As I noted in my previous column, most of us don’t observe the seasonality of booze to the extent we do food. That’s as true for beer and wine as it is for spirits and cocktails: Outside of a spring fling with rosé and a hankering for pumpkin ale right about now, you probably don’t adjust your tastes according to the weather forecast.
But why not? After all, they’re agricultural products, too, made from crops as dependent on the planting and harvesting cycle as any other, with results as varied. Some are light and crisp, like the dishes you crave in a heat wave; some are weighty and plush, like the ones you seek out to stave off the cold. And though sipping a chilled Pinot Grigio with a bowl of beef stew in the dead of winter is your right, you’d be better served (and warmed) by a wine you can actually taste against all that richness.
“Seasons are a huge part of the magic of beer,” says Devon Randall, head brewer at Imperial Western Beer Company in Los Angeles. Before modern refrigeration and electricity, people respected the weather “as a part of the beer-making process.”
As author Randy Mosher explains in “Beer for All Seasons,” the complications posed by heat for controlled fermentation meant that, historically, “summer brewing in Europe was often restricted … to weak, fast-maturing small beers”—which was just as well, since high alcohol has a dehydrating rather than quenching effect on sweltering days. The production of full-strength brews, meanwhile, occurred in the cooler months, roughly from October, following the hop harvest, through the end of winter in March.
In short, he writes, “seasonality in beer was not a whim but a functional necessity,” leading to traditions like Oktoberfest—when German brewers would break out the Märzen, or March, beers they’d cellar-aged all summer. No wonder Oktoberfest-style beers are one of Randall’s top picks for fall, boasting as they do “caramelly malt profiles that suit roasted meats, stews, and sausages as well as rich cheeses like Gruyère or Brie.”
She also favors “burly beers” come autumn, which she defines as “beers with higher ABVs, sometimes higher residual-sugar levels, and often more bitterness to balance that additional alcohol and sugar.” Examples include Barleywine and Baltic Porter. That these darker, stronger beers aren’t served chilled only underscores their aptness.
With the grape as with the grain, bigger, bolder, earthier, and more rustic wines come increasingly into play in cooler weather.
Chris Campbell, the owner of modern Boston bistro Troquet on South, finds himself turning to Rhône Valley reds, particularly those of the Southern Rhône, for warmth this time of year. Grenache-based blends like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he explains, have a “robust, meaty, briny quality” that goes perfectly with hearty dishes based on game meats and dark squashes—and it doesn’t hurt that “they’re talking about 2016 as the greatest vintage ever for the Southern Rhône.”
If such hefty, heady stuff isn’t your style, though, think pink. “I used to only serve rosé in the spring,” Campbell admits, “but these days we sell it year round.” Tavel, also in the Southern Rhône, is world-famous for its rosés, which are far darker, more concentrated, and more structured than your average porch pounder. “You talk about Thanksgiving wine? Try rosé of Grenache.”
Or try Cru Beaujolais. Pleasurable as it is to celebrate the annual release of its frivolous alter ego, Beaujolais Nouveau, on Nov. 15, your holiday table calls for a higher-quality (but still affordable) expression of the red Gamay grape.
Just ask Denver’s Mary Allison Wright, wine director of brand-new contemporary French hotspot Morin and co-proprietor of The Proper Pour and RiNo Yacht Club. As she explains, Cru Beaujolais “doesn’t have too much tannin, but it does have just enough structure and really nice acidity to go with a wide range of dishes.” Meanwhile, its flavors perfectly complement those of the standard Thanksgiving spread: “The tart berry notes, herbs, earth, and a little bit of spice come in and just wrap around everything you’re eating.”
For Wright, white is right for the season too—if it’s Riesling. “Riesling is such a fantastic winter white because it has the body and the texture from sugar and acid to stand up beautifully to fat and salt,” she says. This should come as no surprise: While the old adage “what grows together goes together” has its logical limits, it applies here insofar as the greatest Rieslings come from Germany, Austria, and Alsace, where they cut right through the rich, meaty fare—think wursts and schnitzel. What’s more, their fruit character meshes well with the sweet-and-sour savor of dishes like sauerbraten or pork and apples.
Finally, certain fortified wines can fortify you against the cold in turn. “Tawny Port is always a great fall wine,” says Campbell. “It’s sweet but not cloying, and it has nutty, dried-fruit notes” that speak to the treats of the holiday season. On the dry side, you’ll find the same qualities in Amontillado and Oloroso Sherry.
Ruth Tobias is a longtime food and beverage writer based in Denver, Colorado. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website, RuthTobias.com, or follow her @denveater on Twitter and Instagram