The days are getting shorter and our town is getting quieter. Fall is almost here! It’s time to think about putting away the moscato and rosé, and in their place, try opening a couple of lesser known wines that are perfect for the new season. It’s time to bring out the zinfandel, merlot, Syrah and cabernet Franc.

Let’s start with a couple of red wines with bad reputations. First off, zinfandel. Zinfandel’s bad name comes from a case of mistaken identity with “White zinfandel,” which is a rosé. Trust me when I tell you, zinfandel is really a red wine and has very little in common with the infamous white zin. Depending on the climate where it’s grown, zinfandel can have red fruit tastes of raspberry and cranberry (cooler climates), or dark berry, smoky and spice tastes (warmer climates).

I really enjoy Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel ($22) from Lodi, Calif. This warm-weather wine delivers smoky aromas of blackberry, with pepper and spice. On the palate, the medium-bodied wine is smooth, with notes of chocolate and black cherry. The other great thing about zinfandel is that it pairs with a wide range of foods. I really enjoy a glass of zinfandel with grilled foods because they pair up so nicely with the smoky flavors of the wine. Other foods to enjoy with zinfandel include turkey, lasagna, pizza and chili. All of those are great fall combinations.

The next wine with a bad rap is merlot. This wine used to be one of the best selling wines in the U.S. Unfortunately for merlot, the movie “Sideways” came along and destroyed the wine lover’s taste for the wine. While that doesn’t make any sense to me (what happens to Oregon if the next wine movie belittles pinot noir?), I do believe that merlot is ready for a rebound because it’s such an easy drinking wine.

One of my favorites is Abacela merlot ($23), from Southern Oregon. This silky smooth wine delivers plum, raspberry and spice. Merlot pairs with a wide range of foods, similar to zinfandel, but because it’s slightly sweeter, it also would pair nicely with a fall favorite, roasted veggies, such as squash, sweet potatoes or beets.

Few people come into The Wine Shack specifically looking for Syrah, but customers always love it when I pour it in the tasting room. I want to take a second and help you sort out the Syrah-Shiraz naming confusion. Syrah and Shiraz are two different names for wine made from the same grape. Most of the world calls the wine Syrah, but Australia, South Africa and Canada call the wine Shiraz. Now that we have that issue settled, let’s talk about the wine. I really like Pudding River Syrah ($34) from Salem. Although the winery is in Oregon, Pudding River’s Syrah is made from Walla Walla, Wash., fruit. This deep purple wine offers delicious flavors of plum, blackberry and currant. Syrah pairs with big, rich foods, such as lamb, T-bone steaks and portabella mushrooms.

The last fall wine I want to talk about, cabernet Franc, is the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes because it “doesn’t get any respect.” Cabernet Franc is the parent of cabernet sauvignon, but it has historically been a blending grape used to give its progeny notes of pepper. Zerba cabernet Franc ($33) is my choice. While everything Zerba makes is fantastic, this full-bodied red wine won a Gold Medal at the 2013 Savor NW Wine Competition because it delivers red pepper, currant, cedar and pencil shavings. With its herbaceous flavors, cabernet Franc pairs nicely with veggie based dishes (think eggplant or zucchini), or meat dishes seasoned with herbs, including sage, rosemary or thyme.

You probably figured it out by reading the wine food pairings described above, but each of these wines is flexible enough to pair with the fall foods. That gives you a lot of options when trying to figure out which wine to pour. Here’s an idea: open a couple different wines and have your friends tell you which pairing is their favorite. Remember, wine is best when it’s accompanied by food and friends.

As always, when you are enjoying these fall red wines, please do so responsibly and in moderation. We want to see you again at The Wine Shack. Cheers!


Steve Sinkler is the owner of the Cannon Beach Wine Shack. His column appears once a month.

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