We’ve all heard about the winter blues. But how about the winter reds?! As in, how about we take a look at 5 juicy bottles that will help you to navigate through the next three months of bone-chilling temps, snow, sleet, slush, and the seasonal blahs that can affect even the happiest camper with the rosiest (sadly, sans rose!), wind-burnt cheeks.
First up is a bit of a no-brainer: Cabernet. No other grape varietal so embodies the feeling of warmth and overall coziness than a good, solid cab. And a fantastic one to try out is from the heart and soul of New World production, where, much like Sangiovese is to central Italy, Cabernet reigns supreme and is the workhorse grape in Northern California, specifically in areas like Napa and Sonoma. Lake Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley (2015) is big, bold, and full of flavors of dark berries and rustic earth. It’s secret sauce is its notes of sweet tobacco that serve to cut the tannic qualities that are synonymous with Cab, which is why it is so often blended with Merlot.
Best To Have When: 4-6” of fresh powder on the ground.
Best To Pair With: A steak, a fireplace, and a pair of slippers.
I don’t know about you, but whenever the calendar slips from November to December, and from there, wintry mix and beyond, my palate turns to the mighty “B.” One of my all-time favorites is a classic wine lover’s wine from St. Estephe, namely, the Chateau Laffitte Carcasset (2011). This hearty and rich wine is made up primarily of the aforementioned Cab/Merlot blend, but think softer and more velvety than the Lake Sonoma. This particular bottle is super elegant and subtle. When the snowflakes start flurrying down, this is the wine that you want to be sipping whilst seated beside a window to catch all that weather magic.
Best To Have When: Just starting to flurry.
Best To Pair With: Lamb Shank, a view from a window, a friend that doesn’t like to talk.
For those who want the earthy qualities of a Cabernet or Bordeaux, but not quite the fullness, I recommend going with the slightly lighter – but equally delicious and interesting – Cabernet Franc. The Clos Laurent Saumur Rouge (2014) is a terrific little gem of a wine. From the Loire, this red is akin to the Little Engine That Could…get you through the winter. Slightly spicy, with hints of blackberry and herbs, this wine will take you where you want to go, but without weighing you down on the liquid road to getting there.
Best To Have When: The windchill factor is 20 below.
Best To Pair With: Mixed olives and assorted meats/cheeses, a turntable spinning some vinyl, booking a trip to somewhere warm.
Speaking of Sangiovese, another staple in my arsenal of winter reds would be the Basile, Montecucco Riserva Ad Agio (2012) from Tuscany, where Sangio is King, Queen, and Castle all pressed into one fantastic red wine. Produced from organic grapes, it has a high alcohol percentage (14. 5%), which, in my book—or column anyway—is always a good thing. Especially, when it comes to sipping a path towards spring. This bottle has all the properties you’d come to expect from the grape that, much like Cabernet, works best, or at least better, when there are icicles dangling from the rooftops and cills of your mind, heart, soul. Oh, wait, maybe that’s just me.
Best To Have When: It’s somewhere between snow/sleet/rain.
Best To Pair With: Fra Diavolo, your favorite movie is queued up, not having to wake up early the next day.
And last but certainly not least is another tremendous red from Italy. This time, from Piedmont, I simply cannot leave off the Burlotto Gian Carlo Cascina Massara, Barolo (2010). Made from the Nebbiolo grape, uncorking, pouring, and subsequently, drinking this Barolo is the polar opposite to shoveling a driveway or sidewalk full of hard-packed snow. More than any other wine I have cited on this list, this is the one that is the most special. This is the one that you should save as a reward to yourself. Even if you didn’t do anything to earn it other than just being you. But you in winter. Making it through another dreary, bleak, shortened day where darkness ascends in the middle of the afternoon, and you somehow managed to make it home through icy, slush filled soupy streets, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. Yes, that’s exactly when it’s time to reach for the Barolo.
Best To Have When: They are calling for Whiteout Conditions
Best To Pair With: Fennel Sausage and Broccoli Rabe, the end of a long week, duvet, duvet, duvet.
But take heart, because as empty as things might feel right in this moment, right when we are in the frost bitten grips for the next three month in the meantime, your glass can, and will, always still be full.
Peter “Blue” Zusman is an artist and wine & spirits enthusiast living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He places equal importance on both a finely-aged single malt and a medium bodied, earthy red. Summer is always about Provence. He was formerly a contributing wine writer at grapecollective.com.