Whether curling up by the fire with a good book or gathering around the table with friends, you can take the edge off the chilly weather by sipping winter-worthy wines.
But what should you look for in a winter wine?
Cold-weather fare centers around flavorful, slow-cooked meats, so your wine must stand up to the food’s richness and weight.
Think warm-climate vintages with full body, lots of mouth-warming alcohol and ripe, juicy fruits. The warmer climate creates more sugar, which translates into more alcohol and extra body and weight.
Take California Zinfandel, for example. While the Zinfandel grape is grown in other countries, California Zins stand out in flavor and weight. Match it with beef short ribs and mashed potatoes for a tasty lesson in food and wine pairing.
Better yet, grab a bottle crafted from Australia’s workhorse grape, Shiraz. The big, beefy wines crafted from the sun-drenched South Australia regions of Barossa and McLaren Vale stand up to stews and slow-roasted meats and game.
In some cases, full-bodied wines obtain their richness not from Mother Nature but from age-old vinification techniques.
Italy’s Valpolicella receives a boost in richness and body from a process called “ripasso.” After fermentation, the wine is placed in casks containing the lees (dead yeast cells and grape particles) from a prior batch of Recioto or Recioto Amarone to add color, tannin and flavor. Sip a glass with osso buco to melt away our icy chill.
Interested in whites? Not a problem. Select a full-bodied white such as a white Burgundy, and pair it with earthy flavors (mushroom soup and whole roast chicken come to mind).
For fireside sipping, nothing quite tops a quality tawny Port or an Italian-made Vin Santo. Aged in oak barrels, these fortified wines are ready to drink and offer rich, nutty flavors that match well with most desserts, including chocolate and homemade biscotti.
So ease Cleveland’s frosty winters and lake effect snow one mouth-warming sip at a time.
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel, Lake County, California ($38): Dark ruby with intense raspberry, blackberry and vanilla aromas. Soft, ripe tannins and a good dose of alcohol give the wine a full-bodied mouthfeel and a rich, long finish.
2004 Two Hands “Angel’s Share” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia ($32): Opaque purple with loads of raspberry, plum, black pepper and mulberry aromas. Full-bodied with 14.5 percent alcohol, this wine is a perfect match with osso buco.
2004 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena Ripasso, Verona, Italy ($18): Loaded with dense fruit aromas of red plum, dried cherries and a hint of oak. Full-bodied and weighty on the palate, the wine offers a long, lingering fruity aroma. Great wine for the table.
2004 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, Côte de Beaune, France ($57): Medium-gold hue with almond, herbal, white flower aromas and a hint of earthiness. Moderate acidity and alcohol give the wine a weighty finish that lingers on the palate.
2002 Villa La Selva Vigna del Papa Vin Santo del Chianti, Italy ($35): A local dessert wine crafted in Tuscany from partially dried Trebbiano and Malvasia. Aged in oak, the wine has nutty aromas and beautiful amber color. Try with biscotti.
Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Porto, Oporto, Portugal ($32): Medium-plus in body with mouth-warming aromas of caramel, custard and toffee, and fortified to 20 percent alcohol. A sweet wine that is a perfect match for wintry desserts or sipped alone.