We’ve officially entered the transitional weeks between summer and fall that are really only important for one thing: the return of football season. Starting this week, giddy fans will spend most waking hours from here to January devoted to their favorite teams (both real and fantasy) and counting down the hours between weekly tailgates. When it comes to popular tailgating beverages, red wine is usually relegated to the bench, but what if, and stay with me here, we were to consider the notion that an easy, cooler-ready red wine might actually be the perfect choice for fall day- drinking? It may be radical, but your palate (and end-of-season beer belly) might thank you.
An ideal football wine should be something quaffable that doesn’t necessarily need food to bring out its best qualities but that can still stand up to burgers and brats. Look for fresh rather than jammy and herbaceous rather than oaky. In the end, the goal is to pick something easy-drinking and relatively affordable because once everyone realizes the genius of tailgating with red wine, you’ll certainly be forced to share. Look for these first-round picks:
2015 Grenache Noir, El Dorado Donkey & Goat
Light-bodied Grenache is well loved by winesellers and somms alike because it’s incredibly versatile. The 2015 Grenache Noir from the natural Cali winery Donkey & Goat is the perfect fall wine. It’s at once lush and delicate, with juicy blackberry and plum flavors balanced by spicy nutmeg and black tea. Throw this one in the trunk cooler because it only gets better with a little chill.
Chinon ‘Les Terrasses,” Lambert 2014
Usually 100 percent Cabernet Franc, wines from Chinon in the Loire Valley differ greatly depending on terroir and treatment of the wine. This one is unoaked so it’s a little brighter and cleaner than most but still maintains a tailgate-ready herbaceousness that will stand up nicely to any meat that’s fit to grill.
Fleurie “Terres Dorees,” Jean-Paul Brun 2014
Beaujolais gets a bad rap, especially in the fall, for the proliferation of the trendy Beaujolais Nouveau. It would be foolish, however, to overlook the rest of the Gamay-based wines from this region just south of Burgundy, like the incredibly drinkable Terres Dorees. With dark-fruit notes and a rich structure, this is the definition of fall in a bottle.
Le P’tit Pape, Le P’tit Paysan 2013
Smooth and sturdy Rhône blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre are classic go-tos for fall drinking, but Le P’tit Pape from Monterey, California treats that autumn-ready blend with a lighter hand. The result is a zippy, light-bodied sipper that you’ll have to hide from your tailgate mates.
Rosso di Montepulciano, Avignonesi 2014 (VinePair Review)
In true Tuscan fashion, this focused and balanced blend of Prugnolo (a Sangiovese clone) and Canaiolo can go head-to-head with any pizza or parking lot pasta. Slightly more robust and musky than some of the others on this list, you’ll want to save this one for chillier game days.
Blaufränkisch, Nittnaus 2013
For some reason Austrian Blaufränkisch hasn’t yet caught on in the U.S. and that’s a shame. This extremely terroir- sensitive grape produces wines that are at once fresh and spicy, i.e., perfect sweater-weather wines. The unfiltered Nittnaus, with its firm tannins and solid minerality, is definitely a crowd pleaser.
Moli Dels Capellans “Trepat,” Aromatico 2015
Beware: this red from Catalonia is going to go fast. Savory and dry with refreshing acidity, this medium-bodied Trepat is even better with a little chill. Bonus: at $15 a bottle, you can stock up and share.
Paumanok Festival Red 2013
This easy, everyday red from one of the oldest and most renowned producers on the North Fork of Long Island is a no- brainer for an all-day drink fest. The Festival Red is a blend of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and seamlessly blends dark berries and spice notes for a decidedly “poundable” wine.
Elena Walch Schiava 2013
Some argue that the candied fruit-driven wines produced from the Schiava grape are more suited to summer, but the 2013 Elena Walch from the Alto Adige region will be your best friend well into football season. With it’s intense red-berry fruit and nutty undertones, this is one that you’ll want to drink nice and cold next to some hot queso.
Elevation Pinot Noir 2014
When all else fails, Pinot Noir is a foolproof autumnal touchdown. For fall-ish flavors, try one from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Compared with their California counterparts, Oregon Pinots, like Elevation, are slightly earthier with distinct undertones of moss and stone — perfect for bracing against the chill of seasonal winds and home-team losses.