Winter Warmer Wines

7 perfect winter wine and food pairings to keep you warm

7 perfect winter wine and food pairings to keep you warm

Lost Oak Winery Cabernet red wine glass bottle
These reds will warm you up. Photo by Matt McGinnis

A surefire method to ward off Jack Frost is a generous pour of hearty red wine paired with comfort food. Red wine is almost as effective for warming you up as cuddling in front of a fire. It’s more than just mind over matter too. The body naturally reacts to the histamines and tannins that are contained in red grape skins, causing a warming feeling. That, and alcohol dilates blood vessels thereby jacking up your blood flow to give you a rosy glow. There you have it. Red wine is a veritable internal space heater.

By its very nature, red wine is an excellent match for stout home cooking. Simply put, big foods are better with big wines. Here are CultureMap’s recommendations for pairing red blends, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel wines with comfort food to keep you warm this winter.

Red blends

2014 Treana Red
California winemaker Austin Hope was in Austin recently to pour a selection of his Hope Family wines for Austinites. The winery, now a group of five winery brands, was started by his parents in 1978 in Paso Robles. Hope presented wines from the family’s premium winery, Treana, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The 2014 Treana Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, tops our lists for red wines to drink now.

This is a heavy-duty wine with inky dark purple color. Bold flavors of bombastic blackberry, black cherry, juicy blueberry, mocha, vanilla, and smoke are deeply concentrated. It finishes with spicy bitter chocolate flavors that linger in a long finish with fine tannins. 

It is easy to find around Austin at places like Central Market and H-E-B for $45 a bottle. This expressive, punchy wine is perfect with a boeuf bourguignon stew with roasted potatoes.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant Reserve 2011
If you are looking for something interesting, this is your wine. This Santa Cruz winery is known for its proponent of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable farming practices, as well as non-traditional winemaking techniques. Winery founder, Randall Graham, makes anything but boring wines.

The Le Cigare Volant Reserve is a Rhône style blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault grapes that has a lot going on. It is an incredibly complex wine that has far more flavors than just fruit. It starts off with herbal flavors such as dried sage and savory spices like thyme, followed by dried strawberries, raspberry, plum, and cedar. A plucky wine with perky acidity and smooth tannins, it is fun on its own, and definitely food friendly.

This wine sells for around $40. A multifaceted wine like this calls for a dish with spirited flavors: pan-seared artisanal sausages of lamb or duck spiked with distinct spices.

Merlot

La Jota Vineyard Co. 2013 Merlot Napa Valley

La Jota’s vineyards are high on Howell Mountain, which ranges from 1400 to 2400 feet in elevation, above Napa Valley. The Merlot grapes are grown in two vineyards planted high upon a plateau overlooking the Napa Valley. The cool, windy climate and volcanic soils give the grapes great concentration. Wines from Howell Mountain are known for bold blackberry flavors and spices like clove, and this wine fits that bill. The La Jota Merlot has an earthy nose, juicy blackberry pie, and a dollop of dark chocolate with smooth tannins.

This is a splurge-worthy wine, selling for $85 a bottle.

Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder 2013 Napa Valley Merlot

Situated 30 miles away from Mount Howell, the Mt. Brave winery sits atop Mount Veeder with commanding views of the Napa Valley. The steep, rugged mountain and nutrient poor soils produce concentrated wines, because the precipitation easily runs off leaving dryer conditions in which the grapes grow. While this wine is made by Chris Carpenter, the same winemaker as La Jota, it's completely different in style. It has intense blueberry scents and cassis, black cherry, and mocha flavors. It is so downy smooth it’s like putting on a velvet smoking jacket.

It’s a little less expensive than its sister at $75 a bottle. Merlot cuddles up nicely with richly sauced dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs in a red sauce, where a more powerfully tannic wine would be overwhelming. The inherent sweetness of the wine harmonizes with the acidity of the tomato, and the bold fruit enhances the meaty flavors of the meatballs.  

Cabernet Sauvignon

Lost Oak Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Texas High Plains, Bingham Family Vineyards
Having wine from Texas in the mix is always a good idea. Located in Burleson, just south of Fort Worth, Lost Oak Winery was started in 2006 by Gene Estes. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is made with grapes grown in the Texas High Plains where hot days and cool nights help the thick skin fruit to ripen well. This wine starts off with a little funk, much like a wine from Bordeaux, then eases into blackberry cobbler, cherry, and raspberry flavors with mocha, leather, and cedar on a finish.

It is a good value at $30 a bottle. With its wild side, the Lost Oak Cabernet is tamed a bit with a hearty pot roast that has been slow-cooked all day. Its soft tannins and bright fruit cut through the fatty beef and enhance its meaty flavor. 

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Rodney Strong is a recognizable name, easy to find, and always a crowd pleaser. The grapes for this wine are grown in four estate vineyards nestled in the rolling hills near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Those sun-kissed hills make for a powerful, full-bodied wine with scents of sun-ripened blackberry, plum, tomato leaf, thyme, ginger, and vanilla. The Rodney Strong Cab has layers of dark fruits, ripe plum, blackberry, and dark chocolate flavors mingled with and savory spices.

Grab a bottle at your local shop for $28. This is a meat and potatoes kind of wine. Homey, sturdy, and satisfying. It’s a chummy partner with meatloaf. The lush dark fruits and firm tannins add elegance to the meal without being pretentious.   

Zinfandel

Edmeades, Perli Vineyards, Mendocino Ridge Zinfandel 2013
Edmeades has long been applauded for its delicious Zins made in the coastal mountains of Mendocino County. The single-vineyard bottling from Perli Vineyards required the intrepid winemaker to source grapes from steep hillsides with 60 percent grades and rocky terrain at an altitude of 1,500 feet. It’s a rugged environment resulting in a mischievous wine. Bright raspberry, stewed strawberry, plum, black pepper, and thick dark chocolate flavors are precariously balanced on a ridge of tannin, hiding a healthy punch of 15.5 percent alcohol.

This wine, available for $31.99, is excellent with pork collar. The bold pork cut with plenty of marbled fat gets crispy on the outside and stays juicy inside and requires a spicy red with juicy acidity and soft tannins.