It’s always a poignant time of year when the leaves start their leisurely flutter toward the ground, the skies darken earlier, a hailstorm of fat acorns assault parked cars… and the barbecue pit becomes an afterthought.
Autumn is, of course, a season of transition. Although there are plenty of afternoons and evenings when outdoor entertaining is opportune, sometimes grilling and patio revelry are foiled when Mother Nature turns on a dime. Good thing the local wine shops don’t close at sundown or during a cold, Saturday night rain!
Having to move the party inside can be quite a pleasure. Light a fire, cook something in the oven – and generously pour some delicious wine to toast 2011’s bountiful harvest (sans the acorns). Experiment with some conversation-starting value wines, and serve a dish that features savory meats, produces a pleasant aroma and dual-culture origin: Choucroute Garni.
Popular in the “disputed territory” of Alsace-Lorraine (the lands of eastern France have a Germanic influence), this braised delight of sausages, sauerkraut and fragrant spices lends itself to white wines not called Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. And, despite the popularity of Riesling among the vintners in this part of Europe, additional varietals complement this made-for-autumn dish.
“Grüner Veltliner [from Austria] is typically crisp and bright, with citrus, floral and white pepper accents,” says Dean Schlabowske of Cellar Rat Wine Shop. “Some examples can be steely; others rounder. But it’s a versatile wine.”
A key factor is that the meats for this dish are modestly priced. This, of course, aligns with this columns theme of sensible parsimony. Here are some typical pairing examples, and also some new wine options to serve with this timeless classic (prices are average retail):
- Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner 2010: Harvested from vineyards on plains adjacent to the storied Danube River, this is the quintessential white all the way around, from its aroma of pears, to its crisp flavor of tart citrus. The apparent contrast matches the many different flavors in this dish. $15.
- Lois Grüner Veltliner by Fred Loimer 2010: It’s a dry white, with lots of minerality. The acidity and pronounced flavor of tart apples and a hint of spice is a nice foil to the saltiness in cured meats and sausages. Really fresh and tasty – have before dinner, too. $13.
- Robertson Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2010: Some chefs and sommeliers are at odds about serving Gewürztraminer with Choucroute Garni, as it can be considered too big or round. But, says Donald Hupp of Que Syrah in Lakeview, “Robertson’s South African Gewürztraminer is a late-harvest version. And there’s a subtle, honeyed character that brings out the flavor of the spicier meats that can be used in a dish of this style.” $13.
- St. Christopher Riesling Qualitätswein Nahe: A German Riesling must be dutifully mentioned here, if only because the word “sauerkraut” appears above. The St. Christopher makes a smooth segue from its initial freshness/sweetness to a delightfully subdued, refined finish. A true-to-varietal Riesling from the old country. $14.