could say, more natural, but mostly the wines have less oak and are just more honest wines. Now, his son, Lionel, is starting to take over, and the wines are even more fresh. They open up very well, they age very well, and I like that they’re blends, typically. This wine [$36] is carignan, grenache and syrah. I always get this rustic flavor of hot rocks with fresh blackberries crushed on them from this wine, and that’s right where my mind goes when I’m thinking about the changing seasons. I want a red that has full-bodied notes but that’s not too intense.”

7. Paul-Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes Très Vieux Cask

“This wine [$50] is definitely more for the colder part of the season, but I wanted to include something sweet in this list. This is caramelly, but it still has a really nice nuance to it—it’s not just sweet. It reminds me of cognac and oak-barrel-aged wines. It would be a great end to a meal and would be perfect by a fire. If somebody’s baking a pie, this is the exact right thing to have with it. Pineau de Charentes isn’t something that everyone has come across before, but it’s super duper classic. It’s something that an old person in France would definitely have in the fridge. I’m seemingly an old person at heart and always thinking about Grandma and Grandpa in choosing wines. That’s how you make sure you don’t get too far out there.”

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