Celebrate the bounty of the vineyard with a party centered around a selection of wines from local shops.
Every fall, wineries across the country harvest the bounty of their vineyards. It’s an exciting time of year that celebrates all things grape, from the first crush to final bottling. With that in mind, here are four ways for you to celebrate the grape this season, ranging from a lively tailgate to a cozy dinner party. We offer value and splurge wines for each occasion with suggestions from several local wine stores.
1. Alfresco Cocktails
Autumn is a great time to clink glasses outside with friends, particularly now that it’s a choice, not a pandemic necessity. The air is pleasantly cool, the sun golden, and the wine warming. While it’s tempting to serve everything in patio-friendly plastic, glass or crystal is best. Plastic interferes with the aroma and taste of the wine and detracts from the pleasure of drinking it.
Fancy: As we go from masking and distancing to hugging and socializing, celebrate the moment with the uber-elegant Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé ($99) made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, and laced with flavors of strawberries, raspberries, minerals, and sweet almond. The pale gold Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée ($49.99), composed of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, has notes of biscuit and yellow plum. Pair either Champagne with caviar, Camembert, salted cashews, or duck paté.
For a still wine, Caitlin Frame, co-owner of SUNNYS natural wine shop in Amesbury, proposes Domaine Derain, “La Combe” Bourgogne Blanc 2019 ($44). “Chardonnay can be polarizing, but I challenge anyone to hate this wine. It’s a stunner and tastes of citrus, green apple, a little honey, and tons of minerality. Pair it with any oily fish.” Bluefish paté?
Casual: For modestly priced bubbles, try the 100 percent Pinot Noir Domain Camille Braun Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé ($26) brimming with flavors of fresh cherries and crisp apples, or the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut ($25) made from Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois and tasting of juicy nectarines and peach. Both pair well with fatty snacks, like potato chips.
Frame’s value pick is Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, “P’tit Vaillant” 2020 ($23), a blend of Groslot and Cabernet Franc grapes aged in underground ceramic vats. “It’s bright and lively with ripe, red fruit and tart cherry flavors. I would crush it with some rabbit or duck rillettes, fried artichokes, or anything with goat cheese.”
2. Dinner Party for Friends
For some people, dinner parties offer the chance to wow guests with multi-course meals and exceptional pours. Others prefer casual buffets with simple sippers. Below are both options.
Fancy: Cellar Door in Ipswich is known for carrying sustainable wines, “smaller production wines made by winemakers with a strong commitment to the environment and to the authenticity of the grape itself, as well as the terroir from which they grow,” says owner Bruce Flynn, who recommends the Stolpman Vineyards “Uni” 2019 ($29). “It’s a blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay and pairs well with poultry, pork tenderloin, and rich fish.”
For red, Flynn suggests Onward Wines, Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir 2015 ($38). “It’s medium-bodied, smooth, and dry and has good acidity with flavors of bright red fruit, vanilla, and leather. It tastes great with poultry or beef.”
Casual: A hidden gem for this price is the 2018 Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($20). With flavors of dried cherry, plum, cedar, and violets, it’s medium-bodied, has good acidity and pairs well with grilled salmon, swordfish or roast chicken.
Flynn likes the unfiltered and unrefined Forlorn Hope Queen of the Sierra Red Blend ($20), made from Barbera, Tempranillo, Cabernet, and Graciano. “It’s full-bodied, fruit-forward, and has good structure. Try it with beef, lamb, or veal.”
3. Tailgate Party
If you own a vehicle, you can hold a tailgate. I used to host them every fall when my Cambridge college football team played its New Haven rival. Mine were casual affairs involving easy noshes and supermarket wines. But some of my fellow tailgaters laid out gourmet spreads on white tablecloths set with candelabra and buckets of chilled Champagne. Whichever type of tailgate you choose to host, you don’t need a football game as an excuse. You can pop open the back of your vehicle by a river, lake, beach, or even in your own driveway.
Fancy: Treat guests to the Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Chardonnay, 2018 ($45), an unexpected option from an area known for Pinot Noir. Rich and honeyed, this wine has yellow apple and ripe peach flavors with hints of nutmeg and vanilla. A luxurious lobster salad would pair beautifully.
For a special red, David Messina of North Andover’s Wine Connexion suggests the 2016 Nick Goldschmidt ‘Game Ranch’ Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.99). “This wine is big up front and chewy without being too fruit-forward and overpowering. With notes of dark current and tobacco, it pairs exceptionally well with grilled fare.”
Casual: Lay out a big Niçoise and unscrew some 2019 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Grigio, Russian River Valley ($22), a crisp yet full-bodied sipper laced with citrus, kiwi, and mango.
For red, Messina recommends the 2019 Juan Gil ‘Red Blend’ Spain ($13.99), composed of 4 percent Monastrell, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Syrah. “This wine is big and powerful up front but also gentle on the tannins, leading to a nice finish. With notes of dark fruit, such as wild berries and cassis, along with eucalyptus, it pairs well with most tailgate foods.”
4. Hostess Gift
Whether friends have invited you to Come to their house for the weekend or for dinner, you want to bring them a bottle (or two) for thanks. Here are several options.
+ Oenophiles will swoon over the complex 2017 Sebastiani Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley ($125) filled with soft tannins and concentrated flavors of blackberry, baking spices, cedar, and tobacco. Try with grilled rib-eye or braised short ribs.
+ Samanta Ettore, founder of Wine-Sense in Andover, suggests the 2012 Rosso, “Tutto Dipende da Dove Vuoi Andare” ($34), a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera. “It’s a seamless wine with tons of ripe fruit and soft spices, and your palate just feels the integration and the true talent of the winemaker, Gabriele Scaglione. It pairs well with pasta with mushroom ragú or roasted chicken and root vegetables.”
+ Ettore also favors Deep Blue ($32), a biodynamic Pinot Noir from Day Wines, which donates a portion of the wine’s proceeds toward ocean restoration. “The power of this Pinot Noir starts with its enticing aromas, steady acidity, and delicate yet deep dark fruit flavors. It’s produced by Brianne Day, who’s focused, talented, and driven by her passion. It pairs with almost anything, from veal cutlets to salmon.”