We may make too much of weather when it comes to enjoying wine. But why is it that a crisp sauvignon blanc tastes better in the summer and a brawny zinfandel tastes better in the winter? Yes, we know many of you drink either wine year-round, but a lot of people associate certain wines with seasons.
It’s more than the outside temperature that drives our wine choices. Food, too, is a factor. Summer is spent sipping wine on the deck or pairing it with grilled chicken — perfect companions for sauvignon blanc. But, a cold winter day is spent with a blazing fireplace and a pot of stew — perfect companions for zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.
If you are restricted to your house at this time of the year, break out the zinfandels, barolos, sagrantinos and Bordeaux. Make some comfort food, like chili or soup, and enjoy the time indoors. If you’re in a warm climate, crank up the air conditioning and pretend.
Here are some wine suggestions to get you through the cold winter days:
- Rene Barbier Com Tu 2016 ($55). This incredible wine made from garnacha grapes hails from La Figuera, a small village of only 70 inhabitants. Made by Rene Barbier (Clos Mogador) and his son Anderson, it is a juicy and lush wine with surprising grit and concentration. Red fruit flavors with a dash of vanilla, it is a full-bodied wine. Very impressive. The official appellation here is Montsant.
- Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2018 ($33). Two Hands offer some incredible wines for a decent price. This full-bodied shiraz from the Barossa Valley is bold, delicious and juicy. What more could you ask for? Blackberry flavors with hints of rosemary, juniper and black pepper. Two Hands’ Angel’s Share Shiraz from the McLaren Vale is lighter but equally juicy. They have different styles, but we just loved the depth of the Gnarly Dudes.
- The Prisoner Napa Valley Red Wine 2017 ($49). This zinfandel-based icon has enduring power on the market in spite of changing owners a few times. Blended with cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and charbono grapes, it remains a market favorite because of its dense, ripe flavors and hedonistic appeal. The Prisoner also makes a blend — Cuttings ($55) — that puts cabernet sauvignon as the primary grape variety. Very smooth and equally luscious but with varietal flavors and layered flavors.
- Ramey Cole Creek Vineyard Syrah 2015 ($65). David Ramey is making some terrific pinot noir and chardonnay, so it should come as no surprise that he also can make unbelievable syrah. This single-vineyard syrah from the Russian River Valley is complex and rich. Co-fermented with 6 percent viognier, it shows off effusive aromas of olives, pepper and garrigue. Delicious dark berry fruit character and silky mouthfeel. The sibling of this wine is the Rodgers Creek syrah from the Sonoma Coast. Together, the pair shows off the unique character of each region.
- Arnaldo-Caprai Collepiano Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2014 ($54). Sagrantino was almost a lost grape until the Caprai family in Montefalco, Umbria, focused their attention and resources into making wine from this obscure grape. Today Marco Caprai owns Arnaldo-Caprai and fashions red wines featuring the sagrantino grape. Sagrantino is known for its bold style and fierce tannins but properly handled makes wines that match the boldest of foods. The Arnaldo-Caprai 25 Anni Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2014 ($115) is essentially a reserve wine created in a style that will require patience. Intense berry notes with some spice elements are tighter than the Collepiano described previously. Hold for at least 5-7 years to maximize enjoyment.
- Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($65). Graham’s age-dated tawny port is one of our favorite styles of port. More complex than ruby port, tawny port adds a layer of toffee and nuts to a base of sweet cherries. Great during cold weather months especially after meals or a sip before bedtime.
- Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2015 ($77). Pio Cesare has adopted the more modern style of shorter maceration of grape skins and seeds in the fermenting must which yields a more approachable red wine. This barbaresco and the Pio Cesare Barolo, both made entirely from nebbiolo grapes, are approachable now, presenting cherry notes and ample tannins. The barolo was our favorite with a slightly grapier presentation that appealed to our tastes. Both would pair well with heavy winter red meat dishes — think osso buco or lamb shanks.
Wine picks of the week
- Treana Winery Blanc 2015 ($24). We were mesmerized by this exotic, luscious blend of viognier, marsanne and roussanne from the Central Coast. Lots of ripe apricot and peach flavors, a viscous mouthfeel and a dash of almonds.
- Treana Winery Chardonnay 2015 ($20). Drawing grapes from Monterey and Los Olivos, this producer has crafted a balanced and nicely toasted chardonnay with peach and apple flavors with just a touch of lemon zest.
- Legacy Red Wine Alexander Valley 2013 ($100). Another winner from Jackson Family Wines founded by the late Jess Jackson, this wine is 87 percent cabernet sauvignon with the balance filled out by cabernet franc, malbec, and petite verdot. Cassis and black cherry elements with a hint of chocolate form the core of this classically made wine. Although approachable now this wine will age gracefully for 10-plus years.
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Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.