Rich colours, ripe aromas
Ned Halley considers some treats for the shortening days.
This is the season for contemplative white wines. Pale, crisp and tangy refreshers are just the ticket for summer days, but autumn calls for richer colours, ripe aromas and long, mellow fruitfulness.
Poetic, huh? But I hope you get the drift. There is such infinite variety in this golden age of wine that we can easily tailor our tastes to the climatic conditions, and it's fun to do so.
White wines with the flavours of autumn are those in which the fruit feels plump and wholesomely ripe. In terms of grape varieties we're talking peachy-lush chardonnay rather than gooseberry-grassy sauvignon blanc, orchard-ripe fiano instead of piquant pinot grigio.
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Start at the natural home of mellow white wines, Burgundy, where the indigenous chardonnay makes famous and famously expensive oak-matured classics with portentous names such as Meursault and Montrachet. Fortunately, the region produces plenty of affordable generic chardonnays besides, particularly in the outlying southern zone of the Mâconnais.
Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Chenaudières 2012 (Majestic, £8.99 or £7.99 if you buy two) is the ideal introduction. It's a simple Mâconnais from the redoubtable Cave de Lugny with an appositely macaroon savour alongside the plump, ripe apple-pie fruit and lemon soufflé lift. Sheer joy at a very sensible price.
Catena Chardonnay 2012 (Waitrose, £12.99) from Argentina represents a distinctly New World variation on the Burgundian theme. It's gloriously extravagant with a lemon-gold colour and a butterscotch richness to the sweet-apple fruit, and yet it contrives also to be briskly dry with a distinct citrus edge.
From across the Andes in Chile's Casablanca region, Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay 2011 (Tesco online, £12.50) is lavishly rich with toffee-apple intensity, yet nicely balanced between melon-ripe peach lushness and a grapefruit-tangy freshness. This is a direct style-challenge to the likes of Burgundy's Meursault – and it carries it off.
The chardonnay is the emblematic white grape of Australia but not, I believe, the source of its most interesting white wines. For true autumn flavours look to the semillon, a variety native to southwest France where it is blended with sauvignon blanc to make the elegant dry whites of Bordeaux and, when harvested very late in the season in a state of "noble rot", the sweet wines of Sauternes.
Australian growers have proved very adept at making lavish dry whites with pure Semillon, a wine style to seek out in this season of the year. Try McGuigan Classic Semillon Blanc 2012 (Sainsbury's, £7.99) for size. Exotic banana-pineapple aromas lead into long, lush, fresh and poised fruit flavours.
I also commend Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Semillon 2006 at £9.99. This is a mature wine with what you might recognise as a "petrolly" aroma; it is fino-sherry-like in its weighted density and loaded with tropical fruits trimmed up into a dry finish.
Firmly back in our own back yard, Lugana 2012 (Asda, £8.50, currently down to £7) is an enticingly sun-ripened dry white from the shores of Lake Garda in northeast Italy. It's from the universal Italian grape the trebbiano, and here it makes a herbaceous, peachy and satisfying wine, quite rich but uplifted by a twangy lemon finish.
From the other end of Italy altogether, Mandarossa Fiano 2011 (Morrisons online, £9.99) is a highly coloured Sicilian dry wine, assertive in its crunchy-apple freshness but plump, long in flavour and satisfying, too. Good creamy pasta matcher.
Travelling further south, South Africa is making a nifty speciality of autumn-flavoured dry whites, in particular from the chenin blanc grape, a native of France's Loire Valley. This variety is not as well-known either in the Loire or the Cape as it deserves to be, overshadowed in both regions by the ubiquitous sauvignon. I have a couple of firm recommendations.
Asda Extra Special South African Chenin Blanc 2012 at £7 is a lovely expression of this enigmatic grape, naturally rich and with a fleeting honey note and yet finely balanced, crisp and vivacious. It's a generous wine with 14% alcohol.
And Villiera Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2012 at £11.49 from Marks & Spencer is a special occasion wine from Stellenbosch, due east of Cape Town. It would sit very comfortably with lobster.