Best Wines for Cozy Fall Nights With Friends or Lovers

CUL Map Wines 01 BANNER
Young couple sits by a bonfire with glasses of wine. Getty

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's the secret pleasure of staying home. Add something delicious for dinner and a great bottle of wine and, well, a fall night doesn't get much better. Great wines aren't inexpensive, but they are so incredibly satisfying. Best of all, they encourage us to sit around the dinner table, talking with loved ones long into the night. And the memories created? Priceless. Here are some of my favorite wines for a cozy evening this fall. Each of these wines appears in the new third edition of my book The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing, October).

CUL Map Wines 02
Latchkey Vineyard. Ken Wright Cellars

Just Like Pie

Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

When people who love Oregon Pinot Noir talk about the wine's sensual texture and earthy flavors, lots of ears prick up. In particular, the Pinots from Oregon's Willamette (rhymes with dammit) Valley are sensational. Ken Wright's "Latchkey Vineyard," is savory, supple and has a core of rich red fruit. Think cherry cobbler disguised as wine. Ken Wright Cellars, 'Latchkey Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2020

CUL Map Wines 03
People stand around a wine barrel at Seven Hills Winery. Crimson Wine Group

Designer Double

Walla Walla Valley, Washington

One of the best things a wine can do is taste like it costs twice as much as it does. That's this Seven Hills Cabernet. Washington had about 100 wineries 20 years ago; today it has more than 1000, and wine quality has soared. Most of the wineries are in the very dry eastern part of the state (leaving rainy Seattle to its coffeehouses). Seven Hills, 'SHW Founding Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

CUL Map Wines 04
The Trenton Roadhouse where Kistler Les Noisetiers grapes are grown, as well as the Kistler tasting venue. Kistler Vineyards

Crème de la Crème

Sonoma Valley, California

In the world of rich, fleshy, full-bodied, luxury Chardonnay, no one does it better than Kistler. "Les Noisetiers" (French for "the hazelnut trees") is luscious, complex and as languorously creamy as crème brûlée. Kistler is from one of the world's best regions for Chardonnay—the uber-cold Sonoma Coast. Kistler, 'Les Noisetiers' Chardonnay 2020

CUL Map Wines 06
“Tonel Unico” Malbec 2006 by Bodegas y Cavas Weinert. Bodegas y Cavas Weinert

Soft and Sexy

Mendoza, Argentina

I have one word to say about the wines of Argentina: tango. The Argentines "get" desire. Not surprisingly, Argentine Malbec (the leading red) is all about intriguing earthiness and oozy softness. Food tip: The Argentines consume more beef per capita than any other country, so if your cozy night involves a grilled steak, this is your wine. Bodegas Y Cavas Weinert, 'Tonel Unico' Malbec 2006

CUL Map Wines 05
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia winery in Rioja, Spain. R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia

Hemingway Haunt

Rioja, Spain

Spain's Rioja Reservas have the intoxicating aromas of fine leather, rare old books and damp forests after the rain. Among Spain's most heralded red wines, they were often written about by Ernest Hemingway, among others. The name to know in Rioja is R. López de Heredia where the winemaking has not changed in more than a century. R. López de Heredia, 'Viña Tondonia' Rioja Reserva 2010

CUL Map Wines 07
Rows and rows of wine barrels at Château la Nerthe. Château la Nerthe

Cuddle Up Companion

Rhône Valley, France

My friend the wine writer Ray Isle deemed this Grenache-based red a "pajamas by the fire" wine. Bull's-eye. Les Cassagnes is so soul satisfying, you won't want to stop drinking it. Get ready for waves of flavor—from cherry liqueur to red licorice. Château la Nerthe, 'Les Cassagnes' Côtes du Rhône Villages 2020

CUL Map Wines 09
Giusto Occhipinti checking the grapes in the jar of clay in the wine cellar of Azienda Agricola Cos - Vittoria. Stefano Scatà/COS

Summer Well Spent

Sicily

Frappato has been one of Sicily's most intriguing red varieties for hundreds of years. COS' version is like diving into a cool pool of fresh cherries—the purity and vitality of the wine is simply off the charts. Hard to believe, but the winery—now famous—began as a summer project between three teenage Sicilian boys. Only in Italy! COS, Frappato 2021

CUL Map Wines 08
Ken Forrester Vineyards in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Ken Forrester Wines

Obscenely Good

Stellenbosch, South Africa

South Africa may seem like a newcomer on the fine wine scene, but winemaking here dates to the mid-1600s. This is one of the most luscious, hedonistic white wines in the world from Chenin Blanc vines planted in 1974, or "Friggin Marvelous Chenin," as it is known. Ken Forrester, 'The FMC' Chenin Blanc 2021

CUL Map Wines 11
This picture taken on November 8, 2018 shows assistant sommelier Felix Ho Ho Yua posing with a 2014 bottle of Ao Yun red wine at the Robuchon restaurant wine cellar in Hong Kong. Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty

Reaching New Heights

Adong, China

More than 8,000 feet up in the Himalayas (in a region fictionalized by novelist James Hilton as Shangri-La), is Ao Yun, owned by luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. The winery's name means "Above the Clouds" in Mandarin. The wine, a full-bodied, full-throttle Cabernet Sauvignon blend, is pricey but delicious. Ao Yun 2016

CUL Map Wines 10
Aerial view of Clonakilla vineyards in New South Wales, Australia. David Reist

Swaddle Worthy

Canberra District, New South Wales, Australia

Someone wrapped you up in a cashmere blanket. That's what drinking this Australian Shiraz feels like. Aussie's most famous red grape variety is a delicious puddle of ripe berry flavors electrified with spiciness. Just about everyone who drinks Clonakilla (the winemaker left the priesthood to take over his family's small winery) becomes a Shiraz convert. Clonakilla, 'O'Riada' Shiraz 2019


CUL Map Wines Book Cover
Workman Publishing Company

Adapted from The Wine Bible, 3rd Edition by Karen MacNeil, published by Workman Publishing © 2022