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Top Drinks for Autumn

Autumn is the time to try out a variety of beverages from sour beers and prosecco to unexpected white wines and versatile pinot noir.







Sour beers sweeten the turn to autumn

Hoppy Sour Beer - Photo credit: Urban Family Brewing / Go
ses are Red - Photo credit: The Bruery

Why start with lesser known beers with the off-putting name? When I first tasted them five years ago, many seemed overly funky. But the online craft beer site Tavour tempted with several sours. While making sour beer, the brewer intentionally adds harmless bacteria or citric acid to bring out unique flavors. This style of brew is gaining quality and fans. Brewers are balancing the flavor notes through creative techniques such as these:

Hoppy Sour Ale from Urban Family Brewing of Seattle curates a selection of hops from nearby Yakima Valley to blend in this beer. My beer savvy tasting friends were surprised by a hoppy sour and enjoyed the tropical pineapple aroma. We tasted and simultaneously said “Peach notes.” I’m not usually fond of hoppy beer, but I liked the balance between this slightly sour and light hopped brew.

As for Goses are Red from The Bruery in Placentia, Calif., first you have to put the classic gose in the context of sour beers. A gose beer is a warm fermented, German beer made with malted wheat that yields a lemony sourness and strong salitness. The Bruery adds a coriander spiciness and syrah grapes which give color and a touch of sweetness. Sounds crazy, but the tasters and I all wanted another one.

Party Can Triple Spice Margaritas, anytime

Photo credit: Party Can

Get ready for a contrarian viewpoint. You only wear white in summer and drink Margaritas when it’s hot, right? Well, the fall is also a good socially distant gathering time—and the Party Can Margaritas generates simplicity for hosts: No shopping, no prep, just chill, shake and open. Add ice and a bit of orange peel and you’re ready to say, “Cin, cin” for 12 cocktails made with 100 percent blue weber agave tequila, orange liqueur, fresh ginger, cinnamon and chile. Defining the Margaritas as overly sweet, several tasters imagined them as popsicles or frozen drinks. Yet the Margaritas are close to the mark for an average bar cocktail.

Prosecco sparkles as the weather changes

Yes, National Prosecco Week is in July, but many of us reach for the Italian sparkler any day. The diverse terroir of North East Italy lends variety to proseccos on the shelf.

Blu Giovello is produced by the Piera family. With winemaking roots from 1899, the family owns vineyards in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Trentino. Blu Giovello is made from organically grown glera, the prosecco grape, from the hills between the Dolomite mountains and Venice. The DOC quality level is high, and the price is reasonable at $15. The tasters like the floral nose and thought the almond flavor profile would pair well with a variety of canapés, lox and other fish. I liked the lively bubbles and pictured the bubbly at an outdoor wedding.

The higher quality level associated with a geographic area within the Veneto, DOCG, is well represented by Col Vetoraz from the town of Valdobbiadene. The Miotto family first settled here in 1838 and a descendant launched the winery twenty-five years ago. The Miotto vineyards on the hill of Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene are located among the steep hills and valleys of the Cartizza area, a UNESCO World Heritage site for the traditional viticulture and winemaking methods.  The tasters and I liked the fine bubbles and refreshing, fruity flavors of the Col Vetoraz Extra Dry bottling.

Photo credit: Giusti Winery

Giusti is another DOCG prosecco from the lesser known but equally high quality Asolo region south of Valdobbiadene. The soil here is red clay which brings strong minerality and complexity to the prosecco. Giusti is the appellation’s largest private winery. The Asolo prosecco superior DOCG brut is dry with fine bubbles and light pear and peach flavors. Even non-sparkling friends asked for more with a Southwestern style patio meal. Interesting note: Owner Ermenegildo Giusti recently opened a state-of-the-art winery, and several of his estates have B&Bs. We look forward to visiting the Veneto area to tour and taste his range of prosecco, pinot grigio and red wines.

ABC, anything but chardonnay, to brighten the fall

My tasters and I focused on interesting whites from around the globe, saving full-bodied chardonnays for winter.

Photo credit: Sunny Wines 
The name of a new brand from Scheid Family Winery in Monterey made us smile as the September California wildfires turned our skies grey—Sunny with a Chance of Flowers 2019. The label is unusual for another reason. The nutrition facts are clearly indicated: Each of the five five-ounce servings/ glasses contains 85 calories with 0 sugar and .3g protein and only 9 percent alcohol. The sauvignon blanc was a light, easy drinker with notes of vanilla and flavors of grapefruit and green apple. The brand also offers a Monterey pinot noir.

Another lively sauvignon blanc was Waipapa Bay 2019 from Marlborough, New Zealand. The wine has a bright acidity with a flavor profile of citrus and stone fruit. Well-balanced and medium bodied for the varietal, I thought of pairing with raw oysters or roasted sea bass. The wine is named for a well-known whale watching site on the South Island. The winery supports the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a nonprofit organization that aids in protecting whales and dolphins.


Photo credit: Sextant Wines / Photo credit: MAN Family Wines

We sampled Sextant XSeries 2019 verdejo, an unexpected white wine and varietal from Paso Robles, a region closely identified with outstanding red wines. We were quickly won over. With citrus and floral aromas and good acidity, I quickly imagined food pairings from tacos to sushi. The vines were planted with “mindful production and planting practices” in 2004. Owners Craig and Nancy Stoller chose the name Sextant, an old world instrument using the sun, stars and horizon to navigate the seas, to express their interest in planting old world varieties the terroir of the Central Coast wine region.

Moving on to a white from South Africa, we chose MAN Family Wines 2019 chenin blanc. The comments were “lively, clean and “well-balanced.” With pineapple on the nose, I liked the mid-palate sensation of balanced acidity with the distinctive chenin blanc stone fruits flavors. The pleasing texture and body was influenced by the winemaking and dry farming of old bush vines that yield small berries and concentrated fruit. I also appreciated the screw cap to store the bottle directly in the refrigerator.  

Pinot noir, an autumnal bridge

I propose pinot noir as a perfect match for autumn. A wine big enough to stand up to the barbecue yet fine with fall vegetable pastas, too, pinot noir has many delicious expressions.

Photo credit: Hess Collection

Let’s start with the Hess Collection 2018 Central Coast pinot noir. Given the proliferation of California wild fires, Hess is making a most timely donation campaign—a contribution of 25,000 trees to the National Forest Foundation. Hess offers wines from the $200 cabernet sauvignons to Mardikian reserve pinot noir at $95 from the Sonoma Coast. But the tasters found the Central Coast pinot noir from the Santa Lucia highlands bottling at $20 a bottle to be excellent value with a smooth mouthfeel and a good pairing for the smoked salmon and creamy cheeses we served.
Photo credit: Gary Farrell Winery

Gary Farrell Winery is no longer by run by celebrity vintner Gary Farrell, but we don’t care. We like current winemaker Theresa Heredia‘s single vineyard pinot noir wines. I sampled several of the seven cool climate wines available online. My favorites: The 2016 Bien Nacido from the well-known Santa Maria Valley vineyard with old vines and low yields. This wine is young at four years but drinkable due to the early picking and high acidity of the grapes. Drinkable now, the wine is a pleasing blend of red fruit and spice. The grapes for the 2016 Gap’s Crown, from the Sonoma foothills with Petaluma Gap marine winds passing through, have thicker skins which hold more tannin to yield richer, darker fruit. I’ll pour the Bien Nacido with the pasta course and the Gap’s Crown with the ribs.

Photo credit: Domaine Matrot

We turned to France for Domaine Matrot burgundy. With a general “Bourgogne” appellation, screw cap, and price of $30, this wine satisfied on many levels. First, the two sisters now running the family winery sustainably by establishing organic vineyards in 2000. With aroma of fresh fruit, the wine is juicy with soft tannins. A “classic” Burgundy one taster said, and my comments were “way above average.” I trust the tech notes about aging for 15 years, but our bottle lasted only two days. 

Angostura coca bitters for many applications

Photo credit: Deborah Grossman

How do cocoa bitters fit in? Well, almost everywhere. I recently added a few dashes on ice cream and in a mocha coffee with excellent results. Angostura, the specialist in bitters for nearly 200 years, broadened their portfolio from orange and aromatic bitters, chose Trinitario cocoa from Trinidad and Tobago, one of the few countries designated as a 100 percent “fine or flavor” cocoa producer. Labeled “fine or flavor” means high-quality cocoa that comprises only 5 percent of the world’s production. 

The floral and nutty profile of the cocoa bitters plus the infused aromatic botanicals brighten many beverages. Given the suggestion to pair the bitters with sweet vermouth or aged spirits such as rum, cognac, and brandy, I tried the bitters in an espresso rum grog. Named for a British admiral in the West Indies who gave his sailors diluted rum. I shook up my grog with Admiral Rodney HMS Royal Oak rum from St. Lucia, not far from the provenance of the bitters, with coffee liqueur, simple syrup, and five dashes of Angostura cocoa bitters—a mighty fine cocktail to navigate the pandemic and wildfire season in California.

Whatever beverage you choose, enjoy the autumn season safely with friends and family.

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