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Autumn Highs

Sally Wilson knows how to put pen to paper. Having contributed to countless publications around the globe, we asked The Planthunter and Alquimie regular if she’d be up for a bit of contra: a box of autumn-inspired bottles from us in exchange for a seasonally inspired piece of writing from her. Sounded like a fair deal, and fortunately for us, Sal was only too happy to oblige. A few days later, this arrived in our inbox and instantly brought a smile to all our faces. Great wine for great words. Easy. – Matt

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Last year I missed the autumn. I left summer behind in the Northern Hemisphere, crossed the Pacific and arrived mid-winter in the south. It rained when I got here. I invested in a jacket, planted myself in front of a heater and decided to wait it out. But there was no avoiding the obvious shock: I’d rushed from summer straight into winter and entirely missed autumn, the all-important transition, the golden in-between season.

Three years ago I cooked quince five ways in the autumn. Pickled, poached, roasted. Beaten into a curd and a paste. Two years ago I seeded twenty pomegranates, charred the same number of eggplants, cooked a clementine cake, mixed grapefruit cocktails and invited a few people around for dinner in Mexico City.

I missed it last year. But this year when autumn arrived I was here, ready to spend my days back in the kitchen. I invested in a large casserole dish, which has dominated the stove top ever since. Lift the lid and the smell of autumn escapes, charged up like a middleweight boxer: walnuts, wild mushrooms, sweet potato and struck matches.

A couple of weeks ago I took some of those things, chilled a bottle of champagne and friends came around to eat. Champagne and margaritas. Cans of beer. Roasted beetroot, sweet potato and chamomile. Ribs cooked over the course of seven hours. The oven heated up the apartment and for the next few days the whole place echoed: generosity, leftovers and a part-used bottle of orange-flavoured liqueur.

Where I live the changing seasons appear in clothes and the colours of the fruit stand outside the Turkish grocer’s. Men pull beanies on over their heads (you all look so attractive in them!) and women count on the added protection of a black trench (elegant). The fruit stand is set alight with mandarins, persimmons, bags of early-season navel oranges and the last of the grapes. Sometimes I get lucky with daily specials – custard apples or a few quinces.

While there aren’t many showstopper deciduous trees in the neighbourhood, those that do exist drop their leaves in remarkable fashion. Light sweeps east and west down elongated streets, making good on prime colours and tricks of geometry. Occasionally, the full potential of the world surfaces in the midst of autumn and you can’t help but recognise it. Sometimes all it takes is a fragile bit of light playing with the scenery.

But maybe it’s a song that makes you feel it, or the prickly sound of the needle drop onto a record player. Everything has deeper meaning in the autumn.

At home I slip into rituals, like playing Esther Phillips albums on repeat. Like one cup of coffee in the morning followed by tea through the rest of the day. I spend too long in the shower and I buy a lot of jumpers. I read books and magazines, quite slowly, powered by a full glass of something, which I like to fill up again once I’ve emptied it.

This autumn I’ve flicked through classic Esquires from times when Ernest Hemmingway was their correspondent in Cuba, Diego Rivera was warring with the Rockefellers and Jim Harrison wrote his food column, The Raw and the Cooked. You might like to try this at home – with a half bottle of Gamay Noir and a few slices of grilled haloumi.

What I love most is seeing colour return with a splash to glasses and pasta, the classic, aromatic kind that’s served at the counter of Pellegrini’s or a homemade version with a sauce that’s been simmering away for half the day. I love the slow, tempered mood of autumn and I’ve often thought about bottling it – with the smoke from wood fires that floats mid-air in the suburbs, with the last of the raspberries, and a shard of glorious, late May light – if only as a reminder never to sidestep the in-between season.