S ometime during the next several weeks you likely will enjoy a hearty meal that cries out for a red wine. Sparkling wine goes with all foods, and whites are good for parties, but sometimes when the cold wind sends a chill through your bones, you have to have a red.
A red during the holidays needs to be something special and needs to be good with food. Not all wines are up to the task.
So I have prepared a short guide for what you might want to look for in picking your holiday wines.
Wines made from the pinot noir grape are among the most popular in the world. They generally are soft and easy to approach, and they are great wines for food. Pinot noir is famous for fruit flavors and aromas, such as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.
Pinot noir originated in France’s Burgundy region, but it is now grown all over the world. In the United States great pinots can be found in Willamette Valley in Oregon, California’s Russian River Valley in Sonoma County as well as the Central Coast’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
Food pairings are tricky because it all depends on personal taste. (I used to drink a white Italian wine–Orvieto–with sausage pizza because the tastes blended so well.) But pinot noir can be an excellent wine if you are serving turkey or ham, or any number of lighter meals.
Because it is so food-friendly and popular, pinot noir is one of the safest wines to serve during the holidays.
Here are some of my favorites:
Mer Soleil ($40), Santa Lucia Highlands. Ripe cherry aromas with a lush mouthfeel. A round, complete wine with cherry cobbler flavors.
Frank Family ($38), Carneros. Lively floral aromas lead to red cherry flavors. Soft and juicy, full-bodied.
FEL ($38), Anderson Valley. Cherry and pomegranate aromas lead to bright red fruit flavors, such as raspberry, with a hint of mint.
Kenwood Six Ridges ($30), Russian River Valley. Lush mouthfeel, with elegant flavors of black cherry, strawberry and toasted almond.
Loveblock ($30), Central Otago, New Zealand. Intense aromas, bright red fruit flavors with a savory layer. Smooth finish.
Gary Farrell ($45), Russian River Valley. Elegant, with cherry aromas, flavors of cherry cola, with hints of white pepper and clove.
Etude Heirloom Grace Benoist Ranch ($47), Carneros. Floral aromas lead to bright red fruit flavors with some minerality in the long finish.
This is often an overlooked grape because some people associate it with the cheap white zinfandel that flooded the market in the 1970s. Sutter Home created the first white zin through a happy accident. It really took off when one vintage experienced a stuck fermentation, where the yeast die off before all the sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol. So they had a sweet wine, that many new wine drinkers loved, but critics disparaged.
White zin also helped growers who weren’t selling much of their wine, but could sell the grapes to producers of white zinfandel.
Tastes change and now red zinfandel is popular. It often is filled with bright red berry fruit flavors such as raspberry with black pepper notes. The bold rich flavors often are not muted by heavy tannins.
It pairs well with many dishes, including sausage, turkey and cranberries, beef, lamb, pork or wild game. It also is great with ribs and spicy barbecue.
Here are some of my favorites:
Turley Old Vines ($25), from old vine vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Mendocino, Contra Costa, Amador and Paso Robles. Turley makes 47 different wines from more than 50 vineyards, most of which are single vineyard zins and petite sirahs. This blend is an incredible bargain, if you can find it. The vines are from 41 to 129 years old.
Turley Juvenile ($29), made from a variety of young vines that have been replanted in several old vine sites. The vines are from six to 25 years old and are from 18 of the best Turley vineyards.
The Federalist ($18), Dry Creek Valley. Plum and cherry aromas with red fruit flavors, supple tannins and a distinct white pepper characteristic. The Federalist from Lodi ($18) is similar, but has a bit more strawberry and cinnamon in the taste. There also is a bourbon barrel-aged version ($22) from Mendocino County that is smoother and spicier with a long finish.
Ever since the movie “Sideways” pinot noir and merlot have been pitted against each other, but both are food-friendly and popular. It is another safe bet to serve because merlot can be versatile.
It is the second most popular grape in the United States, after cabernet sauvignon. It is a soft, ripe and elegant, and easy to drink wine. It goes especially well with duck, roast chicken, veal or pork.
Paloma ($50-63), Spring Mountain, Napa. Several years ago it was named the top wine in Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines. Concentrated, deep, dark fruit, opulent flavors with polished tannins. Available from the winery you can sometimes get a bargain when they are closing out an older vintage.
Marco Felluga Varneri Merlot Collio ($21), Italy. Rich, pure cherry fruit flavors, bright and fresh. They make several other great red wines, including Russiz Superiore Collio Cabernet Franc ($29) and Russiz Superiore Collio Sauvignon ($29).
Duckhorn Merlot ($56), Napa Valley. The first name in American merlot, Duckhorn makes a range of fine merlots, but their basic bottle is terrific. Cherry and raspberry aromas lead to flavors of plum, raspberry and blueberry.
Chateau Malescasse ($23), an affordable Bordeaux blend with 53 percent merlot and 38 percent cabernet sauvignon. Aromas of bright blackberries and plums lead to a complex palate full of dense fruit flavors. Full-bodied and powerful.
This tends to be one of the most popular wines among red wine drinkers, but heavier, tannin-laden cabs can be difficult to pair with food. Cabernet sauvignon grapes are the most widely planted red grapes in California and are one of the major grapes in Bordeaux.
These wines generally age well, but that doesn’t help you with holiday meals, unless you have laid some aside and pull them out for special meals.
This is still an excellent choice if you’re having steak, beef tenderloin, beef burgundy or a hearty stew.
Some of my favorites:
Gamble Paramount Proprietary Red Blend ($90), Napa Valley. Cab is the core of this blend, Gamble’s flagship wine. This delicious wine will blow away your wine-loving friends. Rich aromas of raspberry, cherry and figs lead to flavors of red plum, black cherry and vanilla.
Double Diamond 2017 ($70), Oakville, from Schrader Cellars in Napa Valley. This character-driven cabernet is crafted by Thomas Rivers Brown, the winemaker behind cult-status winery Schrader Cellars. A full-bodied red with a bold fruit flavor and fine-grained tannins, this vintage opens with black and blue fruits balanced by a light oak spice, that is mirrored on the nose. It’s captivating fruit flavors pair easily with grilled steak or barbecued ribs.
Dutcher Crossing Cooney Reserve ($50), Alexander Valley. Complex aromas include red fruits, minerals, herbs and molasses. Flavors include cherry pie and cocoa powder. Toasty oak and integrated tannins and a hint of minerality lead to a long finish.
Mi Sueno ($75), Napa Valley. Elegant, classic cab with aromas of dried black fruit and figs. Palate offers bright fruits balanced with toasty oak with a long finish.
Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Blend ($55), Alexander Valley. Enticing aromas of red fruit and vanilla, lead to layers of silky flavors, including dark fruit and baking spices. A harmonious, elegant wine.
There are other great red choices, such as malbec—Trivento ($22) and Trapiche ($12), shiraz, syrah-–Ramey Rodgers Creek Vineyard ($65), and a host of Italian wines such as Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzo ($25), Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Asinone ($63) and 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella Selezione Antonio Castagnedi DOCG ($47).
I hope you find just the right wines for your holiday festivities.
If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Dennis Sodomka