Monday, October 21, 2019

Trio Of Wines Highlight Fall Flavors

The change in seasons requires wine with bold flavors. We uncork three wines to match with our harvest feast.

Three Picks For Autumn

For all our complaints about summer heat in the Raleigh area, we are reluctant to let go of the sunshine and warmth it represents. As the leaves change their hues and days get shorter, we put away the chilled rosé and seek heartier tastes.

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Following a hectic week, I recently traveled back from a conference in Norfolk. At home, the Green Dragon (my wife and the Vino-Sphere culinary guru) and her sister were preparing a feast. When I departed earlier in the week, I left three bottles for them to build a meal around. The featured wines were: Cameron Hughes Lot 638 2016 Petit Verdot, Yakima Valley; Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley; and Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg.

Bringing In The Harvest

The opener was the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc. Chenin is a great grape variety that we’d recommend for those wanting to break out of the white wine confines of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It is the featured grape in Vouvray, one of our favorite French whites.

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For the food pairing, we had a spectacular harvest bisque along with a spinach salad with vinaigrette and strawberries. The bisque was made with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots with a dash of sherry and maple syrup.

The Chenin Blanc, with an SRP of $16, has melon flavor notes with swirling tropical fruit. It has good acidity that is balanced with rich fruit flavors. Stainless steel fermentation keeps the freshness and there is a slight touch of sweetness. Pairing perfection!

Fall Into The Bayou

As they used to say on the Monty Python show: And now for something completely different… The Green Dragon got busy while I was gone researching what would make a good pairing with Petite Verdot. She concluded that it required food with bold, spicy flavors. What she came up with was a bit of a surprise.

Paired with the Cameron Hughes Petit Verdot was Cajun red beans and rice – something you’d more typically dig into during Mardi Gras. But this was a tasting meal and we weren’t going to let geography stand in the way of an ideal pairing.

We love a bargain on wine. That’s one reason we’ve always appreciated Cameron Hughes. Cameron Hughes is a négociant, with no vineyards or winery. Instead, it buys wine from premier wineries and sells under its own label direct online – without disclosing the original producer.

That’s how they can sell Lot 638 Petit Verdot for $15 instead of a $40 price point. Lot 638 comes from the prized Red Mountain region of Yakima Valley in Washington.

Inky dark, this is a smooth and powerful wine that certainly pairs well with spicy food. Delicious plum and blackberry flavors abound. We didn’t want this bottle to end. It’s Cameron Hughes’ first offering of Petit Verdot. We certainly hope to see more in the future.

A Spectacular Finish

Just last night someone was asking me to name my favorite wine. I responded that it’s like trying to pick a favorite child – I’ve got lots of favorites. If pressed, though, I would say that Meritage – the American Bordeaux-style blend – is my favorite. Our favorite Meritage is Dry Creek Valley’s The Mariner.

Ninety-nine percent of the work on the wine dinner was done by the Green Dragon and her sister Janine. However, the 1 percent that I contributed was crucial. The Mojo Pork Tenderloin with grilled peppers and avocados was cooked by yours truly. Considering I also grilled the asparagus, oranges, and green onions, maybe my contribution was actually 2 percent!

Darkness was coming on, so we lit the tiki torches and candles and sat down to savor a special bottle of wine. The 2016 The Mariner is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. We decanted for about an hour.

The Mariner is a complex, layered wine that retails for $50. Perhaps it was the outdoor setting or the meal we served, but I judge this wine primed and ready to drink now. Yes, it can age for another five to seven years, but it is drinking beautifully now. It’s a limited-run wine, with a production of 1,378 cases.

My first impression was in the red fruit zone: cranberries and dark cherry. Sipping and swirling reveals a smidge of spice along with dried fruit, mocha, and leather. The rising nearly full moon and the flickering flames of the firepit completed an idyllic scene.

The Mariner is made with hillside vines that average more than 20 years old. Aging is in French and Hungarian oak, 48% new.

While the days of sipping chilled wine under a blazing summer sun might be gone for now, the door has opened for bold flavors and rich reds. Try these three wines to enjoy the autumn season to its fullest.

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