It always comes down to this. Each and every fall, as summer fades away, and the promise of winter and the upcoming ski season loom in the distance, there are always those in between days that mark the transition of the seasons, and serve as a stark reminder that summer has come and gone.
You know the days I'm referring to — the 40-, 50-, and 60-degree days that are sunny and beautiful, but have a chill in the air that no amount of standing in the sunshine can warm away.
I love the many traditions of fall — watching the leaves change, and waiting for the first snowfall — but the wine lover in me is always a little saddened at this time of year, because the cool air marks the end of a favorite summer tradition: afternoon picnics with rose.
I don't like saying goodbye to rose, and I always keep a few bottles around in case of an Indian Summer day, or to pair with lighter dishes in the winter. I also don't believe that the arrival of cool weather means that you have to say goodbye to rosés and white wines entirely.
While I was wine shopping the other day, I was looking at an intriguing new Chardonnay, when a woman approached me and smiled. “Oh, I'm done with those for the year,” she announced. “I love Chardonnay in the summer, but once summer goes away, I'm strictly a red wine girl.”
While I'm an advocate for allowing one's food and the seasons to dictate one's choice of wine, I could never bring myself to swear off white wine or rosé for half the year. “What about winter nights with lobster, or crab legs?” I wondered.
Still, I had to agree with the sentiment behind the woman's statement. There is something quite warming and comforting about a glass of red wine when it's cold out. However, on those aforementioned “in between” days, there are times when a glass of red isn't exactly what the palate is looking for, but the chill in the air is enough to steer you away from a rosé or white wine.
For the longest time, I had no wine to recommend for an “in-between” day. Then, earlier this fall, while at a release tasting for Peju wines hosted by Burlington Wine Shop, I stumbled across what is quite possibly the perfect bridge wine for the fall.
Peju is a family owned-winery in the Rutherford sub-AVA of California's Napa Valley. Of all the Peju wines, the one that left me most intrigued at the close of the evening was a new offering, released under a different label: Tess.
Tess is a newly released brand that is an offshoot of Peju. Described as a “red and white blend,” the description on the Tess website lists its composition as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine presents a light ruby color, akin to a Pinot Noir, and at first glance, the unsuspecting drinker might have no clue that white grapes were a part of this wine's makeup.
The aromas of Chardonnay are quite pronounced on the nose, and intermingle with its red fruit aromas. On the palate, bright acidity and red fruit flavors of raspberry and cranberry make for an easy-drinking wine that bridges the gap between white wines and rosés, and fuller bodied reds.
When I first tasted Tess, I was confused, as the concept of a winery creating a red wine, and touting the product as a “red and white blend” was somewhat foreign to me. The concept of blending red and white grapes is not all together new, but I could think of only one instance where red and white grapes were fermented to produce a red wine.
In the northern Rhône appellation of Côte-Rôtie, vintners are allowed to blend small amounts of Viognier with Syrah, which imparts a floral character to the wine. This practice has been adopted in other Syrah/Shiraz producing regions, such as Australia and California. Yet, none of these regions label the final product as a “red and white blend.” Viognier, while a noble grape in its own right, assumes a support role when blended with Syrah, and no one would claim that a Côte-Rôtie, or a wine made in the style of a Côte-Rôtie was a “red and white blend.”
I left the Peju release tasting having ordered a few bottles of Tess, but I was still pondering the origin of what I was sure would be one of my favorite wines for the fall as I drove home.
I reached out to the winery with a series of questions. Marketing Manager Dan Gaffey was quick to get back to me. Dan informed me that back to Peju's early days, when Ariana and Lisa's father, Tony Peju, was both the owner and winemaker, “Tony would often work on different blends well into the night around the family's kitchen table. During that time it was not uncommon for his daughters Lisa and Ariana to observe their father and even take part in his blending sessions. Now that the second generation has taken on day-to-day operations at the winery, Lisa and Ariana launched Tess as a standalone wine of their own, inspired many years ago by those late night blending sessions with their dad.”
Tess' label suggests that it be served chilled, but in my experiences, I've found that adjusting the serving temperature can alter the character of the wine. I wouldn't suggest serving the wine at temperatures above 60 degrees, but I did notice that cooler serving temperatures amplified the elements of the white wines in the blend, while serving the wine at warmer temperatures brought out plush red fruit flavors, and a rounder mouth feel.
On the first weekend of October — an “in-between” day with temperatures in the mid-50's and plenty of sunshine — I was fully convinced of Tess' versatility as a bridge wine by a day hike with friends to Sterling Pond.
Snow had fallen on the mountain the night before, and as we made our ascent up the trail, my friends and I were shocked to find ice covering the rocks on the trail, and a light dusting of snow coating the bed of fallen leaves on the forest floor. At the top of the mountain, the land surrounding the pond resembled an Arctic tundra. We were all excited to warm up with a glass of wine and some cheese.
For a few of my friends, it was their first experience with Tess. “This is delicious, really good for a $20 bottle of wine,” my friend Henry said. “You can get a hint of the white wine in the blend, but I really love how the soft fruits pair with the cheeses. It also has nice flavors of cranberry in it.”
My girlfriend, who has enjoyed the wine with me a few times before, was also singing Tess's praises.
“Is it me, or would this be a really good wine to bring to Thanksgiving?” she asked.
I hastily concurred, and a slow smile spread over my face, as I hadn't thought of the possibility of Tess as a Thanksgiving wine. With its light bodied character, and soft red fruit flavors, it would pair easily with most items on a Thanksgiving table, particularly the turkey.
As we stood by the pond, and sipped our wine, the cool temperatures imparted the chill that I'd neglected to give it. I found myself thinking that this was a wine that would appeal to just about anyone in my family, red wine lover or white wine lover. What I had originally thought of as a bridge wine for “in-between” days, was also a perfect bridge wine for the Thanksgiving table.
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