Pinot Meets Porcini in Autumn Wine Picks: John Mariani

Beronia Gran Reserva 2001
A bottle of Beronia Gran Reserva 2001. It is a Rioja Alta blend of 88 percent tempranillo, 8 percent graciano, and 4 percent mazuela, aged in oak for 30 months, then three in bottle, with a sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. Source: CRT Tanaka via Bloomberg

A fine brisk autumn is upon us and thoughts turn from cold white summer wines to robust red wines that go with the stews, braised meats, and roast chicken whose pots and pans were put away in May.

The ingredients change in autumn: tomatoes and corn and raspberries disappear from the larder and heartier foods come to market -- squash and pumpkins, wild mushrooms, truffles, parsnips, cranberries, apples, and, of course, game.

It’s also a time when a lot of wineries release new wines in hopes of big holiday sales. So, I’ve been happily drinking my way through early autumn with robust reds on my table. Here are some I’ve found particularly rewarding.

At the new restaurant NoMad in New York City, the signature dish is a roast chicken, whose mahogany-colored skin is stuffed with foie gras, black truffles, and brioche crumbs. With this magnificent dish I enjoyed two Spanish Riojas: Beronia Gran Reserva 2001 ($30) and Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2001 ($38).

The first is a Rioja Alta blend of 88 percent tempranillo, eight percent graciano, and four percent mazuela, aged in oak for 30 months, and another three in the bottle, with a sensible 13.5 percent alcohol level.

The grape blend reveals the kind of nuance that make rioja wines so appealing, with a delicious spice and velvety layers of fruit that enriched every morsel of the chicken.

Fully Mature

The Baron de Ley is made from 100 percent tempranillo, sourced from the coolest regions in Mendevia, exclusively from the Imas estate. After two and half years in barrel it spends a full five in bottle, and this is a fully mature, earthy, smoky example in its boldest style.

On another night, at home, my wife and I had a bollito misto (mixed boil) of beef, chicken, veal, with condiments of horseradish and mustard on the side. This needed a wine with good acid but not an enormous amount of plummy fruit.

I chose an Alois Lageder Lagrein 2010 ($24), made by 150-year-old family estate in Alto Adige in northern Italy where red wines don’t get massive. With just 12.5 percent alcohol, this was very easy to drink with the platter of sliced meats and broth, just tinged with the condiments.

I always enjoy simple Bordeaux with everyday food, so I picked out a Chateau du Pin 2009 ($11), whose straightforward, medium-bodied, uncomplicated flavor of predominant merlot was just right for thick roasted veal chop with the last of the summer’s corn on the cob. Nothing bigger could have any better.

Decoy Duckhorn

Another merlot I like was Decoy Sonoma County Merlot 2010 ($25), the bargain wine from Duckhorn Wine Company, one of the pioneers of fine merlot in this country.

If the winkingly-named Decoy lacks the complexity of the $40 Duckhorn, it is still a solid, rich, extremely satisfying wine that was perfect with a cup of vichyssoise followed by grilled chicken with sweet peppers.

Opposed as I am to wines above 14.5 percent alcohol, I still needed something to marry with a very spicy lamb stew with chili peppers, garlic, and sweet onions; I chose a Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel 2009 ($21), that neatly complemented the dish. With 15.5 percent alcohol, I was content with no more than a glass and a half with my meal, for it packs a wallop.

While none of these wines was expensive, the hard-to-find Antica Terra Botanica 2010 ($80) was worth it for the finesse among the big fruit flavors, balanced, as fine pinot noir should be, with sufficient acid to keep its brightness at an ideal 13.5 percent alcohol.

The wine was made in Yamhill, Oregon, in a cool vintage, so its opulence comes through without the cloying fat of a hot year. I drank it with a plate of egg-rich fresh fettuccine with porcini mushrooms and a dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Autumn arrived that night in fine form.

(John Mariani writes about wine for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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