The best wines of autumn 2020
Domaine Chevillon Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, 2017 gamay/pinot noir, Burgundy, France ($58)
Gamay, but certainly not Beaujolais. Brothers Denis and Bertrand Chevillon source their grapes from three small plots close to their village of Nuits-St-Georges. The rocky limestone soils give the gamay and pinot noir a briskness of acidity, so different from the fleshy wines of the south. The low yields of 2017 are evident, with a core of ripe black raspberry and plum, along with a little dried violet, graphite and wiry tannins. This is a wine that responds to a generous decant and lively conversation.
Fruit Liqueur Freaks, 2018 red shiso liqueur, Kyoto, Japan ($69)
Talk about seasonal! Garagiste liqueur producers Ryota Anezaki and Hirokazu Itoh wait patiently each year for the two weeks in July when red shiso is in season. The leaves are hand-destemmed to avoid bitterness and then pickled and macerated with shochu. The result is incredibly perfumed, like the purest essence of raspberry and cherry, with a little of perilla’s unique spice. Gently sweet, it’s lovely incorporated into cocktails and even better poured generously over ice.
Gigibianco, 2018 trebbiano, Tuscany, Italy ($23)
This wine always makes me think of the weeks when summer fades to autumn. With its soft haze, it’s like the last golden beams of afternoon sunlight, with notes of hay, chamomile and salty preserved lemon. For lovers of Italian pinot grigio, this lo-fi alternative has additional chalky texture and a lively drive through the palate. Don’t drink it too cold.
Catherine and Patrick Bottex ‘La Cueille’ Bugey-Cerdon, 2018 méthode ancestrale rosé, Savoie, France ($39)
Bugey-Cerdon is a curious appellation in Savoie, the historic former duchy nestled in the mountains on the border of France and Switzerland. Gamay and a splash of poulsard are fermented by the méthode ancestrale – the way wines were made sparkling before champagne was imagined. Hot pink and lightly sparkling, it has a tickle of sweetness, bright acidity and notes of alpine strawberry and redcurrant. It’s low in alcohol and utterly delicious.
Latta ‘Rattlesnake’, 2019 multivarietal blend, western Victoria ($35)
Owen Latta has firmly established himself as one of Australia’s most exciting winemakers to watch, whether through the classic, vineyard-focused wines of his family estate, Eastern Peake, or the left-leaning projects that carry his name. You won’t find grape varieties listed on this label: Rattlesnake is all about style and texture instead of varietal expression. It has a spine of refreshing acidity, just-ripe nectarine and green almond, and powdery texture from varying levels of skin contact in the fermentation. Hard to describe, delicious to drink.
S. C. Pannell ‘Basso’, 2018 garnacha, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($28)
Long grown in some of South Australia’s warmer, thirstier regions, grenache – or garnacha – has been overlooked or treated as poor man’s shiraz. Step forward, grenache: your time is now, particularly in the hands of uber-winemaker Steve Pannell. Basso celebrates fruit from mature dry-grown vines well adapted to their place, crafted intuitively. It’s pale and fragrant, all silky tannin and vibrant red fruit. Simply glorious.
Nadeson Collis ‘Millésime’, 2011 blanc de blancs, Henty, Victoria ($65)
There was a lot said about the rainy 2011 vintage in Victoria, and a lot of that wasn’t particularly complimentary. Here’s cause to reconsider. The restraint and elegance of Henty’s cool climate shines, with lemon-blossom lift, salinity and impressive persistence, particularly when combined with the complexity of eight years of bottle ageing. This is confident, thought-provoking Australian fizz that outcompetes most champagne at this price point.
Loosen Barry ‘Wolta Wolta’, 2017 riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia ($120)
When German winemaking legend Ernst Loosen met Clare Valley stalwart Peter Barry, conversation was bound to turn to riesling. Unashamedly ambitious, Wolta Wolta is riesling from the Barry family’s highest-altitude vineyard, made using the techniques of Loosen’s Mosel Valley forebears. Concentrated and precise, the Clare’s familiar apple-and-lime-juice character is softened to show wet slate, white flowers and subtle savoury notes. Tradition, meet tradition.
Billy Button ‘Wildflower Rosso’, 2018 shiraz/dolcetto, King and Alpine valleys, Victoria ($24)
It’s a rather unconventional pairing, shiraz and dolcetto, but in Jo Marsh’s skilled hands it works seamlessly. Shiraz’s cooler-climate pepper spice adds seasoning and structure to the Piedmontese variety’s supple dark plum fruit. Medium-bodied and savoury, it’s an example of the diversity of wine from Victoria’s north-east. If you can, visit the region. If you can’t, visit via a glass.
Kangarilla Road ‘The Veil’, 2015 savagnin, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($30)
McLaren Vale is intimately connected to the sea, coiled around a coast of whitest sand and bluest sky. Fancy fish and chips on the beach? This is the wine to bring along. Kangarilla Road is the pioneer of this style of savagnin in Australia, aged under a lacy veil of flor yeast, and this version is particularly thrilling. The yeast brings a briny, sourdough complexity to savagnin’s bright, fresh-squeezed lemon fruit. Listen for the ocean.
Frey ‘Branco de Granito’, 2017 gouveio blend, Douro Valley, Portugal ($42)
As a child, winemaker Pedro Frey spent his summers with his grandparents, high on the slopes of the western Douro Valley. The granite soils of their old vineyard are home to a complex field planting of more than 20 local grape varieties. Now a winemaker, Pedro has a gentle touch in the vineyard and winery, achieving impeccable balance and a distinctive stoniness to complement the ripe orchard fruit. Stunning.
BK ‘Ovum’, 2019 pinot gris, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($35)
Grown in the cool reaches of Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, this isn’t a pinot grigio of the “plain white wine” category – it’s got real personality. A little extra ripeness contributes notes of beurre bosc pear and ripe apple, and a lift of fragrant honeysuckle. Instead of the residual sugar often found in riper pinot gris, it’s dry, with a slippery, almost creamy texture. Brendon Keys’ Ovum is well on its way to becoming my go-to pinot gris.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 21, 2020 as "The best of autumn".
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