Fall welcomes many changes: leaves bleeding their color from green to rust, flip flops being swapped for riding boots, baseball giving way to football, and perhaps the exchange of easy-drinking rosé for complex orange or “natural" wine.
Natural wine is continuing to have its moment and, along with pumpkin spice, is this season’s buzzword. With festivals such as The Real Wine Fair, RAW, Rootstock, and The Big Glou cropping up around the world, the movement celebrating these minimal-intervention, additive-free wines is only gaining momentum. Now, it’s even reached Cincinnati Ohio, where sommelier Daniel Souder of Pleasantry has crafted one of the Midwest’s first all-natural-wine programs.
Natural wine starts with organic or biodynamically grown grapes but is ultimately defined by winemaking practices. Its minimal intervention agenda means no added sulfites, sugar, foreign yeasts, and minimal to no fining or filtration—or, as Souder puts it, “wine that is as close as possible to fermented grape juice…plain and simple. The farming is clean and the winemaking is hands-off.” (Orange wines—which often fall into the natural category—are whites that are macerated on the grape skins for a period of time, giving them more structure and a bronze to orange hue.)
Fall, the harvest season, ushers in change. “Wines for fall should mirror these changes,” Souder says. “The transition should be subtle, but one that keeps your palate alive as summer ends and winter looms. Shift those light and playful whites to ones with more weight, the super bright rosés to more thought-provoking examples, and start to bring out the light and medium-bodied reds with some complexity.”
Here, Souder shares 12 essential natural wines for fall:
“I am a huge proponent of the Jura, and this traditional method rosé, made from the region's indigenous Ploussard grape, lends itself perfectly to our chef’s hyper-seasonal food. Right now we have a grilled pork dish on the menu with fermented cabbage, apples and celery root—it’s funky/fall on a plate. Eating that with this nervy, almost red sparkler is where pairings go to get married.”
“Maxime has made a name for himself in an area notorious for plonk production. His 27 acres give him just enough land to make 1,700 cases total; he’s small-time. The fruit in this screams of fall, not the bright acidic flavors of summer, but more rustic and savory. It's the perfect wine for soups and stews, but has the weight to stand up to pork or game. A real stunner.”
“An orange wine from nuns who learned natural techniques from Paolo Bea, a true don in the Italian wine game. We’re the only place in the area with a section of our list devoted to orange wines, and people have really taken to it. This bottle has everything you could want in a food companion: tannin, acid and body. Great appearance in the glass, even better partner with food; I’ve let it sit open for a bit and it develops this sage and herbal component.”
“THE Beaujolais producer, in my opinion. I’m a sucker for Gamay. It’s my go-to light-medium bodied wine that pairs with damn near everything, yet is still quaffable on its own. The 2015 has darker fruit than some years, with classic structure and balance. There is no better value in wine.”
“A unique take on a red: they bleed off a little of the juice to make a rosé, then blend it back in with the whole-cluster fermented red. The result is a lighter, almost grape juice-like color, but with a slight grip and acid that lasts and lasts. It’s from the Living Wines Collective, these three wine-school buddies Diego Roig, Sam Baron and Shaunt Oungouian, who are making some exciting wines out of California.”
“A South African somm-turned-Australian winemaker, Anton van Klopper does it his way, and has amassed a cult following because of it. A ‘naturalist’ in the truest sense of the word, his wines are cloudy, hazy and infectiously good. I dare anyone to have a taste and not demand a second. This Pinot is super tart, with funky red fruit and acid that makes the wine dance on your palate. If you have bacon around, this wine is what it needs.”
“I was put onto these wines by a trip out to California, and have been a fan ever since. Laser sharp and focused, they're incredibly alive. Chenin is what I call on for a fuller-bodied white when people say they want Chardonnay, but need a jump-start to their palate.
“Another orange wine, and California fruit making its way to Utah. Fermented on its skins for seven weeks in concrete egg and neutral barrel, this white wine has all the texture of a red. Taste it blindfolded and you could be fooled, there’s so much savoriness and umami. It also develops over time and would benefit from a decant. A definite food wine, drink it with a big ol’ bowl of Ramen or Cacio e Pepe.
“Again, Gamay is my jam, and this California example is no different. Slightly rich in texture, it has developed beautifully over the course of a year. The dark fruit has become a little lighter, and the acidity has persisted. This is an example of what happens when some of the great wine minds collaborate on a project: Rajat Parr plus the guys behind Arnot Roberts.”
“Aurelien Laherte is a young guru in the Champagne world. Thanks to his experimental nature, he makes no less than ten wines, yet still produces a small amount overall. This beauty is 100% Pinot Meunier, and electric on the palate. So much depth of flavor, with a rich berry mousse and acidity that leaves the finishing lingering long after it is gone.”
“Take away the notion of what you think a wine should be, because this is so much more than a playful pet-nat. It has the creaminess of a traditional method wine, like Champagne, but the flavor leans towards ripe stone fruits. And though you may think this is red, the Trousseau is pressed white. This has definitely been a standout for me this year, and I will continue to drink it into the first frost of the season. It’s another joint collaboration, this time between Rajat Parr and Stolpman Vineyards.”
“Hardy Wallace has a cult-like following, and this entry-level bottling of his calling-card Mourvedre is the reason why. It’s Mourvedre: dark, rich fruit with some brawn, but there’s finesse. It is lower in alcohol (12.7%) and has a funky tartness that really makes the wine sing. This is the essence of fall to me: fruit, spice and just a bit body warming. I could drink it all day…and have.”