Inspiration / Lifestyle & Opinion

Autumn Treasures: three under-£20 reds to enjoy as the weather turns

Contents

Martin Brown Martin Brown / 19 October 2020

Managing editor and member of our Fine Wine Team Martin Brown picks a trio of fine reds starting from just £9.50 that are ready to add charm and colour to the cooler months.

I spend a lot of time tasting, writing and thinking about wines that will fit certain occasions and in this regard, autumn is both an easy and a difficult time. While the demands of seasonal foods and the need for some warmth seem uncontroversial assets, I've also noticed that autumn can prompt quite unexpectedly strong opinions – curious perhaps for a season so famously and poetically linked with the poetic vaguenesses of mistiness and mellowness.

One former colleague prior to my time at The Society was disconcertingly adamant that autumn drinking = pinot noir. In many respects this is a safe assumption, and the grape makes regular appearances at this time of year, being suggested for any number of recipes and occasions. I remember trying to suggest a few alternatives at the time and being given short shrift.

Pinot noir is often seen as the classic autumnal grape, but Martin thinks we should broaden our horizons
Pinot noir is often seen as the classic autumnal grape, but Martin thinks we should broaden our horizons

A somewhat more wistful memory in the current climate concerns a crowded gig in London (remember those?). 'This is the first time we've visited your country in the fall,' the soft-spoken guitarist of a touring band from Kansas enthused as between-song tuning was concluded. The bellow of beer-addled belligerence came swiftly from the audience: 'AUTUMN.'

'Oh yeah! Sorry, you guys call it autumn.' Still not content, the heckler growled over the first few bars of the next song: 'AUTUMNAL.'

It makes me laugh to this day to consider the band starting to play and wondering firstly what they had done to so offend, and secondly perhaps, that he had a point: what adjective is there for the American version beyond 'fall-like'? It's enough to make someone miss their drum cue.

When I was asked which autumnal, or indeed fall-like, reds stand out as particularly good choices for 2020, I therefore tried not to overthink, but was conscious that pinot noir is suggested as often as it is for a reason. It can indeed give a mellow fruitfulness of flavour, backed with the quintessentially seasonal bonfire-whiffed forest walk. These three wines all offer something of this, but none are pinot noir.

Other considerations included price: I've kept things below the £20 mark but chosen bottles that I still consider to be fine wines. This opens another area people can feel strongly about; but I hope that if you try them, you'll see what I'm getting at. Just as many of us have been promised 'fine dining' only to be disappointed, many will also have had the experience of eating a truly great meal in a place you didn't necessarily expect to find it. These bottles, for me, offer something of that particular pleasure. I hope you enjoy them.

Spain: Luna Beberide Mencía, Bierzo 2019 (£9.50)

For (just) under £10, this is a bargain. Mencía is a grape that has been on something of a mission creep in my wine rack over the last few years: at its best, it combines gorgeous, pure red fruit that’s as crunchy and satisfying as stepping on a pile of dried autumn leaves, along with a flinty quality that adds interest and energy. Pinot noir comparisons are apt, but there’s a more direct, floral, mouthwatering charm at play in this Iberian gem.

Though grown in Portugal too, it’s in north-western Spain that the grape’s most celebrated examples are found, particularly Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra. This one from nearby Bierzo, however, is arguably a better choice for autumnal drinking. Further inland than Galicia, these vines enjoy more heat, resulting in a more grippy, powerful structure.

Made without oak, this one manages to combine fruit, flintiness and tannin in an unforced, elegant way that works brilliantly with the hearty vegetable dishes and risottos that come into their own at this time of year. If your brisk autumnal stroll hasn't turbo-charged your senses enough, a glass of this upon your return should provide just as much stimulation.

Beaujolais: Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud, Morgon Côte du Py 2018 (£15.50)

Jean-Marc Burgaud at his cellar last January
Jean-Marc Burgaud at his cellar last January

While much Beaujolais is quintessential summer wine, the structure and intensity that comes from a good cru vineyard in a warm year can give us bottles that deserve a more mellow setting and a richer plate of food. Morgon Côte du Py and 2018 offer such a combination and in the hands of the wonderful Jean-Marc Burgaud, this delivers at harvest-festival levels of abundance.

I first tasted this from barrel at his cellar last January and was amazed by the intensity, generosity and warmth that at that time was packed quite tightly into an envelope of tannins. These are now starting to soften and while his wines age beautifully (tasting a 2005 blind a few years ago was a revelation and the 2013 was on haunting form earlier this year), its current balance between bolshy brambly fruit, bosky sophistication and noticeable but unintrusive structure has already proven a star turn with a comforting lunch of stuffed peppers and aubergines after our Indian summer abruptly disappeared.


Austria: Birgit Braunstein Leithaberg Blaufränkisch 2015(£19)

For a (just) under-£20 bottle to complement the season, this is the wine I'd turn to. The 2014 is currently sitting on our Fine Wine Champions podium, but the warmer 2015 vintage has a little more oomph and body, and as such feels a more seasonal choice. That we have put our name to a Society-label Blaufränkisch this year shows that we are excited about this variety's Austrian prowess; Birgit Braunstein's biodynamic marvel from a tiny plot in the coveted Leithaberg area offers a step up from this wine.

You don't have to be an Austrian wine geek, a seasoned (no pun intended) pinot noir drinker or a low-interventionist to fall for this, but many in these camps will, and my first encounter with a previous vintage some years ago now stopped me in my tracks. Austria buyer Freddy Bulmer told me the next thing to do would be to try an aged example, as the wine evolves into something even more complex and rewarding after a few years in bottle. Clearly a man to take his own advice, Freddy has done this for us and we are now offering this five-year-old parcel. It's in a great spot now, its plush red-fruit flavour now complemented by the mature and, dare I say it, autumnal flavours that come with a few years of age. What's more, there's enough pleasing tannin to frame many a dish – most hearty fare will do, but it also surprised me with a pumpkin soup recently; and what could be more seasonal than that?


Pumpkin soup: a surprisingly good match for Austrian red
Pumpkin soup: a surprisingly good match for Austrian red

With the sound of stubborn pinot noir advocates and testy gig-heckling linguists ringing in my ears, I hasten to emphasise that the ideal autumn wine is, really, whatever you like to drink. Nevertheless, I hope I've justified why I think these three wines deserve a try, and why now would be an especially fun time to do so. I would love to hear what you think of these wines if you decide to give them a go, but I'd also be fascinated to discover which bottles you yourselves turn to at this time of year.

Read more articles by Martin Brown

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.