We crisp-white-wine lovers have a confession to make: Every fall we go underground. We nod in solidarity with our red-wine drinking buddies as they tout the joys of Cabernet and Syrah in front of a crackling fire—and we sip our Sauvignon Blanc in private.
But enough already with that. Recent tastings have made it clear that all that evasive bobbing and weaving is entirely unnecessary. All it takes is white wine with a little more meat on its bones—richness, weight—to be perfectly in tune with the season. And with the West Coast’s most recent crop of vibrant Rhône whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and family), we don’t even have to sacrifice crispness. Anthony Yount, winemaker for Paso Robles’ Rhône virtuoso Denner Vineyards, doubles as a crazy-good wine writer in describing why he loves his Viognier in the fall: “Because it offers a mix of both fruity and brothy aromatics that pairs so well with the heartier foods we tend to eat as the weather cools down. The wine’s natural acidity also gives it great balance and the ability to stand up to spicy, rich and intense foods.”
The truth is, even Sauvignon Blanc can be at peace with both the weather and the foods—just find one with a generous splash of Sémillon in it, à la white Bordeaux. Sémillon is a variety with natural weight, a beeswax quality that coats the palate and warms the soul. And it’s traveling alone more and more these days, as in Component Wine Company’s 2018, made by Michael Kennedy, who champions wines that often disappear into blends. Kennedy, former head sommelier for Blue by chef Eric Ripert as well as the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman (and who makes wine now in Bordeaux as well as in Napa Valley), compares standalone Sauv Blanc with Sémillon. “Sauvignon Blanc is great in the summer because it’s light, fresh and crisp,” he says. “But its sister grape, Sémillon, is lower in alcohol and a bit weightier. I like to say it’s the difference between freshwater (Sauv Blanc) and saltwater (Sémillon). When I was a sommelier, I used to pair Sémillon with mid-weight fish courses and it’s perfect with fall flavors like butternut squash and pumpkin—it doesn’t clash like citrus-focused SB.”
So for all those roast chickens in the oven, butternut squash pasta dishes with sage crisped in butter and crackling fires, here are 13 Rhônes and Sémillons (alone and in blends) that will satisfy even our red-wine-drinking friends.