So far it’s shaping up to be a very cold and snowy winter. As annoying as it is to deal with what we nostalgically call an “Old Fashioned Winter,” there is one advantage for me. It brings on an appetite for hearty, stick-to-the-ribs, nourishing food and bold rich wines to drink with them. It’s all fine and good to enjoy light fresh fruity wines in the warmer seasons (and I do), but now is the time for the other side of the wine world coin. Bold Italian reds, rich Cabernets, hearty southern Rhone reds, Syrah from around the world, California Zinfandel, and full bodied white wines. Let’s set aside Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Barbera, fruity whites and charming Rose and revel in the many layers of more outspoken wines.
I find myself craving a juicy roast with a crackling caramelized crust; slow-cooked stews and braises with beef, lamb, chicken, or duck; or bubbling pots of beans with fragrant, spicy seasonings. Lighter wines just won’t do. This is not their season. Winter is the time for wines that are rich, round, robust and packed with flavor. You can get “easy drinking” versions of these wines made to appease the needs of the year-round worldwide marketplace. They’re good, but not the real thing.
I checked in with two area retailers on their winter wine picks. We seem to be on the same page.
Jeff Barbour at New Canaan Wine Merchants named Cassoulet “the ultimate French stew” and picked these reds from the Rhone Valley in the south of France to accompany it: Domaine Le Couroulu Vacqueyras; Domaine du Terme Gigondas; Domaine de la Solitude Chateauneuf-du-Pape; and Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau. These four choices are from the Southern Rhone and are principally made from the Grenache grape, although in Chateauneuf-du-Pape 13 different grapes are allowed.
At Ancona’s Wines & Liquors of Wilton, Wine Director Monica McCall says, “Winter cold weather calls for white wines that have more weight and body along with rich, broad, lush flavors and chewier texture.” Her suggestions are by grape variety with a specific wine pick in each category: From the Rhone Valley, Viognier– Domaine Saint Amant La Borry 2012 and Roussanne– Anne Pichon Roussanne 2011; Gewurztraminer– Domaine Schieferkopf 2011, a spicy floral wine made in Alsace on the border between France and Germany; Chardonnay–George Hendry Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2010, an oak aged example from the Napa Valley.
My own taste tends toward California Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Unique to the American winemaking, Zinfandel is powerful with complex berry flavors. Ridge Vineyards makes some of the best under their Lytton Springs and Geyserville labels. In the Napa Valley, Cabernet is king, big wines with high alcohol and intense flavors. Prices can be high but just below the prestige labels are some very good values. Look for wines by Martin Ray, Robert Mondavi Napa, Conn Creek, or Groth.
This week I picked up the new edition of Kevin Zraly’s book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. There are shelves full of wine books out there, but this one is a great read fto learn more about the fascinating world of wine. Zraly was the Wine Director at the landmark Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center, where he established a renowned wine program and began teaching his wine class. This book (over 3 million sold) is an established path to wine knowledge. Zraly still teaches his course in New York, but I’d rather have the book to refer to as I sip.
After an introduction covering wine basics, tasting, and grapes of the world, the book is divided into eight classes, just like his in-person course. Class topics include: White Wines of France; White Wines of California, Wines of Washington, Oregon and New York; White Wines of Germany; Red Wines of Burgundy and the Rhone Valley; Red Wines of Bordeaux; Red Wines of California; Wines of Spain and Italy; and Champagne, Sherry and Port. You can read the book start to finish – tasting along the way – or just dip into it when you want to inquire about a particular wine.
Wine gives me a double pleasure: first the delicious and intriguing wine in the bottle; enjoyed as an aperitif or with a meal; and second, the culture of the wine – where it comes from, who made it, and the region’s history and traditions. Reading about the background of the wine gives almost as much pleasure as the drink. My references include a few helpful books, the labels (front and back), and the internet, which makes it very easy to learn more about the specific wine, the place where its made, the wine makers and the grapes.
Let me know what wines you are enjoying this blustery winter.
New Canaan Wine Merchants
Ancona’s Wines & Liquors