Fall in Madison brings tailgating, apple picking, getting lost in corn mazes and reaping the bounty of home gardens and farmers' markets. Tomatoes are ripe, and that means overdosing on caprese salad, panzanella and gazpacho.
These quintessential post-summer activities require good wines to accompany them. Here are a few suggestions.
Apple picking is an area tradition, and there are a number of orchards nearby that offer open pick hours. After gathering apples all day, you may not want to eat them. Instead, drink a chilled bottle of Domaine le Briseau's You Are So Fine ($15). This light Vouvray from 2009 is clean and refreshing, with charming yet subtle apple notes. Perfect for sweater weather, and it drinks like refined, grownup apple juice.
Frustrated after getting lost in the corn maze for two hours while your friends made it out in five minutes? Good thing you brought a bottle of Bisson Frizzante ($19) with you. Low in alcohol (11%) but long on refreshing bubbles, this declassified Prosecco (it's called Glera, after the grapes used) is an ideal country sipper. Even more frustrated that you forgot a wine opener? Don't fret; this bubbly sports a pop-top.
Tailgating with wine instead of beer means you have to hit the porta-potty less. But the real advantage is that you can drink an agricultural product instead of GMO corn-based bottles of stabilizers, flavor additives and other common beer garbage. If you're serving masses, choose a decent Côtes Du Rhône. If you've got a smaller crowd, it's time to rock magnums (1.5L) of Clisson Muscadet 2010, $55. Square Wine still has a few left over from Concerts on the Square. Nothing says "party" like a mag.
If you're making gazpacho, a wine-pairing trick is to pour a touch of what you're drinking into the soup. A good white will do, although there are versions that want a dash of pinot noir.
Tomatoes are acidic, so you usually prefer an equally acidic wine. But in direct contrast to this modern pairing theory (fighting acids!), a classic gazpacho pairing is sherry. Finos and Manzanillas, which are fresh and dry, are ideal. They're low acid, becoming a great counterpoint to the soup and letting the tomatoes be the star. I love La Gitana Manzanilla from Bodegas Hidalgo ($18). This is exceptional sherry made by the last family-run sherry business from grapes grown on their own estate.
But let's say you've been babysitting your tomatoes all year and fretted over them daily. Then you may want to splurge on a bottle of Hirsch San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir 2010, one of the most lush, high-quality American pinots available. To all the ripe, earthy and vegetal flavors of the tomato, the pinot will sing a strawberry-tinged duet. You know the famous Flower Duet in the opera Lakmé? It's going to be like that.
Garnish the gazpacho with avocado so the tannins in the wine have fats to couple with. At $65, Hirsch is pricey (half bottles are available), but this might be the fall activity you remember most all year. Your tomatoes are worth it.