I will be the first to tell you that drinking by season is a little overrated. While I won't crack a bottle of Cabernet on a 105-degree afternoon, I am all about enjoying a crisp, dry Riesling from Alsace alongside my turkey while it snows outside. As the weather turns colder, however, many of us crave rich, savory recipes, and bold red wines such as these are natural matches.
If you think about it, before modern means of preservation and refrigeration, everyone depended upon seasonally available meats and produce. Wintertime fare consisted of preserved or smoked meats, intensely flavored cheeses, root vegetables, and dark, hearty greens. Even today, when almost any exotic fruit or vegetable is available in our grocery stores, those foods are still innately and traditionally associated with the cold season.
So, let's don our cozy socks, turn on the slow cooker, and build a roaring fire. A glass of one of these suggestions and some blue cheese wouldn't hurt, either!
8 Bold Red Wines for Winter Cuisine
1. Shiraz, Yalumba's "Patchwork," Barossa, Australia, 2012, $16: I love pairing a juicy, spicy Shiraz with braised lamb. Yalumba is a well-established producer, and their Patchwork is an incredible value. This mouth-watering Shiraz is herbaceous and slightly smoky, with notes of bramble, black raspberry, and licorice.
2. Zinfandel, Di Arie's "Breakaway," Sierra Foothills, CA, 2009, $18: Classic Zinfandel characteristics of baking spices, cherries, cocoa, and plums come out to play, but this one is a little less "jammy" than your typical Zin. The long, spice-laden finish is complex and well-structured. What sets apart Di Arie? They take the time to age their wines in their cellars, so that when you taste their current vintage, it is optimally matured.
3. Cabernet Blend, Dontati's "Claret," Paicines, CA, 2011, $22: Rich and fruit-driven, this dry Cabernet-based blend exhibits notes of dark cherry, clove, vanilla, sage, and a touch of cedar. This is one of my favorite wines to sell at the restaurant at this price-point. It's always pleasing to multiple palates.
- Pair with Beef Stew
4. Bordeaux, Château de By, Médoc, France, 2010, $19: If you're a lover of Cabernet and Merlot, and you haven't ventured into Bordeaux wines for fear of high prices, here is a value-driven bottle to seek out. Château de By, an aromatic blend of those two grape varieties, is dry on the palate but supplies plenty of dark fruits, notes of dried herbs, and a toasty, moderately oaked finish.
- Pair with Braised Oxtail Ragu
5. Merlot, Trig Point, Diamond Dust Vineyard, Alexander Valley, CA, 2012, $19: This single-vineyard Merlot is super complex for the price, showcasing notes of spice, dark blueberry and blackberry fruits, and smoke, with herbaceous undertones. Rich and velvety, this Merlot will make you fall in love with this noble grape all over again. Darn that movie that I won't mention.
6. Grenache Blend, Michel Gassier's "Nostre Païs," Costières de Nîmes, France, 2011, $18: This blend is from the southernmost vineyard in the Rhône valley, a warm, coastal area. Rhône wines are my go-to choice for versatility because they are great to sip on, and they are fabulous with food (especially savory dishes). I find a lot of value within this region. This sumptuous wine is dry, savory, and herbaceous, with notes of black currant, lavender, and anise.
- Pair with Slow-Cooked Boeuf Bourguignon
7. Carmenere, Concha y Toro's Gran Reserve Serie Riberas, Peumo, Chile, 2011, $16: If you're unfamiliar with this grape, which is a long-lost Bordeaux variety, Concha y Toro is a producer to try. This wine is intensely flavored, with pronounced herbal tones and notes of blackberry, cocoa, and pepper. It's great with roasted vegetables and is one of the few reds that I enjoy with Mexican cuisine.
8. Tempranillo, Barco de Piedra, Ribero del Duero, Spain, 2012, $15: Spain produces so many iterations of Tempranillo. Tempranillos from Rioja tend to be lighter, softer, and red-fruit dominant, whereas the Tempranillos from Toro or Ribero del Duero are often richer, bolder, and denser expressions. This rich, floral red is graced with notes of black cherry, licorice, and slightly sweet oak.
- Pair with Bean, Bacon, and Butternut Squash Soup
Winter Red Wines Worth the Splurge
So, do you want to splurge this holiday season and get something really special? Two of my personal favorites are both northern Italian red wines. Intensely concentrated and rich Amarone from northeast Italy and elegant, powerful, and dry Nebbiolo from northwest Italy often command a pretty penny. They almost always seem worth the extra cost, however. Here are two of my favorites on the more approachable side of the price spectrum.
What are some of your favorite bold reds? Do you have a dish that has a perfect wine match, or are you stuck with a pairing predicament?