We love this time of year - the nights might be starting to draw in, but the beautiful changing colours in the vines more than make up for it. As Bordeaux has become focused on sustainability, vineyards and farmers are planting trees and hedgerows for biodiversity which make it even more beautiful. Autumn also means harvest in the Northern Hemisphere and the Bordeaux weather is often sunny until late October interspersed with some autumn rain showers so there is a real buzz in the region, and it is still a fabulous time to visit.
What is going on in the vineyard in autumn?
Harvest, harvest and more harvest. The white wine grapes for still wine are the first to come in. Château George 7 Blanc 2023 was harvested on September 6th and the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend is now happily at home in Burgundy oak barrels on the lees until next Spring.
Here, Merlot is the first red grape to be harvested and the Bordeaux region is so widespread with diverse soils and micro-climates that it can spread over many weeks. The first reported Merlot harvests this year were on 6th September according to the renowned wine critic, Jane Anson. Here at Château George 7, we leave the fruit as late as we can, to get the maximum aromas and depth of flavour and colour - very end of September or early October is the norm. The Merlot is followed by the Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc). And of course, the Sémillon for sweet wines is even later, enjoying the misty autumn mornings to bring on the botrytis.
Harvest is quite an emotional time as we see the climax of the growing year with its ups and downs, in the harvest finale - the end of Act I before the fermentation and winery work takes over for Act II.
Seasonal Fruit & Veg
We have an abundance of late summer vegetables and fruits - the arrival of apples, pears, figs and blackberries along with beautiful varieties of squashes, beets and mushrooms in the markets. In Bordeaux, especially after a rain shower, you’ll start to see the regional delicacy of cèpes in the markets and even truffles, as a special treat.
We want to share some seasonal, warming recipes using the abundance of the produce around us and to experiment with the wines that accompany them. Let's take advantage of the fact that Bordeaux wine ages so well and how the aromas that develop as the wine evolves, can pair deliciously with autumn flavours.
It’s also a time to reset after the summer, potentially with a return to a more normal routine, perhaps with a few good intentions of incorporating more veg into our diets. We might have a nagging feeling we should be planning to moderate our drinking after a few too many summer aperitifs and rosé-fuelled lunches. Less can be more if we choose our wines well – we’ll try and help.
In the spotlight: Magic Mushrooms
Different mushrooms have more or less vitamins and amino acids so mix them up, use different types. Frozen mushrooms are great for cooking although can yield lots of water, so beware. If you defrost before using don’t throw away the liquid: use it in soups, sauces and stocks.
Mushrooms make a great meat replacement; the high levels of amino acids make them taste meaty and give the mouthfeel of meat.
Are they good for you?
Sources of vitamin D, B6, protein, selenium and fibre, mighty mushrooms are real super foods and autumn is the best time to find and enjoy them.
Mushrooms contain an anti-oxidant amino acid called ergothioneine, thought to help protect against cancer. Shitake and oyster mushrooms are especially high but cèpes too, known as porcini in Italy or bolets. The French love cèpes, and fiercely protect their favourite places to hunt them, keeping them secret even from their closest friends. You’ll start to see cèpes in the markets here towards the end of summer especially if, like this year, it’s been humid.
They are also thought to be good to build immunity and, with high levels of vitamin, they facilitate calcium absorption which helps build strong bones. If you leave your mushrooms in sunlight, gills-side up in particular, it increases their vitamin D level. Just like us when we sit in the sun. They also contain selenium which helps with anti-oxidant activity in the body. Mushrooms are also a great source of fibre; their polysaccharides make us feel full but also for feed our micro biome keeping our gut healthy and happy.
Autumn is the best time to eat them to help ward off coming coughs and colds helping to build immunity. Seasonal eating always has its advantages, nature is clever that way.
What wine to serve with them?
The great news is mushrooms go so well with wine, especially red wines and merlot in particular, like Sally’s Château George 7.
Merlot ages quite quickly and, as it does, it loses some of its tannins and vibrant red fruit but gains in complexity developing mushroom, truffle and smoky notes. These older wines, even after just a few years, are perfectly complimented by mushroom dishes. Wine from Pomerol in particular are known for its highly prized truffle notes as they age.
Mushrooms also go with sweet wines. Remember sweet Bordeaux wines owe their complexity to action of a fungus – noble rot, and delicate mushroom dishes, and even truffles, can really shine with a Sauternes. Cèpes carpaccio perhaps or a really thin and crispy decadent truffle pizza would be a perfect and very sexy way to start an evening.
How and why wine ages
Unlike spirits, wine is a living thing and even when bottled, it continues to evolve. Every wine evolves differently - its original concentration, acidity and tannic structure will all affect how it develops and how quickly.
As wines age, their colour changes, the deep violet red hues change to darker more ruby red and orangey red, even going brown if you wait long enough (too long?). The aromatic profile changes too, losing the bright dark and berry fruits which evolve into aromas of leather, mushroom or undergrowth (forest floor is a common descriptor).
These wines are perfect for autumn, their colours and aromas reflecting the seasonal changes around us.
Merlot-dominant wines age faster than Cabernet-driven ones and are famous for developing mushroom and smoky aromas as they age. Top Pomerols, grown just a stone’s throw from Fronsac, are famous for their elegant truffle aromas. Red wines become more mellow as they age when they lose the grippiness of the tannins - perfect for pairing with our seasonal dishes.
White wines can age too. Their high acidity gives them ageing potential if they have the depth of flavour to match and especially if they are aged in barrels. Sémillon and Chardonnay in particular age well and with barrel ageing, they can develop spicy and waxy flavours that are really fun to match with food. And, of course, the great sweet wines of Bordeaux are built for age thanks to their concentration of sugar and acidity. Their nutty, caramel and spicy marmalade aromas pair perfectly with some of our autumn recipes and pairing ideas.
Let’s have some fun with them.