Hearty Winter Wines


When the temperature dips below freezing, it’s the perfect time to stay indoors and seek the warmth and comfort of our favorite winter treats. Whether it’s your special chili, the slow-cooked crockpot  beef stew, a prime rib roast or braised short ribs that fall off the bone with barely a touch, winter comfort foods aren’t wimpy!
Winter meals need wines that will stand up to them. Sauvignon Blanc with subtle lemon will fade to nothingness when served alongside spicy chili with cheese. Now is the time to think rich and powerful: luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, robust Syrah, a powerhouse Petite Sirah or a zingy Zinfandel. It makes perfect sense to pair certain wines with classic cold weather staples.

First up is Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the considered “king of reds”, and it is definitely one sought by wine collectors. It’s famous for its role in traditional Old World Bordeaux wines such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Margaux, as well as New World wines from California like Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Colgin—some of the most sought after wines in the world.

Basically, a typical Cabernet posesses dark fruit (think plum, cassis, blackberry, boysenberry) aromas and flavors. What sets this wine apart from other reds is the earthy, vegetal nuances and sweet green pepper aromas that appear in the bouquet and add to the wine’s complexity. Because Cab spends more time in oak than most wines, the oak-derived aromas are deep and integrated, including vanilla, coffee, chocolate, toast, butterscotch—making for a deep, dark, complex wine.

As far as a food pairing, the classic one is steak. Beef. Think “Cab and cow”—a good fillet mignon seared just right with the perfect Cabernet is almost unbeatable.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a reputation for being an expensive wine. Fortunately, you don’t have to mortgage the house to buy a good Cab.

Root 1: This Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon made by the Viña Ventisquero winery has highly concentrated lush fruit flavors born of a hot, dry climate. It’s a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The description on the back of the label is accurate, “rich red wine with black currant, mocha & cherry flavors”. This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha.  Easy-drinking   it offers flavors of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak.  It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity. Around $10.

14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is a must try for cab lovers who value supple tannins. This Washington State wine celebrates the spirit of the wild horses (actually ponies) in the hills of the Columbia river valley. The blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and a few other select red varieties added for good measure. Aromas of allspice, cherries and oak meld with the distinctive Washington State flavors of chocolate, mocha and cherries. to make an easily drinkable, velvety wine with a long, soft finish. This wine is a gem at around $12.

Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: This Cabernet Sauvignon explodes with dark red fruit (black cherry, plum and black current), smoke, licorice and tar aromas. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, and it’s sleek, elegant and refined. The flavors begin with soft black currant, blueberry and black cherry, balanced with a backbone of acidity with hints of red currant, red cherry and blackberry pie and end with subtle touches of earth and cedar. This is an incredible wine! Around $75.

Another great winter choice is Syrah, it’s flavorful and it has its origins in France’s Rhône Valley. This wine is unmistakable, with notes of cured meats, smoke, coffee, blueberry and iron oxide. Syrahs need flavorful food. This is a wonderful pairing for everything sheep—such as a leg of lamb, lamb stew or lamb riblets. If you’re a vegetarian, try some braised Shitake mushrooms with a little savory and thyme. If you want a traditional Rhône Valley wine, look for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, or St. Joseph. For a more new world flavor, opt for something from California’s Central Coast or Australia (where they call it Shiraz).

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah 2011: This big rich California wine has dense, big jammy fruit aromas of raspberries, plums and sweet vanilla. Succulent blackberry and cassis flavors lead to a toasty vanilla oak midpalate with hints if clove and cinnamon. The lingering finish is fruity with hints of cocoa and licorice. It has a tight finish with modest tannins. This jammy wine pairs well with lighter fare or spicy food. A good budget wine for buyers looking for value and consistency. Around $10.

Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2007: This is a polished and approachable purple Syrah with layers of aromas and flavors. It is a blend of Syrah, with a bit of Viognier and Grenache. Grenache adds depth with notes of wild strawberries, while Viognier brightens the color and contributes floral notes and softens the tannins. The wine exudes aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and violet nuances, all framed by white pepper with hints of stones, minerals and a touch of vanilla oak. Flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry and vanilla are unveiled as you sip this wine and those notes stay in all the way through the lengthy finish. You’ll enjoy the firm well-integrated tannins. Around $15.

Elderton Shiraz 2010: This rich full-bodied classic is from one of Australia’s great Barossa valley Shiraz producers, and it’s brimming with ripe juicy plum and chocolate flavors—think Black Forest cake. The aromas echo black forest fruits, chocolate, and vanilla. Flavors of blackberry, chocolate, and spice follow the nose. The wine is medium-bodied, lively and fresh, engagingly delicious. A very good value. Around $20.

For a chunky, earthy, spicy red wine that delivers good value, think Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône wines exhibit spicy, cherry flavors and aromas along with kirsch, and sometimes offer up earthy, funky tones. The spice flavors often include thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and cloves. These wines go great with a variety of foods, including pasta with rich sauces, pizza and a variety of meats. They range from lighter, fruitier styles, to more full-bodied, complex wines that can age for several years. There are modern and more traditional styles. The common denominator is that the wines are unpretentious, hearty and satisfying.

Guigal’s Côtes du Rhone 2009 is a large production wine that you’ll find easily, and for good reason. It has a smoky nose with cherry, a hint of thyme and other Provençal spices. The silky medium-bodied palate offers a plump cherry flavors, spice, good structure and balanced tannins.  About $12.

Paul Jaboulet Aine St. Joseph le Grand Pompee 2009: Paul Jaboulet has owned vineyards in the Rhône Valley since 1834, and Le Grand Pompee is full and fruit-forward, ripe with raspberry, blackberry, and plum complemented by a dash of cracked pepper. The nose is rich and concentrated ripe red fruits, sweet spice and licorice. This delicious red has firm rounded tannins.  About $30.

For something a little bigger and more in your mouth, go for a Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is often referred to as a rich, big, dark, and brooding wine. The tannin content is very high, given its juice to skin ratio, which means that this wine needs big food. The wine itself actually looks like ink and this dark purpleness will stain stain your teeth and anything else it splashes on. All this color portends the lusciousness in the glass: flavors of plum, dark cassis, prune, hints of coffee and dark chocolate that will make your mouth water.

Pair Petite Sirah with braised meats served in their own reduction stock, hearty beef stew or that hearty meal that’s been cooking in the crock pot all day. A handy cooking tip: this wine is perfect to use when you want to darken a sauce.

Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah 2010: This red makes a great companion to lamb, pork or game in rich sauces. The nose exhibits aromas of ripe blackberry, plum and boysenberry with a dash of cracked pepper and fresh herbs. The full palate is runs rampant with ripe blackberries and plums highlighted by spice notes, supple leather and a toasty hint of oak followed by caramel and vanilla. This jammy wine offers layer upon layer of complexity. Around $10.

Another great winter red  is Zinfandel. It’s hard to pass up all the fresh, ripe, jammy fruit in a Zin. Zinfandels can run the gamut…from fresh and fruity, low alcohol and red raspberry to ultra-ripe, jammy and sweet. For savory dishes you’ll want the lighter style Zins. The lower alcohol content pairs nicely with a large variety of food, but Italian red sauces do especially well—eggplant parmesan, meatballs, or plain old spaghetti makes a wonderful pairing. The fresh fruit just brings out the tangy acid in the tomato-based sauces.

On the other hand, the sweeter, gooey zins will pair well with cheeses and chocolate desserts…so whichever you choose, you will have a winner.

Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel Amador 2010: This Amador County, California blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah offers aromas of ripe black cherry, a little blueberry, licorice and brown sugar. Rich raspberry, black cherry and soft chocolate flavors linger on the palate, mingling with soft tannins and spice.  About $12.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile 2010 is an intense and smokey Zinfandel that begs to be paired with lamb. Aromas of spice box and red fruit are prominent. This wine is bold and intense, briary with cherry, currant, candied apple, and raspberry flavors, followed by smoke and spice. It’s perfectly balanced and flavorful with focused acidity and an extremely long finish. Around $30.

There you have it: several strong winter wine contenders at a variety of price points. Taste them with care, scrutinize their characteristics, and decide for yourself whether they warrant special consideration this winter. Remember, the beauty of wine is that no two bottles, or palates for that matter, are identical.

You may not make perfect pairings all the time. But, with practice you will have an arsenal full of hearty winter wines for your winter hearty dishes. Enjoy!

One thought on “Hearty Winter Wines

  1. Profile: Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon has its spiritual home in the left bank communes of Bordeaux, Merlot is most famous for the wines from the right bank, especially from Pomerol and St Emilion. Although somewhat less widely travelled when compared to Cabernet, this thin-skinned, large-berried variety has found a new home in California. It is also important in some of the top wines of Italy, and can also be found in Australia and Eastern Europe. Spicy fruitcake, Christmas cake and chocolate characteristics will often give Merlot away, although it may also display blackcurrant, black cherry and plums. It is less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, and is often used in clarets when they need to be ‘fleshed out’ in weaker vintages.

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