Sure, fall is a great time to break out the hearty Cabernets, rich Shirazes and fireside Ports, but autumn flavors and brisk weather offer the perfect opportunity to mix your libations up a bit with brown spirits, ciders, heavier beers and more adventurous pours.
From Negronis to apple brandies to carrot eau-de-vie, here's what 11 sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning spots are getting into for the season.
Wine Spectator: What are you looking forward to drinking this fall (and beyond) in addition to wine?
We’re moving into the busy season at the restaurants and still planning on more. As the days get longer and cooler, and the work gets more intense, there’s nothing like a whisky at the end of the day. I’ve got some Compass Box Juveniles Scotch I’m looking forward to finishing. It’s a beautiful young whisky that’s not super-smoky or salty. It has more of a light orchard fruit note, with some vanilla, and is easy to enjoy at the end of a busy day.
Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco
Besides wine, I genuinely enjoy indulging in spirits [this season]. I always have a special place for whiskies in my heart, but recently I have been getting into eau-de-vie. Hans Reisetbauer [in Austria] makes some of the best eau-de-vie I have ever had, ranging from hazelnut to elderberry to rowanberry. I’ve been lucky enough to taste his whole lineup with him personally, and his carrot eau-de-vie would be my personal favorite that can be enjoyed at any time of the meal.
Amy Mundwiler, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Maple & Ash in Chicago
I just tasted a sparkling mead from Maxwell that made me do my happy dance. It's delicious. I'll be using it as a dessert pairing in the restaurant, but personally, I'll be consuming inappropriate amounts of it. It's only 5% ABV!
Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York
Negronis set up the fall beautifully. I’m always excited to see a bartender’s take on this classic Italian cocktail. A former bartender, now sommelier, Amanda Streibel, once made a chocolate Negroni called “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by macerating cocoa [beans] in Campari, creating a bitter milk chocolate-y holiday cocktail treat.
I might open an old Madeira if the spirit moves me. And I'm always up for a good old single-barrel or single malt Scotch as we wind down for the evening. Calvados is an underrated digestif, which is really perfect for fall without being heavy. Splurge and go for a good producer—it’s worth it.
Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its four Restaurant Award winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.
I’m pretty much a wine-centric girl, but if I am going to reach for a cocktail, I tend to lean toward gin-based cocktails. My resort's mixologist, Meg, and I created a concoction last winter we called “Let It Snow Globe” that was gin, Lillet Blanc, baked cinnamon–vanilla simple syrup and spiced pear liqueur caviar with a rosemary sprig and food-grade silver glitter as the “snow.” Being from Wisconsin, it reminded me of winter out in the country.
Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego
Fall and winter season calls for Adrien Camut Calvados. And I am always on the lookout for a winter Mexican beer called Noche Buena.
Personally? Single malt Scotch, grappa, limoncello, cider and Aperol spritz.
I’m really into beer right now. I work with a few amazing sommeliers who are so dialed into the beer world that it's amazing. I always enjoy hearing about what they are drinking. So for me, this fall will be all about new beers.
Elizabeth Kelso, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Craft Los Angeles
I’m currently loving Manzanilla- and oloroso-style Sherries, cocktails with amaro as a featured ingredient and Negronis.
Gretchen Thomas, vice president of beverage at Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, including 40 Restaurant Award–winning locations of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse and Del Frisco's Grille, and 15 of Barcelona Wine Bar
I'm going to Scotland in a few weeks because there's a peaking interest in Scotch lately. I feel like people who are younger are finding their way to it now that the spirits world is becoming more and more fun and diverse, but there's always a re-embracement of the old-school classic stuff. So that'll probably be a big part of my fall and winter, exploring more fine and rare Scotches.
I made an amazing blueberry syrup during the summer with leftover Sauternes, fresh blueberries, mint, vanilla and ginger. I’m going to turn it into some type of Bourbon cocktail as a reminder of warmer summer days.
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