The first sips of autumn

As an appetite whetter, I'll start with a Bouzy: the creamy mousse and berryish flavour of the pinot noir-based 1998 Georges Vesselle Brut Grand Cru Champagne, Bouzy (£21.80, Jeroboams, www.jeroboams.co.uk). Next up, to match the roasted flavours of one of my favourite starters - a blend of coarsely puréed roasted butternut squash and red peppers spiced with ginger - an oaked, but not overoaked, chardonnay is ideal: in the mould of the lightly smoked, vanilla and tropical fruit-infused 2003 Rustenberg Chardonnay (around £9.99 from Waitrose, Lea & Sandeman, 020-7244 0522 and Jeroboams) or a modern, toasty-oaky white burgundy, the 2003 Château de Chamirey, Mercurey Blanc (£14.75, Jeroboams).

Pheasant is an underrated bird with a delicate gamey flavour that likes nothing better than a delicate burgundian style of pinot noir. For roast pheasant, the refreshing acidity of the 2003 Lone Range Pinot Noir from New Zealand's Craggy Range (£14.99, Marks & Spencer), with its fragrant mix of strawberry and cherry fruitiness makes a fine match. Equally satisfying is the 2002 Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir (from £19.45, Lay & Wheeler, Colchester 01473 313233), with its aromas of raspberry and rhubarb and a purity of fruit elegantly defined by a deft touch of oak. A fine alternative is a medium-bodied, new-wave Portuguese red, in this case the smoky oak and vibrantly damsony fruit of the 2003 Quinta de Lagoalva de Cima (£12.65, Jeroboams).

I prefer to follow the French way of preceding pudding with cheese. Joining the seasonal cornucopia is the Great British Cheese Festival in Cheltenham next month. With a chance to taste almost as many cheeses (450) as France has wine appellations, it will set off all sorts of cheese and wine party ideas in my imagination. A hard English cheese is more likely to benefit from the extra generosity and richness of a young New World shiraz than a skinnier claret, and a white, dry or sweet, may be a better match. For a good English blue cheese, whether a Stilton or the gorgeous Beenleigh (sheep) or Harbourne (goat), a botrytis riesling like the lusciously peachy fruit and citrus-zesty bite of the 2003 Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling (£10, half-bottle, Jeroboams shops), is the perfect foil.

Ending things sweetly with an autumnal tarte tatin or baked Bramleys, the Paul Cluver also chimes well, or I'd treat myself to the floral, scented fruit salad of exotic citrus fruit flavours in the 2004 Leitz Rudesheimer Bischofsberg Riesling Auslese (£12.99, half-litre, Oddbins Fine Wine), or the unctuously oozy 2003 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume (£15.20, half-bottle, Jeroboams), a glorious confection whose mellow, crystallised peach and nectarine fruitfulness embodies the soul and spirit of autumn.

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