In the cold of winter, our palates shift to crave all the rich, heavy comfort foods that warm the soul and drive the chill from our bones. The wines we reach for to pair also change accordingly.
As a general guideline, “you should be thinking about moving toward fuller-bodied wines, with dried or jammy fruit characteristics, with savory aromatics, and more powerful tannins,” said Kyra Deminski, a bartender at Radiator in Washington, D.C. “It’s going to be your peppery Rhône valley syrahs; intensely tannic barolos; and big, bold California cabs that will be amazing for pairing with dishes like hearty stews or braised lamb with winter squash.”
“These are rich, structured foods, so you’re going to want to find wines with similar characteristics,” explained Claire Coppi, a sommelier at Los Angeles’ Mirabelle Wine Bar. Look also for high acidity and strong tannin, she added, to help cut through the richness of the fats and proteins in your meal.
That said, winter wines don’t always have to be big and heavy, nor do they have to be restricted to the hefty reds that typically come to mind, according to Dan Amatuzzi, beverage director of Eataly in New York City. What’s key is “a rich texture—grip, depth, tannin, weight, roundness, and astringency. All are sensations in wine that lend full and deep flavors, regardless of the body and color,” he said.
In the end, you should drink what you like. For inspiration, Amatuzzi, Coppi, and Deminski offer their recommendations for the season.
Rare Wine Company Historic Wine Series Madeiras, Madeira, Portugal ($50)
Madeira is my go-to on a chilly or rainy night. A small sip feels like a soft woolen sweater being wrapped around me. Running at 19.5 percent ABV, a small 3-ounce pour of any one of the Rare Wine Company’s Madeiras is sure to keep you toasty.
Madeira is an incredible and completely under-appreciated fortified wine. It is made in a wide variety of styles, from the dry sercial, with notes of toasted almonds and delicious salinity, to the rich malmsey, with notes of dried red and black fruits and subtle spice to balance the sweetness. All styles are very high in acidity, which makes them incredible to pair with a wide variety of foods. And unlike port or sherry, which must be drunk within a couple of months of opening, your Madeira will outlive you as it has already been heated and oxidized during the winemaking process.
Drink your sercial as an aperitif or pair with young cheeses, nuts, or salads. The verdelho style pairs well with salmon, swordfish, and shellfish, as well as cream-based dishes. The more matured, full-bodied bual will be excellent with aged cheeses, stews, and game dishes. Drink your sweeter malmsey with chocolate desserts, blue cheese, or simply as dessert all by itself.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, Alsace, France ($24)
Is there ever a time that good bubbles are not appropriate? They’re always refreshing, always delicious, and always fun, and their high acidity levels mean that they pair with pretty much anything. This sparkler from Alsace is 100 percent pinot noir and is made in the traditional champenoise method, which gives the wine fantastic texture and creaminess along with fresh notes of strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb.
Borgogno Era Ora Riesling, Piedmont, Italy ($35)
Riesling is one of the most textural white grape varieties with a dizzying array of styles. Borgogno dates back to the 1700s and until recently has only produced red wines. But a few years ago, the team decided to try its hand at white wine production. The current vintage displays aromatic notes of orange citrus fruits, with a firm, oily and petrol-y texture—hallmarks of high quality riesling. The depth of layers gives the wine structure to stand up to winter’s bigger dishes, like castelluccio lentil soup, cacciucco [a Tuscan fish stew], or saltimbocca alla romana [a Roman veal dish with prosciutto and sage].
Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Costasera, Amarone della Valpolicella, Italy ($65)
Amarone is produced using dried grapes and by definition it’s usually a wine high in alcohol and intensity. Some wines are over the top in fruit, power, and alcohol, but Masi produces graceful wines with balanced and nuanced flavors of dried fruits, velvety tannins, and bitter flavors. Pairs great with aged cheeses, hearty pastas, and even with chocolate desserts.
2015 Turnbull Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, California ($150)
If you are looking to splurge, this is definitely the wine that is worth every penny. It is going to be an incredibly powerful cabernet sauvignon with notes of blackberry, cassis, and violet on the nose that transform to flavors of huckleberry, black cherry, tobacco, and chocolate on the palate. It has assertive tannins and an intense, lasting finish, but enough acid to create a balanced flavor profile. This wine is sourced from two of Turnbull’s Oakville vineyards: Leopoldina Vineyard and Fortuna Vineyard. This is going to be one of those wines that will stand up to the heaviest winter dishes. Dishes like rack of lamb and thick, juicy cuts of steak will pair absolutely perfectly with this bold cab.