10 Activities for A Perfect Fall

The Fall season – some dread it, others love its slow transition from summer to winter.  However you feel, here are ten seasonal activities that assure you’ll enjoy the weeks ahead.

  1. Take a Fall Color Tour – Colorful eye-candy – what better reason to love Fall?  If you’re from the Northeast or Midwest, this is a well-known Fall activity, with the smell of decaying leaves (and in the day before burning bans, the smell of smoldering leaf piles after a day of raking) etched into our collective memories.  And though Fall doesn’t provide such displays of color in most of California – let alone the bracing chill of daytime air – our state’s thousands of square miles of grapevines provide a spectacular show as October progresses.  Visit one of our many wine regions during the coming weeks- whether for a day trip or a weekend.  (If you choose to visit Napa, here’s an iPhone touring app you’ll find useful) 
    Abbey-Harris vineyard, Anderson Valley
    Early Fall colors in Anderson Valley - Abbey-Harris Vineyard. 10-8-11
  2. Attend A Football Game – Though our nation shares few common traditions anymore, this seasonal sport is one of them.  You don’t need to be a huge sports fan to enjoy the fun and festivity of this great game.  But forget the wine, a tailgate calls for beer!  Sure wine would be fine, and I can recommend a good hot dog wine if you’re interested (Loire Valley Rose), but there’s nothing wrong with a little Sierra Nevada with your grilled dog of choice – sauerkraut or no. And if the NFL is a bit to commercial for you, re-discover the thrill of your local college team (assuming you can still tell the difference).fun fall activities - football
  3. Prepare This Hot Lunch  Here’s a fast and affordable hot lunch that’s perfect after a cold morning spent raking leaves – Sweet sausage and apples with Gewurztraminer.  Simply poach German sausage (or sweet Italian sausage, if you prefer) in enough Gewurztraminer to cover – bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes before grilling or sauteing until browned. Meanwhile, peel, core and slice two firm, crisp apples per person.  Bring a wide, covered sauté pan up to medium heat, add a cup of the Gewurztraminer and the apples and cook until soft – 5-10 minutes, adding a dash or three of cumin and cinnamon and other sweet pie spices of choice (these form a nice bridge to the wine).  Serve with spicy mustard and a premium dry Gewurztraminer such as this one from Phillips Hill.
  4. Forage for Mushrooms – Foraging for wild mushrooms is an unforgettable experience.  But whether you decide to join a foraging group or simply forage through your local farmer’s market, these edible fungi give up their flavor to some of my favorite seasonal dishes.  And what wine goes best with mushrooms?  Without hesitation I tell you it’s Pinot Noir!  And while I specialize in this varietal in my online wine shop, I feature here a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot from Tudor Wines, as Dan Tudor is a well-known mushroom forager.Dan Tudor mushroom forager 
  5. Break Out A Favorite Sweater for Breakfast al Fresco! – A hot cup of coffee and a favorite sweater are the best way in the world to start a brisk Fall day.  Take both outdoors and enjoy the morning.
  6. Host a Halloween Party – Show me someone who doesn’t enjoy donning an alternate identity once in a while, and I’ll show you a stick in the mud.  Whether your party is family-themed or an adult-only re-creation of Burning Man in your living room, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about the food for your guests, as one cannot live by Butterfingers alone (believe me, I once tried).   Here’s a recipe for “Runaway Chicken Chowder” that always gets rave reviews.  It’s orange color lends itself to the season, so sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top, serve with a bit of toasted pumpernickel and you’re done.  Serves a crowd.   Recommended pairing – Chardonnay.
  7. Host An Elections Forum – Whatever your political leanings, the arrival of November marks the annual exercise of our right to vote.  And with the complex nature of contemporary ballot initiatives, it’s helpful to invite friends over to discuss the local ballot initiatives and candidates.  A meal isn’t necessary, but some cheese and crackers are wise, as well as favorite wines of course, though you may find it wise to avoid over-serving if the initiatives are controversial!
  8. Plan Your Thanksgiving Dinner – This meal can be intimidating, as much for its family dynamics as its multi-course meal preparation.  But it’s my favorite meal of the year, and we always begin it with the Macy’s parade, followed by a bit of college football and ending with the umpteenth viewing of “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original with Natalie Wood, not the dozen or so universally bad re-makes).  In our household, the Christmas holiday is dedicated to the family we’ve been given, but the Thanksgiving holiday is for the family we would choose if left to our own devices – both are equally important and worthy of honoring.  However you spend yours, here is some useful assistance with your Thanksgiving meal – some of my time-tested favorite recipes I’ve posted in my recipe section (enter “thanksgiving” in the upper right search box).  Happy Thanksgiving!
    NBC Telecast Thursday, 11-24-2011
  9. Shop on Cyber-Monday – Save gas.  Avoid crowds.  Save time.  Get all your holiday gifts while sitting in the comfort of your home, then go out and enjoy your  friends and family.  This single activity will make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the season.  I cannot recommend it highly enough as a way to eliminate stress from your holiday season!
  10. Whew!  Now Get Ready For Winter – OK, so this one isn’t such a fun seasonal activity.  But before it gets truly cold, now is the time to check boilers, storm windows, snow blowers, and other necessities of the season to come.  And in our house, this is the time the Christmas baking begins to fill our freezer!
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast

thanksgiving-turkeyWithout ever looking at a calendar I can tell when Thanksgiving is near.  This uncanny ability doesn’t come from some innate circadian rhythm.  It comes from phone calls that begin in early November.

The callers usually start with a bit of pleasant small talk, transition into their Thanksgiving menu and guest count, then end with a discreet question like “what wine would you select for a meal like that?

The truth is, if you asked 100 well-trained wine merchants that question, you’d get almost as many answers.  I’ve learned that the best way to get rave reviews on your Thanksgiving wines is to open enough bottles to span the range of possible preferences.

Of course, there’s always the tongue-dead relative who only wants Jack Daniels (or White Zinfandel, or Dry Sack Sherry, or…Diet Coke) a situation I overcome by accepting their offer to bring something with “just bring whatever you’d enjoy drinking that day

But for those with more finely tuned palates, I offer the following suggestions for wines that will compliment your holiday meal.

B_Rose2007Sparkling Wines

I hand a flute of sparkling wine to guests the moment they come in our door – can you think of a happier way to be greeted? But don’t stop there, keep a bottle on ice to enjoy throughout the meal, sparkling wines are under-rated dinner companions!

To help make sure you have a perfect pairing between your meal and your sparkling wine, consider using mushrooms and herbs to accent the flavors of your meal, particularly your gravy and stuffing (or dressing, if you cook it outside the bird).  And keep in mind you’ll want a Brut or Brut Rose with the main course, but something sweeter – say a Dry or Extra Dry – when it comes time for dessert.

Though Thanksgiving is a great time to pull out the expensive Champagne, unless you’re dining with guests who can appreciate the delightful nuance of Grande Marques, you may want to save the pricey bottles for more intimate occasions.  Here are some budget-friendly sparkling wines that deliver a lot of wine for the money!

Pinots from $18 - $50Pinot Noir

If there is to be any agreement among my hypothetical group of wine merchants, it would be that Pinot Noir is a delightful choice for the Thanksgiving table.  But this is a wine that can be inconsistent – you can pay a lot (as in, a LOT) of money and still get a disappointing wine.  So be sure to talk to a trusted merchant who can guide you to a good choice within your price range.  I’d welcome you to consider my hand-picked  selection of pinots, ranging in price from $18 to $65.

Suggested ingredients that make this wine sing include mushrooms and fresh herbs (sage and thyme are particular favorites of mine), and even the cranberry sauce is an equal match for this mouth-watering red wine.  But if you want to serve one wine at your meal, this is the one that most people will find a perfect pairing.


Though a heavily oaked Chardonnay will fight with food, one made with a deft touch of oak works quite well with this meal.  The problem with California Chardonnay is that many of them are formulaic and innocuous.  I suspect they’re  made by uninspired Winemakers responding to management’s demand for “a $19 Chardonnay“.

Nonetheless, it is our nation’s #1-selling wine, and a thirsty nation seems content with the inter-changeable nature of many Chardonnays.  But this noble grape – the soul of White Burgundies – has the ability to turn heads when grown in the right area and crafted by inspired hands.

To enjoy a Chardonnay that will be as memorable as your holiday meal, I recommend seeking the advice of a trusted merchant, one who will find a Chardonnay to make your guests sit up and take notice.  Finding a wine that compliments your specific holiday menu results in the food tasting better AND the wine tasting better.  It’s a synergy thing.  Click here to see our hand-picked Chardonnay’s at prices from $9 to $49.

Viognier_06Other White Wines for Turkey

The traditional holiday meal provides lovers of aromatic white wines the chance to evangelize their favorite grape to a receptive audience.   For those weary of the same-old wines, these delightful but obscure varietals are far from the well-worn Chardonnay path.

While I find many Sauvignon Blancs too herbaceous to pair well with the traditional Thanksgiving feast,  you’ll find joy in such varietals as Pinot Blanc, a dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer.  And the minerality in a Chenin Blanc from the Loire brings smiles all around.

But my favorite white wine with my holiday meal has a bit more mouthfeel to it – the white varietals from the Rhone Valley!  And of these four – Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc – my favorite is Viognier, with its flirtatious nose of spring blossoms and its white pepper spice and bitter finish keep the wine from being a simple, air-headed bimbo.  Fortunately, very good Viognier is available at a reasonable price, though the higher end can offer a truly transcendent experience.  I suggest these three with confidence (priced from $16 to $37).

Wines That Pair With PieNobility Web-Ready

For some odd reason I have yet to figure out, the sweet tooth that defines the American palate does not extend to dessert wines.  Which is fine by me, as every drop of these wines is more precious than hummingbird spit (yeah, I cleaned that up a bit).  And if they were popular, or even if they were to become a small fad, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

If you were to look at a graph showing who drinks dessert wines, it would look like your classic “barbell curve”, with novices forming the first blip, the mass market forming a dip trough in the middle, and serious wine lovers forming another blip.  No matter, this way there’s more for me!

My favorite wines for the classic apple or pumpkin pies are the late harvest and botrytised wines from grapes such as Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, or a blend of Sauv Blanc/Semillon.  A small glass of these rich, honey-like wines is dessert in itself, with an intriguing floral-honey-apricot fragrance that makes it difficult for me to pull my nose out of the glass long enough to taste it!

For a wine to go with pecan pie,  much depends on any accompanying flavors.  My favorite recipe for pecan-chocolate pie with brandy requires something with a bit of oompgh, such as the Alcyone sweet Tannat from Vinedo de los Vientos in Uruguay ($31), which is among the best chocolate wines on the planet right now.  For a more traditional pecan pie, I’d opt for an LBV port or even a late harvest Zin or Syrah. Click here to see my hand-picked dessert wines for your holiday table ($15 – $75, mostly in small bottles)

Buy Online?  Or at Your Local Wine Shop?
Shopping for new wines online occurs in an information vacuum, which is why I invest so much time writing my notes for all the wines in my store.  But for the holiday season I’ve also added real-time chat sessions to provide buying assistance in real time.  Whenever I’m at my computer you can ask for my advice from right inside my shopping cart, and even when I’m away from my desk you can send an email.  Test it out – click here and once in my cart look for my smiling face in the left frame.  Then send me a note just to say Hi!

The First S - SeeCheers,
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy (American President, May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)