Every year, the cooling autumn air encourages outdoor fêtes to shift from summer barbecues, where crisp white wines and rosés are often preferred, to cozy indoor gatherings. Though it’s not an officially written rule (wine selection is subjective, after all), as the seasons change and the weather starts to cool, many of us tend to reach for a bottle of red.
“When fall hits, we instinctively move out of our summer mode of eating light, bright, acid-forward food and into richer, layered, slow-cooked meals like stews and braises,” Jamie Rubin, CS, an advanced sommelier and wine consultant at Southwark in Philadelphia, told Observer. “Similarly, where we once wanted gin, we want bourbon, and where we once craved bracing riesling and aromatic sauvignon blanc, we now want something deeper.”
Though cabernet from Napa, pinot noir from Sonoma and medium-bodied wines from France, Spain and Italy delight year-after-year, there are plenty of more under-the-radar wine regions that produce delightful reds that are drinkable with or without food. Take saperavi, a dry, red wine from the country of Georgia—a region that’s recognized as the birthplace of wine due to 8,000-year-old archaeological findings. Saperavi is one of Georgia’s 525 native grapes, with other popular red varieties inclusive of shavkapito, aleksandrouli and ojaleshi.
In Armenia, winemaking history dates back some 6,000 years, where indigenous varieties like areni and milagh are two prominently produced red wines.
From Georgia to Armenia and Croatia to Portugal, here are eight unique wines to sip as the weather gets cooler and we transition from white to red pours.
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Saint Hills 2020 Plavac Mali, Dingac
From: Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Plavac Mali is the primary native red grape from the Dalmatia region of Croatia and a descendant from the notable Zinfandel variety. The wine presents beautiful aromas of ripe blackberries as well as herbal and spice notes with a balanced tannic structure on the palate. The tasting notes of fig, cassis and cocoa powder that culminate in a spicy finish pair well with a roast lamb or hearty stew.
Askaneli Saperavi Premium
From: Kakheti, Georgia
Saperavi is an acidic grape that produces a distinctly full-bodied wine that’s traditionally paired with warming and wholesome meals in its native Georgia, such as boar meat and mountain goat. Its velvety texture and rich flavor also complement creamy mushroom dishes and ragout. This particular wine is produced by the Askaneli brothers in the Kakheti region—one of Georgia’s 25 Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)—that’s also where nearly three-quarters of the country’s wine grapes grow.
From: Nemea, Greece
The Agiorgitiko grape originates from the island of Nemea, and is one of Greece’s most prolific native grapes. This Agiorgitiko, produced from Gai’a Estate (pronounced Yay-ya) borrows its name from “Mother Earth” as an homage to the distinct terroir of Nemea that the winery has been farming since 1994. The wine is well-structured with gripping tannins, intensely ripe fruit aromas and a hint of oak from its six to eight months in French oak barrels. Try this sip with a spicy beef stew or whole stuffed peppers
2020 Luis Seabra: Xisto Ilimitado Tinto
From: Douro Valley, Portugal
This red blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela and Tinta Roriz from Portugal’s Douro Valley emphasizes the quality of dry table wine that the region can produce (in addition to its famed Port). Notable for its tannins, of similar quality to Bordeaux, similar style of fruit purity found in Burgundy and lively acidity of a Barolo, this is a reasonably priced alternative to these well-known regions. Expect red and black cherries accented by a slight white pepper note, and hints of oregano and eucalyptus that make it a perfect pairing for herb-roasted chicken.
2017 Noa Areni Reserve
From: , Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Produced from Areni grapes grown at high elevation (3,900 to 4,900 feet above sea level) in the southeastern region of Vayots Dzor (one of the four main wine growing regions in Armenia), this full-bodied wine is special in many ways. First, its name is inspired by the story of Noah, who planted the first grapevines in Ararat. This wine itself was created as a way to reconnect with the origins of wine around the globe. The expression is plush and bright, while simultaneously offering earthy notes, including deep cedar that pairs well alongside slow-cooked meats.
Selendi Estate Cabernet Franc
From: Akhisar, Turkey
While Cabernet Franc may be one of the more familiar grape varieties on this list, it’s actually a less popular grape from the Aegean region, which tends to produce more indigenous varieties (Cabernet Franc is native to France). Thus, it’s a special wine from Selendi Estate that offers a vibrant spice with notes of raspberry, blueberry and pink pepper, says Andy Arkun, co-owner of Nar, the newly opened modern-Turkish restaurant in New York City. Sip it with grilled octopus for a less traditional, yet stellar pairing.
2021 Paul Achs Zweigelt
From: Burgenland, Austria
Zweigelt is Austria’s most widespread planted red variety, but remains less well-known and understood. It frequently appears on menus across the U.S., but given its obscure name, tends to be overlooked for more traditional red pours by the glass. But with less traditional red wines gaining clout, it’s time to finally give this mighty red the attention it deserves. Zweigelt is a full-bodied, tannic wine, with notes of cherry, and pairs especially well with acidic sauces, like spicy tomato and shellfish.
2017 Cave Caloz, Humagne Rouge, ‘La Mourzière’ Les Coteaux de Sierre
From: Valais, Switzerland
Though Humagne Rouge can prove stubborn to ripen, the steep terraced slopes of the renowned La Mourzière in Valais, Switzerland produce a singing expression of the red grape, which is originally from the Aosta Valley. “Crack this bottle of Humagne towards the end of fall, when the fireplaces are flickering, the wind is whipping, and the roasts are…roasting,” Benjamin Coutts, sommelier and beverage director at Soseki, told Observer. Coutts praises the wine’s wild berries and mountain herbs that with a few hours of decanting allow for a roundness that “releases sweet floral, cinnamon and pine resin notes.”