Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005

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Whiteís OK after Labor Day

In Fall, best batch comes from cool climes

By Tim Protzman 

John Waters, the auteur director of schlock, probably never imagined his quirky little movie Hairspray! would become a hit Broadway musical. Iíve seen most of his films and Iím shocked too. His films run the gamut from amusing to disturbing, but one scene from Serial Mom particularly stands out. In the movie Kathleen Turner plays an over-the-top housewife who resorts to murder to try to restore a little bit of civility to her neighborhood. After being acquitted, she accosts and dispatches Patty Hearst for the crime of wearing white after Labor Day. Hearst tries to reason that old-fashioned rules no longer apply and itís acceptable to wear white year round, but to no avail. My only hope is that Ms. Turner is on the West Coast and wonít take umbrage with this column because itís about white wines after Labor Day.  

Just because the days are growing shorter doesnít mean itís time to put the whites away.

There are many autumn-centric wines that pair up well with apple pie and cheese. Wines that may be too sturdy for the hottest days taste just right on a cool Indian summer evening. 

The key is growing climate. Wines have a peculiar way of taking on the characteristics of where theyíre grown. White wines grown in lots of sun tend to be perfumey and dry with a touch of citrus. Whites grown in Northern climates taste of melon and honey. And though itís OK to drink a Grillo- or Albarino-based wine in the fall, the hot climate in which they were raised lends itself to summertime consumption.

My favorite fall whites come from the cooler regions. They have a sweetness borne by their low alcohol content, usually under 11 percent. They pair well with hors díoeuvres, especially ones in puff pastry shells like mushrooms or crab. Some may have a slight effervescence reminiscent of hard cider. They also go great with cream-and custard-based desserts, making them mealtime-friendly.

Riesling is a German grape that makes a crisp, slightly sweet white that goes with most food. Avoid chocolate, citrus salads and white gravieswith it. Riesling has a way of wrapping around the food and bringing out the spicy or creamy flavors.

Jakob Demmer makes a good Riesling from grapes grown in the Pfalz region. It runs $10.99. A little more upscale is the Schloss Vollrads Riesling Kabinett from the Rheingau district. This presents a lily-like bouquet with green apple and melon taste notes. It retails for $16.99.

American Rieslings present just as much flavor but a tad more alcohol, which translates to a lower sweetness level. Consistently good producers are Washington Stateís Chateau Ste. Michelle, Firestone (from the Santa Barbara region) and Dr. Konstantin Frank Johannisberg Riesling from New Yorkís Finger Lake region. These wines range from $11 a bottle for the Chateau St. Michelle to $16.99 for the Dr. Frank, which has won numerous wine awards. Another great thing is that Riesling goes with Asian food from Korean to Thai, so you can turn a quick takeout meal into something more with an inexpensive bottle of Riesling.

Vouvray is a region in Franceís Loire valley that produces a mildly sweet wine from Chenin Blanc grapes. It goes well with cream sauces, roast pork, chicken and white fish.

Itís signature dish is Trout meuniŤre, a Creole recipe with lemon, butter and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Great Vouvray producers are: Marc Bredif, Marquis de Goulaine and Champalou. Prices average $12.99 a bottle.

Sancerre is a wine made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which are light and crisp. This year-round wine will pair with autumnal fare like squash, pheasant and veal. Itís so versatile that it even goes with salads and acidic vegetables like tomatoes. Jolivet, Domaine Chotard, Patient Cottat and Clos La Perriere all make a very decent bottle, but the price is close to $20.

For everyday Sauvignon Blanc, look to California for great wine and bargains. Beringer, Benziger, Kendall Jackson and Washingtonís Columbia Crest provide great value for under $10. If you want to go all out try Ferrari Carano, Matanzas Creek or Grgich Hills (which they label Fume Blanc); these are all around $20 a bottle.

Six months ago I tried a bottle of Llano Estacado 2001 Chardonnay. This wine was from Lubbock, Texas, home of the late great Buddy Holly. The wine was nice but I felt, as I do about many of the newer wine-growing regions, that thereís a learning curve to be mastered. After all, Europeís had thousands of years to get it right. The wine was good, but it didnít show enough Texas character. I couldnít taste the region and it seemed acidic. But at least it was an honest wine without flavor enhancers or that artificial oakiness. Today, Iím more inclined to spend my $14.99 on a Texas-produced wine. The quality has improved and while itís not Silver Oak, it is imminently drinkable. Look for the later vintages, í02, í03 and í04. Anyone one who can grow grapes in Lubbock has a lot of heart, and the wine will show that. Itís that same Texas heart that opened its doors, coliseums and sports stadiums to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina disaster before anyone else. And most winemakers will tell you, their secret ingredient is love. Thank you, Texas!