Autumn
By George Stewart

As the days grow shorter and the leaves change colours, we find ourselves leaving behind the pale roses and fresh whites which saw us through the 35 degree days of summer. While many are sad to see the warm days go for another year, we can take heart as we settle into autumn and eventually winter because these are the seasons when wine truly shines.

As fantastic as it is to have a chilled glass of Champagne on a warm summer's day, it is at least as satisfying popping open a bottle to begin an evening of autumnal revelry. I myself am a big fan of Bollinger and Pol Roger among the larger houses and Voirin-Jumel for something more esoteric.

Among seasonal whites, Jean-Marc Boillot is one of the best producers for both value and seasonal style. His whites from the Cote de Beaune, from his basic Bourgogne Blanc up through the ranks including the excellent Montagny 1er Cru, and Puligny-Montrachet are rich and well-layered. Despite their relatively low prices, they are remarkably serious wines and among our favourites.

We can of course look forward to the old favourites, aged Bordeaux and mature Burgundy to see us through the festive season. However the avante garde wines of Vins de Vienne from the Northern Rhone are elegant, rich and composed, and above all food friendly. As we sit down to dinner parties based around rich seasonal foods, this is what matters most. These wines lift the spirit during the colder months and go wonderfully alongside seasonal dishes; roasts of lamb and game, the winter stews and roast vegetables that stick to your bones and warm from the inside out.

Beyond the French classics, there are plenty of other regions producing perfect late autumn and winter friendly wines. Increasingly stylish is the Catalan wine region, Priorat. The reds of this tiny hill-top region are spicy yet elegant and among the few reds to show terroir as beautifully as the whites of Pouilly Fume and Chablis. The unique, rich flavours of the best Priorats, such as the wines of Terroir al Limit, ineffably convey the warmth of the Catalan sun; a welcome thing in the colder months.

The colder months are also a time when seasonal desserts are at their prime. Pies and puddings, warm spiced apple tarts and the like, more and more start to grace the table. This is a fine opportunity to indulge in sweet wines; a pleasure often denied to oneself as too opulent, too hedonistic. We wrote recently extoling the virtues of these wines so I will not delve too deep into the matter, but the simple truth is that some of the world's finest wines are of the sweet, golden variety and at this time of year they are immensely satisfying. Both Sauternes and Tokaji are a true celebration of the festive spirit, with their pure golden hues, their richness and their elegance. Even if sweet wines are not your usual cup of tea, I implore you, give them a chance and you will not regret it.

After all it may be that you want to simply sit by the fireside and enjoy a warming nightcap to round off an evening. This is the perfect time to enjoy France's most ancient spirit, Armagnac. Fresh and earthy in style this is more than just an alternative to Cognac; it is a creature all of it's own. Reasonably priced compared to it's northern neighbour, the amber nectar of Armagnac is a perfect nightcap or after dinner tipple and even contributes it's warm earhty spiciness to autumn and winter cocktails. A newcomer to the scene, Chateau Hontambere has exploded into the trade with a line-up of exceptional bottlings dating back as far as 1979. Brilliantly made and abundantly drinkable, they are a welcome way to end an evening.

So we hope enjoy the opportunity for variety and remember that the season is long, and there is much celebrating to be done.