Food & Drink

Fall Might be Washington’s Best Wine-Drinking Season

In the final part of a series on Washington varietals to drink each season, Paul Zitarelli recommends the best wines for autumn.

By Paul Zitarelli September 21, 2017


This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

I can’t be the only Seattleite who harbors a secret love of our rainy autumns. Don’t get me wrong: I love our glorious sunny summer as much as the next wine writer, but by Labor Day, I’m itching for that first morning when the gray underbelly of Puget Sound’s clouds are seemingly only 15 feet off the ground.

Why the love for overcast weather? It gives us guilt-free permission to turn our focus from the outdoors to the indoors and toward family and home, and very much toward the kitchen and the table. All of the sudden, it doesn’t seem ridiculous to have the entire Saturday to-do list be: 1) Braise short ribs for six hours until spoon-tender; 2) Choose an appropriate bottle of wine.

Autumn is a magical time for drinking wine. The white wine I love most in autumn is Chenin Blanc. Its honeyed apple character is evocative of an autumn harvest fair, where some old salt is pressing apples into cider with an antique hand crank. Chenin is incredibly versatile, making lovely dry wines and luscious sweet wines. Some of Washington’s oldest vines are planted to this character-filled variety.

Now we shift gears to three autumnal reds. This time of year marks the end of tomato season, with the last heirlooms turning up at farmers markets, and with home gardeners bringing under-ripe plants into the kitchen to finish maturing. No wine varietal pairs as well with a fresh chunky tomato sauce as Sangiovese, a grape whose ancestral home is Tuscany, where tomatoes play a central role in local cuisine. Sangiovese’s naturally high acidity allows it to still taste bright and fresh when paired with tomato-based dishes, and its alluring kiss of cherry-pit bitters offsets a tomato’s natural sweetness.

Any wine varietal whose description frequently includes “leafy” seems just about perfect for autumn, don’t you think? Frequently, descriptions of Tempranillo include tea leaves, tobacco leaves and, well, just plain leaves. There’s something about sniffing a good Tempranillo that can put you in mind of a twilight trail walk, leaves crunching underfoot. It’s also a beautiful braising wine, softening up all manner of tough cuts with enough hours of slow cooking.

Finally, autumn is nirvana for Northwest mycophiles. Mushroom lovers across the region head into the woods (or the grocery stores) seeking out chanterelles and lobster mushrooms and porcinis. Pinot Noir is generally considered the ne plus ultra of mushroom pairings. While Oregon is much better known for Pinot Noir than Washington, there are a few select vineyards north of the Oregon–Washington border where this delicate grape performs beautifully. Its light body and delicate flavors complement subtle ’shrooms whereas bolder wines can overwhelm, and Pinot’s natural earthiness makes it a fine spouse for up-from-the-soil fungi of all kinds. Better yet, versatile Pinot is the perfect red for the Thanksgiving table, so keep a few bottles around for the holiday that marks the end of autumn proper.

Paul’s Picks for Autumn Washington Wines

2015 Orr Wines
Old Vine Chenin Blanc, $25
Erica Orr’s enology consulting business in Woodinville has been wildly successful since she launched in 2006, helping wineries such as Baer, Mark Ryan, Guardian Cellars and Sparkman Cellars make a series of beautiful wines. For her own Orr Wines label, she makes exactly one wine: this old-vine Chenin Blanc, from a nearly 40-year-old site in the Yakima Valley called Rothrock Vineyard. It’s an intense, delicious, bone-dry Chenin, mixing apple fruit and apple-blossom floral notes with honey and malt powder.
PAIRS WITH: Thickly cut pork chops stewed with caramelized apples and onions.

2012 Kiona Estate Reserve Sangiovese, Red Mountain, $25
This Sangiovese comes from two of JJ Williams’ Kiona estate vineyards on Red Mountain. It offers a wonderful aromatically dusty character, hovering over a core of red cherry and pomegranate fruit. A note of star anise adds further complexity. The palate possesses wonderful Sangiovese character: pie-cherry fruit, rustic back-end chew and a great finishing lick of Aperol-flavored bitters. The rich fruit (14.5 percent alcohol by volume) is well-balanced by Sangiovese’s bright natural acidity.

PAIRS WITH: Gnocchi Bolognese, the sauce made from the last fresh tomatoes of the season.

2012 Idilico Tempranillo, $20
It’s a sign of Tempranillo’s recent success in Washington that Woodinville-based Javier Alfonso can now source grapes from sites across our state, including Snipes Mountain (Upland Vineyard), Horse Heaven Hills (Elerding) and the greater Yakima Valley. His Tempranillo begins with a nose of deep black cherry fruit, autumnal leafy notes, and spices like anise and clove. Tannins are fine-grained, acids bright and juicy; all the components coexist harmoniously.

PAIRS WITH: Oxtails (short ribs or pot roast also work well) braised in this Tempranillo alongside a mess of root vegetables: carrots, celery root and turnips.

2009 Bainbridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, $29
Most of Washington is climatically inappropriate for growing Pinot Noir, but there are a few cool-climate pockets where it makes sense. One of those is the Puget Sound AVA. This Pinot Noir comes from one of the closest vineyards to Seattle as the crow flies: Bainbridge Vineyards on Bainbridge Island. Winemaker Betsey Wittick has crafted an eye-opening Pinot, elegant and delicious with its mix of red fruit and earthy mineral tones. Now seven years past vintage, this is beginning to display wonderful maturing tones of mushroom and leather.

PAIRS WITH: A bowl of polenta topped with whatever wild mushrooms you can find, sautéed in butter and fresh thyme, and deglazed with dry sherry.

Check out Zitarelli’s picks for winter, spring and summer.

Follow Us

A Slice Above the Rest

A Slice Above the Rest

With grace and grit, Niles Peacock has worked his way to the top of the pizza world

“This has to be a joke.” That’s the first thing that passed through Niles Peacock’s head as he stood reading the results of the 2022 International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas... Photo by Steve Parent Photography

Edible Art

Edible Art

Check out these elegant practitioners of pastry just in time for Valentine's Day

Whether you like Valentine’s Day because you enjoy celebrating all the ways love exists in your life, or you want an excuse to eat delicious dessert with your girlfriends for Galentine’s, plenty of Seattle pastry shops and chocolatiers will keep you well fed.

Doing Doughnuts

Doing Doughnuts

Doughnuts are again having a moment. Check out these Seattle favorites.

Let’s start with a Seattle staple. I love Pike Place Market, and also love going with my son as often as possible to get a piroshky and then a doughnut from the Daily Dozen. It’s a small booth inside the market across from DeLaurenti Food and Wine. You’ll have to stand in line, but It

The Sea Cowboy

The Sea Cowboy

Nick Mendoza wants his snacks to provoke thought as well as taste

The sea-loving part of him first pursued a career in marine science. He tagged great white sharks in California, researched ways to improve the sustainability of oyster farms in Scotland, and explored the inner workings of a large shrimp farm in Central America. He soon discovered that his advocacy for the ocean could only go