Have you experienced how cold weather drives cravings for hearty foods and matching red wines?
For me, the first wine I think of in winter is a dessert wine — Port from Portugal. And that means Tawny Port. Two of the best are Dow’s and Graham’s, owned by the Symington family (with 140 years in the industry and a leader in environmental and social responsibility).
Tawnies are distinguished by long aging in wood. This mellows the color and balances the intense fruit with wood-infused character. As a result, the wines retain red berry freshness even as they develop enticing qualities such as almond and fig.
With a 10 Year Old Tawny, you can discern these elements of age and a certain finesse. Dow’s ($39) offers bright flavors combined with intense fruit and fullness. Graham’s ($39) shows prominent aromas combined with a luscious finish.
With a 20 Year Old Tawny, you experience the freshness, elegance and pure fruit with intense complexity. Graham’s ($65) suggests mature fruits with a tangy element and luscious texture. Dow’s ($67) has an elegant balance of deep fruit and palate richness.
At the table, Portugal’s reds also are fine cold weather choices, as well as everyday values. From Esporão, a leading producer in the Alentejo region, the 2019 Monte Velho ($10) is a blend of three indigenous varieties yielding fresh berry fruit and round texture. Even more impressive is the 2017 Prats + Symington Prazo de Roriz ($17). Its grapes — the same ones used for Symington Ports — deliver amazing concentration and flavor interest for the price.
Reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah also suit the season’s foods. I recently tasted a fine California Syrah, the 2017 Mi Sueño Napa Valley ($55). From a husband-and-wife team with experience making wine for and supplying grapes to some of California’s most prestigious wineries, expect a full, rich wine of intense black fruits, with peppery, meaty accents and firm tannins.
Petite sirah, a French grape that has found California much more hospitable, is the definition of robust. BARRA of Mendocino is a family-owned winery since 1955, with all organically farmed vineyards. Its 2017 ($22) is a fine value with ripe, concentrated berries, typically chewy tannins and earthy, peppery notes.
I also enjoyed two of Escudo Rojo’s top offerings from Chile’s Maipo Valley. The 2018 Gran Reserva ($22) is mostly cabernet sauvignon, carmenere and syrah, which give it density, firm tannins and a touch of spice. The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($18) sports ripe black fruits with toasty notes and drinks nicely balanced.
Finally, introduce yourself to the 2018 Lost Eden Red Blend ($20) from the country of Georgia. Few in the U.S. know much about Georgian wine. These wines have captivated the interest of many sommeliers and may eventually consumers too. Made from the native saperavi, the country’s signature variety, a portion of the wine is made in traditional qvevris (large clay pots). The result exhibits strong acidity balanced with somewhat sweet, brambly berries and earthy qualities.