A September Wine Romance

The end of summer has a particular feel to it as the bountiful fresh produce ebbs. These 12 wines can make the seasonal transition.

By Eric Asimov
Sept. 17, 2020, 11:03 a.m. ET

It wasn’t much of a summer, I’m afraid.

The empty ballparks, the missing actors and musicians, the fraught travel, the social distancing — little was there to divert attention momentarily from the pitiless price of the Covid-19 pandemic and the destruction caused by climate change.

At least fresh summer fruits and vegetables were bountiful. But now that gift is nearing its end. If you’re like me, you’ve been eating tomatoes like crazy, and have maybe even considered preserving some for the winter.

As summer segues into autumn, the taste for wine begins a seasonal transition, too. It’s never as simple as white wines in the heat, reds in the cold. Though that formula at least has some logic to it.

Whites and rosés are often the best choices for fresh vegetable preparations and other seasonal dishes. As the weather cools and the oven is revved up once more, many of the roasts, stews and bean dishes will be better suited to reds. And, for wines of all colors, we’ll be looking for a little more body and weight.

Shopping online at Manhattan retail stores, I found a dozen wines that are great for this transitional season. I picked more reds than whites, though most of the reds are still rather light-bodied.

For this roundup, I restricted myself to bottles costing $20 to $30.

Price is always a tricky issue. For some, this price range is a splurge. Others consider these bottles cheap. It’s often a question of priorities, but increasingly in the pandemic economy, it’s a matter of resources as well. I have long maintained that the best values in wine are in the $15-to-$25 range. I continue to believe that, though the Trump administration’s inexplicable tariffs on wines from France, Germany and Spain have pushed prices upward.

The tariffs were put in place nearly a year ago as retaliation against subsidies the European Union gives to Airbus, its largest aircraft manufacturer. Only wines below 14 percent alcohol are being taxed, and sparkling wines are excluded. Expect to see many more wines from these countries with labels indicating alcohol levels above 14 percent.

I will continue to write more often about wines under $20, and even under $15. But occasionally it’s worth raising the bar to examine what’s available in different ranges. Some of these bottles were once inexpensive enough to fall into that under-$20 range.

What’s the biggest difference that comes with spending a little more? You have far more good choices in this range. I’ve included a rosé and a Muscadet that are among the best you could ever hope to drink. You’ve got a terrific Douro red from a great producer, and a wonderful Ribera del Duero from an up-and-coming star.

There’s a delicious Fleurie for $27.99, though somebody is always ready to gripe about Beaujolais prices. I, too, remember Beaujolais for less than $10. Things have changed, not least the ambition, skill and achievements of many Beaujolais vignerons, who deserve to be paid for their labor. And yes, the tariffs hurt, too.

These wines — one pétillant naturel, one rosé, two whites and eight reds, presented in no particular order — all have a few things in common: They are refreshing, delicious, light enough for end-of-summer dining and substantial enough to take us into fall.

Domaine Ilarria Irouléguy Rosé 2019

Who said you shouldn’t drink rosé after Labor Day? Even though this is a longtime favorite rosé, I’m still surprised by its quality each time I open a bottle. It’s much darker than a typical French rosé, more the ruby color of a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, made of tannat and cabernet franc grown in schist. The flavor is elemental, like something you might imagine concocted from rocks and blood, which, believe me, is a great thing. Peio Espil, the proprietor of Ilarria, practices hands-off farming, and works naturally. The wines get better and better. (A Thomas Calder Selection/Regal Wines Imports, Moorestown, N.J.)

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