By PARIS WOLFE
As the fall air cools and crisps, it’s time for warm sweaters and smoky campfires. Imagine how sophisticated you look with flames reflecting off the bowl of your stemmed wine glass. With each sip you get a little closer to solving the world’s problems. Or maybe caring less about them.
A full-bodied red may seem an obvious pairing for hot fires and deep thoughts, but Kathi Hays, owner of Western Reserve Wines, says consider the occasion before popping a cork. “Naturally people lean toward reds as the temperatures go down,” says Hays. “They want the comfort of the firepit and, perhaps, a deeper, darker, brooding red.”
But, she says, food and company should influence that decision.
For solo contemplation Hays recommends an interesting wine that requires attention, something with complexity and uniqueness. “I’m particularly fond of wines made from grapes that grow at high elevation around Mount Etna in Sicily,” she says. She suggests Pietradolce Etna Rosso ($24.99), made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. “Mount Etna is an active volcano and the vineyards have volcanic ash in the soils. This wine has a smoky ash character.”
Another option that will warm body and soul is a tawny port with nutty, caramel nuances. Her choice? The Ramos Pinto tawny port ($19.99). Those with bigger budgets may want to consider 10-, 20- or 30-year aged bottles.
“With a group of friends,” she says, “you want to pick an easy-to-drink red that everyone is going to like. People aren’t going to focus as much on what they’re drinking while they’re having friendly conversation.”
Her crowd-pleasing selections include The Whole Shebang ($14.99) from California, a field blend of red varietals that grow in the producer’s vineyards and aged in French oak.
“California Cabernet Sauvignons are always popular,” says Hays. “They are food friendly or good to sip alone.” Her recommendation is B Side Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast ($25.99).
Or, for an easy drinking glass with a lot of dark berry fruit and a little oak, she recommends Tres Picos by Borsao ($19.99), a garnacha from Spain.
White wine works fireside as well. “If someone doesn’t drink red or you have a food that goes with white,” Hays says, “my favorite would be an Italian Vermentino from Tuscany.”
She recommends La Spinetta ($22.99). “It has the weight and friendliness, but it is cool and crisp like the night air.”
For those seeking whites, Peter Bourlas, owner of Pat O’Brien’s Fine Wines in Pepper Pike recommends Quilt Chardonnay ($29.99) “The fruit for this wine is sourced mostly from the Carneros region in California, leading to a more structured Chardonnay with subtle notes of minerality,” he says. “It has a wonderful mosaic of citrus, pear and apple allowing this wine to be versatile enough to complement a variety of foods.”
Saving the best for last, Hays has a wine that pairs with dark chocolate Smores! She knows because she’s researched it with friends … the dessert wine Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez ($32.99/ 375 ml).
Not to be dismissed are canned wines. “We think of people drinking beer around the firepit,” says Hays. “In the last couple of years some nice wine is being canned.” At Western Reserve Wines you’ll find Brick and Mortar wines coming from vineyards in Napa Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Coast in California.