I don’t know about you, but I really don’t mind winter, though I can sure do without the ice. The colder weather is the perfect opportunity to prepare heartier dishes and pop the cork on some weightier wines.
I was going to call this article, “As the leaves turn red, so should your wine,” but I missed nature’s cutoff on that by quite some time, though certainly not the window for drinking a bevy of terrific red wine.
Because there are just so many great red wines out there, I’m going to break this down into three categories: light, medium and full-bodied.
And while this is by no means a comprehensive (how could it be?), it is a compilation of some of my favorite wines I’ve consumed during the winter months
Let’s start with the Villa Gemma Masciarelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Rosé. I know, I know. A rosé isn’t a red wine. I don’t care. I drink rosé all year, and this one, made with 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, really captivated me.
The wine is dark for a rosé and quite complex, more like a red wine. How’s that for a rationalization for inclusion?
In terms of cuisine, the Villa Gemma is made to stand up to heavier dishes while still being lithe enough to start the evening off as an aperitif.
I love pinot noirs almost as much as I love rosés. While I could regale you with a legion of my favorite pinots from Oregon (Ayres, King Estate, Cristom, etc.) and California (Michaud, Sanford, La Crema, etc.), I thought it would be more interesting to share a couple of new pinot favs.
The Ritual Pinot Noir, made by outstanding Chilean producer Veramonte, hails from the Casablanca Valley. Casablanca is a cooler climate region, west of Santiago and not far from the Pacific Ocean.
It’s where Veramonte’s sources fruit for its well-known sauvignon blanc, and now, its enticing pinot. Medium-bodied for a pinot, the Ritual isn’t particularly complex, but it sure is pleasant, loaded with floral and fruit flavors and aromas.
Fuller and richer in the glass and on the palate is the Baldacci Elizabeth Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir. I’ve already written of Baldacci’s chardonnay, also from Carneros in the very southern part of both Napa and Sonoma.
Named in honor of Tom Baldacci’s mother, the wine sings with fresh red fruit (raspberry and strawberry) and a nice touch of oak. This is bigger than the style of pinot I typically prefer, but this one hits all the right notes. Try the Baldacci Pinot with a whole roasted snapper stuffed with herbs and tomatoes. I’ll bet it’s a winning match.
Sorry, California, but I’m going to go to Europe for my medium-bodied red picks. It’s really more in the Euro Theater’s winemaking wheelhouse anyway. I enjoy Italian, French, and Spanish wines almost equally, so I thought I’d recommend one of each in this category.
If you haven’t had a Rioja (from Spain) in awhile, you should really consider revisiting this venerable wine-producing region. Turning out oceans of Tempranillo-based wines, Riojas used to vary widely in quality and consistency.
But the region has seen huge improvements in both areas over the past 20 years or so, and now produces some of the best wines for their price the world over.
I have my favorite bodegas in Rioja, and the Marques de Riscal is at, or near, the top. Opening a bottle of the Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva recently, I was reminded just how much I enjoy the wines of this old school Rioja producer with 158 years of winemaking under its belt.
This is a classic Rioja with notes of dark berries and dusty plum (a hallmark of Tempranillo). The wine finishes with hints of toast and fine oak. I have a grilled rack of lamb recipe topped with sliced charred red peppers that, when paired with this wine, would likely bring tears to your eyes, or at the very least, a big grin to your face.
France produces some of my absolute favorite wines in the world. Red and white burgundies are unmatched in their pinot noirs and chardonnays.
Rhone wines such as Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape can be stunning. And, nothing, in my opinion, beats a well-made and well-aged Bordeaux. But for this recommendation, I’m going to the Loire Valley and the under-appreciated red wines from Chinon.
Made with Cabernet Franc, one of the blending grapes of Bordeaux, Chinons often feature higher-toned fruit, and most often fall somewhere between a good cru Beaujolais and a Cotes du Rhone in weight and mouth-feel.
I had the Bernard Baudry Les Granges Chinon the other night, and it was everything a Chinon should be — brimming with bright red fruit with hints of pencil shavings on the nose, completely integrated tannins, and a rich, ripe finish.
Like the Marques di Riscal, the Baudry Chinon is very food friendly and extremely flexible, able to pair with dishes ranging from Provencal-style mussels to a hearty steak off the grill.
Moving to Italy, it’s hard to go wrong with a nice, well-made Chianti Classico. The Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Riserva fits that bill to a tee. Darker than most Sangiovese-based wines, the Lamole de Lamole, a combination of Sangiovese and Canaiolo, is layered, structured, and elegant — meant for aging and for pairing with strong cheeses, heavier tomato-based pasta dishes and grilled and roasted meats. This is not a light chianti. In fact, I thought about putting it in the full-bodied section, but felt it ultimately belonged here.
I normally turn to California cabernet sauvignon when the colder weather sets in, but I’m planning a couple of future articles focusing on them, and there are so many other worthy full-bodied red wine candidates out there, I thought I’d list of couple of my favorites.
Merlot is an oft maligned grape varietal, the dismissal reaching its zenith after actor Paul Giamatti’s rant against drinking merlot in the pinot-loving movie “Sideways.”
I happen to really enjoy a well-made merlot, which can be every bit as “big” as cabernet, yet often much more forgiving in terms of its tannic structure.
A great example of that style of merlot is the Miner Family Winery Stagecoach Merlot. The Stagecoach vineyard is a famous piece of property tucked back up into the hills in the southeast corner of the Napa Valley.
It is best known for its expressive cabernets, but Miner’s Merlot is killer. Patterned after the great Right Bank Merlot of Bordeaux with 11 percent Cabernet Franc in the mix, Miner’s Merlot is packed with juicy fruit with hints of spice and a nice dash of toasty oak. In a word, it’s delicious!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.
One last wine recommendation to sip and savor by the fireplace or at the dinner table, is the marvelous Heritage McGah Vineyard by Kale. Kale first grabbed my attention with a Provencal-style Rose I discovered last summer. I’ve been seeking their wines out ever since. This Chateauneuf du Pape blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah is stunning. Leaning heavily on Grenache, the wine boasts tons of wild strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors. The Mourvedre fleshes the wine out and the Syrah adds some length, giving the Heritage focus, depth, and balance. This is the inaugural vintage of Kale’s Heritage, and what an impressive debut it is.
As mentioned, I’ll be back with some perspective on the current releases of California Cabernet Sauvignons, along with a few from outside the state, soon. Meantime, keep the homefires burning and the corkscrew nearby. Cheers!