Warm Up This Fall with These Expert Wine Selections

A 'show-stopping' Bordeaux blanc, nebbiolo with a nose like drying leaves, and even a deep ruby rosé, here's what to order at Asta, Little Donkey, and more.

Fall wine selections from Asta, Craigie on Main, Coppa, Little Donkey, and Toro. / Photo by Lloyd Mallison

Fall wines from Asta, Craigie on Main, Coppa, Little Donkey, and Toro. / Photos by Lloyd Mallison

Snowstorm scares aside, there’s a lot to love about autumn in Boston, from the quaint look of crunchy leaves on cobblestone sidewalks, to local cranberry and pumpkin deliciousness. Not to mention the cozy dining rooms around town in which you can enjoy it all—with a comforting glass of wine in hand, of course.

We asked three of Boston’s top sommeliers for their recommendations this season. Theresa Paopao, formerly of Oleana, the Momofuku restaurant group in New York and Toronto, and the late, great Ribelle, shares her insights with the Asta team these days. Craigie on Main’s award-winning wine program is overseen by Carl York. And Jodie Battles, the wine pro with the venerable duo Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, spills about what to order this fall at all of the chefs’ three spots.

Fall Wines 2016 Asta

Photos by Lloyd Mallison

At Asta:

2015 Pascal Janvier ‘Cuvee Silex,’ Jasnieres
Origin: Loire Valley, France
$16 / glass

“It’s scary how good this Chenin Blanc is,” says Paopao, who adds she will always suggest this varietal, no matter the season. “Approachable and friendly, this Loire Valley white is just as great on an apple-picking adventure as it is sitting in front of the fireplace watching the Pats. It’s a wine that delicious on its own, and can really pair nicely with just about anything,” she says. “This wine has a serious side too: Beneath the charming apple and stone fruit flavors lies fine hints of flint and gunpowder that make you pay attention—if only for a second—before you go back to enjoying the deliciousness.”

2014 Domaine Des Ardoisiere ‘Argile,’ Savoie
Origin: Rhône-Alpes, France
$18 / glass

If you’re not quite ready to turn the clocks back, here’s “a transitional wine for when you want to cling to summer just a little bit longer,” Paopao says. Yes, leaf-peepers abound in our neighborhoods, but it’s nothing compared to the sights to behold in the mountains. “Changes in daylight and temperature affect chlorophyll production so the greens give way to yellow, reds, and oranges. Grapes are just as sensitive to climate and altitude. Wines made in mountainous regions have a certain freshness about them, just like the air,” she says. This blend of Gamay and Persan “satisfies the sudden seasonal craving we get for a glass of red but with all the lightness and brightness of a white.”

2007 Chateau Doisy-Daene Bordeaux Blanc
Origin: Bordeaux, France
$69 / bottle

This selection pre-dates Paopao’s arrival at Asta, but she definitely plans to keep it on the list. “It offers a rare peek at a 10-year-old sauvignon blanc made at the hands of a Barsac producer,” she says. The balanced white wine is a “show-stopper,” just shy of full-bodied, with ripe fruit notes that are “assertive, but not overwhelming, and phantom-like baking spice [that] peeks out from time to time. We don’t always have this one open but if you ask nicely, we’d probably pour you a glass,” she says. And if you see it on the shelf at your favorite bottle shop, pick it up for “a classy (and fun) addition to the Thanksgiving table.”

Fall Wines 2016 Craigie

Photos by Lloyd Mallison

At Craigie on Main:

2010 Boca, Vallana
Origin: Piedmont, Italy

“Mostly I think of fall wines as being made from Nebbiolo. Actually, I pretty much exclusively think that,” York says. That’s because as wines made from that grape as it ages, “it tastes like dried fruits and smells like leaves drying on the ground in November.” Wines from the high-in-elevation appellation Boca are “quite a bit lighter than than the King and Queen (Barolo and Barbaresco),” he explains. This particular vintage “smells of drying red fruits, flowers, tea leaves, maybe some tar if you have a super-human imagination,” York says, and it “has both the acidity and tannin to stand up to hearty fall dishes. A big bowl with stewed beef and boiled vegetables would not be out of place with this wine.”

2008 Saint Joseph ‘Clos de Cumanille’ Gaillard
Origin: Loire Valley, France

Gaillard is a personal favorite of York’s. “When his brothers in Vins de Vienne (Yves Cuilleron and Francois Villard) were making wines that tasted like blueberry toothpaste in the early aughts with heavy additions of smoke and mint from new oak, Pierre was just doing what he thought was right, frequently getting less attention than the others. His wines have stood up to aging,” he says. Plus, the vineyard was planted the year York was born, in 1981, “so I think of us as kindred spirits, although it has aged better.”

This vintage, in particular, has become “charming with seven years in the bottle,” York says, per a friend who works in the cellar at Gaillard. It’s dark in color, has fruit notes but isn’t a fruity wine, and has a lifted, smoky nose, he says. “This wine is remarkably animal. Meaty. It finishes a little tough and dry with good length. I love it,” he says. Get it with Craigie’s current bavette steak and beets: “There isn’t really a happier pairing I can think of right now,” he says, though it “would also be at home with red-fleshed birds like squab.”

Michel Gahier’s Trousseau ‘Grand Vergers’
Origin: Arbois, France

“Think of a cranberry. And drink this wine. Then think of a cranberry,” York says. This wine has ripe, red fruit character, and is feather-light. In fact, it might be too light for some drinkers. “But for the people that get it, it’s gulpable. Perhaps not the most fall-like, but perhaps the best wine for the mother of all fall days, Thanksgiving.”

Photos by Lloyd Mallison

Photos by Lloyd Mallison

At Coppa:

Silvio Carta Vernaccia NV
Origin: Sardinia, Italy
$58 / bottle

This isn’t your average vernaccia: “Think sherry meets madeira, with a nod to orange wine,” Battles says. “This non-vintage Sicilian gem is one that Jamie and I both were totally stoked on when we discovered it, although we didn’t try it together for the first time.” The appeal has to do with the wine’s versatility, especially with food. “It has the absolute perfect balance between acidity, stone fruits and nutty elements,” she says.

At Toro:

Poco do Lobo Arinto 1995
Origin: Portugal
$68 / bottle

Despite the vintage, this is a current release from this producer with a fascinating history, and “the arinto varietal allows this wine to remain lively with fresh acidity and an interesting balance between savory, umami notes and dried fruits,” Battles says. She first tasted this wine in Spain two years ago, and immediately fell in love, she says.

At Little Donkey:

Domaine Ilarria Tannat/Cabernet Franc Rose 2015
Origin: Irouléguy, France
$50 / bottle

Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean pink wine season is over: “This is the perfect rosé as you transition into fall weather, or for all seasons, in my opinion,” Battles says. From a tiny producer from an equally tiny region in southwestern France, this rosé is “totally unique, on the cusp of a light red wine in style.” Its color is deep ruby, and “it has a delicious herbal and smoked meat quality, balanced with cherry, currant and lots of body.”