When November joins us each year, I’m reminded that there is a quiet season. This phrase entered our life many years ago during annual travels to Door County, Wisconsin to celebrate our November anniversary. Door County is a coastal place, heavily enjoyed during the warm summer months for hiking, biking, boating, swimming, outdoor strolling…summery stuff. Winter is beautiful and soothing there, and while the snow activities draw visitors, the nature of the scene is more après–ski than slopes. Places close early or take days (or months) off. Menus are comfort-focused and fireplaces burn steadily.
This summer I had a conversation with a bartender who works year-round in a big lake-side lodge. When we were there, sea kayakers held a conference and their bold colored gear and kayaks were scattered all around the facility. It did seem that summer would be perpetual at the lodge, thunderstorms and big fish and outdoor fires held sway constantly. But the bartender told me stories about shutting up more than half of the lodge to hunker down for the quiet season. She said that she was in charge of pulling all the wine and beer from the bar and storing it in the cellar where it would be safe from the freezing temps that take over the not-quite-insulated bar room. Staff members hold an end-of-season party and consume some of the wines that are meant to be drunk young, saving her the task of hauling them in. A small selection was posted in the restaurant to get through the winter, but practically speaking – the bar was closed!
I loved this story – this scene of transition and buttoning up. Since that conversation, I’ve envisioned a list of quiet season wines, the bottles I’d keep ready even though the bar was closed. Not necessarily winter wines, but a few bottles to satisfy the various urges and needs that sneak up in the dark.
Start with Dessert > Château du Seuil – Cérons 2014
Maybe it’s the remnants of Halloween that have me thinking sweets, but my thoughts immediately turn to a dessert wine – one that can be sipped and shared, and maybe snuck in small measure each afternoon for a few days. The fantasy of an afternoon nap, nip and read from a favorite book is so soothing, the idea is practically a meditation on self-care. A dessert wine can last longer when opened that traditional dry wines – some say up to a couple of weeks or more. Château du Seuil Cérons 2014 is a late-harvest botrytis wine, handpicked from certified-organic vineyards situated in Bordeaux near the Garonne River. For many American wine drinkers, images of sweet wine evoke memories of sweet red wines or sweet white zin. Dessert wines from France are a whole different deal – absolutely worth a try this season, around $35.
Cooking and Drinking with Wine > 2013 Weingut Winter Dittelsheim Riesling Trocken, Kalkstein, Rheinhessen
My hubby handles most kitchen work for our home and L’occasion and one thing we always need at the ready is a dry white wine to drip into the pan and then serve with dinners. This year I took on a challenge to learn more about German wines, an attempt to understand their scope, terroir and (not the least of which) language – this wine comes from an authentic producer, Stefan Winter. Gault Millau says he “brought the previously national unknown location Dittelsheim-Hessloch on the wine map”. This mineral-rich wine comes from the “limiest” soils around Dittelsheim, the hometown of Winegut Winter. Low in alcohol and balanced with acidity, this wine would pair well with fish dishes and many exotic flavors of Indian and Thai foods, satisfying, often easy and made at home with fresh ingredients. Many times we cling to heavier comfort foods during the colder seasons, but I argue that refreshing minimalism is just as attractive this time of year, around $21.
The Must-Have, a Rhône red > Ferraton Père & Fils Crozes-Hermitage La Martiniere 2015
There is never a reason to forgo Rhône wines, even the deepest freeze of the longest winter. A robust, aromatic Syrah is the perfect bottle to have with a roasted dinner or to be enjoyed solo. It’s truly a pleasure to open a bottle from Crozes-Hermitage, grown on alluvial soil thickly cluttered with stone pebbles. My hubby and I had a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage in the cozy bar of a Lyon hotel last spring. It was incredibly rainy, and huddled together in that space, with that wine, was the height of hygge. This producer is owned by Michel Chapoutier, but is run separately from the wider portfolio under certified biodynamic principals. The history of the domaine dates back to 1946, when the son of a local vigneron, Jean Orëns Ferraton gave origins to this enterprise. With lots of red fruit and some oak maturing present, this is a generous, flavorful, intense option for a quiet season red wine, around $21.
Bubbles, Baby > Valdo Brut Prosecco DOC
Maybe it’s just me, but it truly seems that Prosecco is having her sparkly day in the sun. Let that bright finesse encourage laughter and fun during the quiet season. In 2009, Prosecco earned DOC status, which makes it a place-indicating name. This wine is made from 100% Glera, the traditional Prosecco-making varietal. Bubbles are crafted in the charmant method in which the second fermentation takes place in a tank (rather than in the bottle). This method is cost-efficient, but should not be considered a corner-cut. This is the traditional sparkling style of the region and has been in place for many generations. Valdo has produced since 1926 in Prosecco-Valdobbiadene and this particular wine, priced at around $12, is exceptionally popular. I’m certain that I wouldn’t survive any amount of cold, dark days without the fresh charm of this bubbly wine.
Wine for Every Meal (brunch?) > Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly 2015
Chateau de La Chaize is one of the largest producers in Burgundy’s Beaujolais region. This estate has been in the news recently after the family that owned it for over 300 years sold the property for an undisclosed sum to Maia Groupe, a French construction, and hospitality company. The property itself is quite historic, created by Jules-Hardouin Mansart and André Le Nôtre and on the list of French national monuments. At about $16, this bright and light Gamay is a clear choice for the poultry and seafood dishes that prove timeless during the winter. I’d also consider it delicious with omelets. Later this month, L’occasion will take a focus on the wines of Beaujolais, standing with the notion that they are way more than the rush and giddiness of Nouveau.
Welcome, November! This season brings many reasons to gather together or to spend a contemplative moment or two alone. Settle in for the peace and calm of the quiet season with a glass of wine – your choice!
Note: Some bottles provided as media samples, but all opinions are my own.