It’s fall in the desert. Businesses are gearing up for season. Restaurants are training their staff and hiring new faces. Golf courses are being reseeded to unveil new, lush green fairways. Retail shops are stocking up in anticipation of the snowbirds’ arrivals. The airport will soon be packed full of people escaping the northern winter doldrums in exchange for Palm Springs’ idyllic temperatures.
Maybe that was then. Maybe those standard-operating procedures no longer apply. Maybe the freefall into the unknown continues.
In any case, life goes on. In my house, we’re talking about Halloween and what that will look like this year. I asked my husband, “Does it really look any different than the last seven months?” But actually, real life is downright terrifying, and everyone is already wearing a mask, so as far as I am concerned, 2020 has been one long and super-icky version of Halloween from which I can’t seem to wake up.
Fall was always my favorite time of the year in the desert. There was always a collective sigh of relief when the temperatures finally dropped: We had survived another summer, and the blissfully perfect days among our scenic backdrop would soon be in that spectacular technicolor filter. You wake up one day, and the sky is so bright blue, and the mountains are so chiseled, and the grass is so green, and the fronds of palm trees sparkle in the sunshine. It doesn’t look real. Thankfully, we still have all that.
Oh, and we also have comfort food and heavy, dark, robust wines to look forward to. That’s where I’ve set my sights—on bowls of homemade chili, braised short ribs and pot roasts, paired with full-bodied cabernets, velvety syrahs and rich red blends. If you, like me, are ready to ditch the light, bright whites in favor of brooding and intense reds, here are a few wines I suggest drinking to snap you out of your own summer/COVID doldrums.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Elisabetta Foradori can really do no wrong, in my book. In the summer, I drink her skin-contact pinot grigio called Fuoripista like water. Her nosiola, a gloriously concentrated white wine bursting with citrus, raw almonds and fresh cream, is magic with fresh springtime fare. And in the fall? Well, that’s when we break out the teroldego. This is an indigenous grape in the Dolomites, where she calls home. The grape had been badly abused and mistreated, but Elisabetta knew better. She knew how to resurrect this grape from relative obscurity and a general unpleasantness to create a wine that is so delicious and layered and drinkable that you’ll ask yourself: Where this beauty has been all your life? Think Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. All it takes is someone who sees potential and has the know-how. You get the picture. Teroldego is a grape that offers up intense dark and rich black fruits with a suede-like texture on your palate. It’s both invigorating and comforting at the same time.
While we’re talking about northern Italian wines that are ideal for fall, I need to introduce you to lagrein. Yes, it’s obscure. Yes, it can be a little pricey. Is it worth it? Absolutely! It’s a wine from the far northern portion of Italy, called the Alto Adige, that is intensely concentrated, feels like velvet on your tongue, and tastes like dark-chocolate-covered cherries. Think you might like it? Duh. There are a handful of producers making insanely delicious lagrein—but finding it is the challenge. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad; no one else has, either. Some producers worth seeking out are the famous monks of Abbazia di Novacella. This Augustinian order makes some of the best Italian wine on the market. Their lagrein is deeply colored and beautifully perfumed on the nose, with hints of pepper and just-baked blueberry pie.
I also fell in love with the lagrein of St. Michael-Eppan. Coming from the beautiful foothills of the Alto Adige, this weighty red coats your palate with an intoxicating mix of savory herbs, wild boysenberries, licorice and that tell-tale chocolate finish. I decided there was definitely not enough wine at the end of the bottle.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my ideal smoky, gamey, meaty, cooler-weather wine: pinotage. That underrated grape from South Africa, which—as I mentioned last month—has a reputation for being an utterly awful wine, is one of my fall favorites. Trust me when I tell you that if you have a negative opinion of this wine, it’s because you just haven’t had the right one. In the course of the last month, I’ve tasted several producers of this red-headed stepchild of a wine, and I continue to be pleasantly surprised at its reinvention—and the fact that we are now starting to see the great incarnations of these wines reach our shores. Painted Wolf winery creates a pinotage called “The Den” from the Western Cape region, and it strikes the perfect balance between weight and depth, while being bright and juicy. However, the Lievland pinotage from Stellenbosch is unquestionably the best example of this grape I’ve ever tasted. Pinotage is a cross between pinot noir and a grape the South Africans call hermitage—we know it as cinsault—and the Lievland manages to put the flavor profiles of both these components in the spotlight. It’s elegant and silky with bright red fruits like a pinot noir, while also being spicy, floral and smoky, which is classic cinsault.
So maybe we’re still at home. Maybe we’re on the couch, in our jammies, still eating takeout. Maybe there won’t be any snowbirds this year. Who knows? But the good news is: There is still wine.
Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.