One of the joys of owning a seasonal restaurant is the pleasure we get from shaping the drinks list to reflect the contents of the Chef’s market basket as it changes through the year—it never gets old! With autumn now in full swing, let’s consider a few delicious wine and cider bottles that can be everyday pairings with the greenmarket foods of autumn and early winter, and be great for the holiday table, too.
At Rose Water, summer’s icy plum ginger agua fresca is just a memory, and we’re now warming our hands around a cup of hot, spiced apple cider.
Around the time that the first local apples of the season appeared, the pink wines started to retire from the wine list, and by the time the hard squashes arrived, the number of white wines started to thin from summer’s peak. The selections have moved a wee bit to the weightier side. We’ve expanded the array of natural red wines from Europe, South America, and the U.S. to pair with sturdy bitter greens, root vegetables, and the roasted game and braised beef that came in with the chillier weather. And the artisanal ciders, both apple and pear, flat and fizzy, have resumed their seasonal berth on the list.
We have a longstanding tradition of pairing cider with our tasting menus at the first real chill of fall. In recent years, every autumn we learn of a couple new and exciting producers of artisanal cider, many from New York, and we list at least half a dozen or more, both from the northeastern U.S. as well as France and Spain. The best ciders are great with food. They just feel like the most perfect drink for autumn, and in the same way that summer without rosé is unimaginable for us, autumn equals cider. If you haven’t discovered the pleasures of a good cider yet, do yourself a solid and beat a path to your local natural wine store. They’ll have several selections, at a minimum, and can guide you through them; from light to heavy, squeaky clean to funky and unfiltered, and from austerely dry to candy sweet. Like wine, they range across a large spectrum of characteristics. And, like wine, they can range from to cheap to expensive (though the most complex ciders are still cheaper than fine wine).
One of our alltime faves, year in and out, is Eric Bordelet’s Poiré Authentique from Normandy. Bordelet produces pear and apple ciders of extraordinary quality, complexity, and value. At about 4 percent alcohol, they are wonderful as an aperitif when cooking Thanksgiving dinner. At home, we sip the Poiré Authentique instead of wine or beer because it’s dry and light on it’s feet, with soft, happy bubbles—and the low alcohol keeps us awake and on task in the kitchen. Eric Bordelet works with more than twenty varieties of organic/biodynamic cider apples and fourteen types of pears, chosen to provide not just sweet flavors, but bitter and sour as well. The fruits that we all use for baking and eating out of hand generally don’t make the best cider. The heirloom varietals that Eric and other great producers use are often inedible, but when blended in cider they make for a complex and beguiling drink. We love all the Bordelet apple and pear ciders, but the Poiré Authentique is a favorite for it’s incredible pear perfume, hint of sweetness, bracing minerality, and freshness. It’s on the list at RW from autumn to late winter, often by the glass and as a pairing with our Market Menu and Chef’s Tasting Menu. Bordelet makes more expensive bottlings, but the Authentique is a great value, and a wonderful entry to cider for those beginning to explore them. You can find it at Slope Cellars here in Park Slope. ($17.99, www.slopecellars.com)
Over the last handful of vintages we’ve come to love the Dashe Cellars “Les Enfants Terribles” Zinfandels from Northern California. Mike Dashe makes a number of different Zinfandels, but for the two Enfants Terribles (Wild Children) bottlings he sources grapes from two organic farms in Mendocino: Heart Arrow Ranch and the high-elevation McFadden Farm. Mike makes the Enfants wines in the natural style, with wild yeast fermentations, aged in used, large oak barrels, and he adds very little sulphur. Be forewarned: These are not your dad’s overblown, high alcohol, impossible-to-pair-with-food Zinfandels. They’re much more restrained, with alcohol levels usually under 14 percent, and they pair just beautifully with food. The new vintage is usually released in early fall, and we love to serve them through the colder months and with the main course for Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant. With spicy, fresh fruit and just enough backbone and zingy acidity, they complement roasted bird and all of the classic dishes of autumn and the holiday table. Because European wines are frequently more restrained and therefore often better with food, we frequently go with French or Italian when choosing wine for a meal. But especially on the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, we like to serve an American wine, and the Dashe Enfants Zins are light and restrained enough to not overwhelm dinner—just fruity enough to please those that like a more modern style. The Heart Arrow has slightly more pronounced fruit and the McFadden is a little less ripe due to the higher elevation of the vineyard where the air is cooler. Also available at Slope Cellars (around $27, www.slopecellars.com )
We wish you a happy autumn season with bountiful family meals, good food, and delicious cider and wine!