That glorious spell of Indian summer is behind us, it's starting to get dark at an alarmingly early hour, and we're making the transition from the patio to the hearth.

Must be time for some white wine.

Not just any white. No vinho verde or pinot grigio, thank you, but rather wine with a bit of depth and structure, something medium- or perhaps full-bodied.

Think of that "body" thing in terms of how it coats your palate: Light-bodied wines are like skim milk, medium-bodied ones like regular milk, and full-bodied wines like cream. That's why light-bodied whites are best suited for summer, medium-bodied for fall (and spring) and full-bodied ones for winter.

For this, my favorite season, you don't want a wine that's as dry as the weather has been lately; you want something with a bit of oomph but also some vibrancy and structure. And probably not a big ol' buttery chardonnay, but rather a chenin blanc (Dry Creek is a nice introduction) or grüner veltliner (Domaine Wachau) or albariño (Paco & Lola).

Or a blend. The white grapes of France's Rhône region -- rousanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier -- lend themselves beautifully to blending, whether over there (La Vieille Ferme Blanc), in California (Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc) or Down Under (Peter Lehmann "Layers").

Blends shine every bit as brightly in Italy's Friuli region (Zuane Vigne), although they tend to be a mixture of light- and medium-bodied grapes. Ditto for the Northwest (Washington's CMS Hedges, Oregon's Sokol Blosser Evolution). These blends can be particularly useful with a wide-ranging meal, up to and including Thanksgiving.

Drink with the season

And that's the biggest reason these wines fit the season: food, the glorious cuisine of autumn, when corn and tomatoes give way to squash and root vegetables, and grilling goes to roasting and braising. And we get to enjoy them all at once.

There's no better time to be a gastronome. We can still grill a steak (and try that buttery chardonnay, one of the great little-known matchups), but we're more likely to be roasting a chicken on a bed of leeks or mushrooms and making sauces for fish or fowl or pig that might be creamy or fruity or both.

White wines in general, especially those from Europe (often lower in alcohol and higher in lip-smacking acidity), are more food-friendly than reds, whose tannins can wreak havoc with all manner of dishes.

Fall's hearty but not necessarily heavy fare plays beautifully with whites, often in unexpected pairings: off-dry riesling or a grüner veltliner with roast pork, pinot blanc with pâtés and crudités, albariño with falafel or even ham, gewürztraminer with duck. It's a great time to experiment and explore.

And here's something I've learned only recently: Even if your meal (or your mood) calls for a red at the table, a lively, minerally white makes for a thoroughly refreshing nightcap. Of course that's true at any time of year.

Bill Ward •