Thomas J. Story
In the Napa Valley, where I live, our hot, dry summers and cold, gray winters instill in me the desire ― no, the need ― to eat and drink seasonally.
This time of year, with cold rain whipping around the vines, I'm simply not in the mood for a light salad and a crisp Pinot Grigio. The cold-weather, cozy-wine, comfort-food zeitgeist is upon us, and words like big, rich, and red make more sense than ever. With that in mind, here are some delicious reds you might consider drinking one night soon.
Our hometown girl (most of the world's Zin is in California), Zin is a wintertime winner thanks to its hedonistic texture, a fascinating cross between velvet and pancake syrup.
The best Zins possess a thick, jammy quality that makes them enormously satisfying with heartwarming dishes like pot roast, pizza, lasagna ― even macaroni and cheese. Plus, Zin's extra-fruity quality means it stands up well to spice, making it the perfect wine for, say, a mole dish or enchiladas.
Australian Shiraz is dramatically distinct from its counterpart in France: Syrah. Imagine a wine that's bigger than most Zinfandels and as deeply concentrated as the best Cabernets. Expect tidal waves of menthol, chocolate, blueberry, and licorice flavors.
In California and Washington (where the grape is gaining fast in popularity), some Syrahs lean toward the fleshy Australian style; others are leaner, more "French." In Australia, Shiraz is drunk with grilled or broiled meat ― often beef or sometimes kangaroo (which leaves you with at least one comforting option).
The king of reds didn't get its reputation by being wishy-washy or bland. Super structured, dense, and full of cassis and dark chocolate flavors, Cabernet is a commanding, compelling wine. It will swamp a delicate entrée, so serve it with something equally powerful: a rib roast, roast leg of lamb, or thick veal chops.
PICKS FOR THE SEASON
Geyser Peak Zinfandel 1998 (Sonoma County), $17. Jammy and saturated with blueberry and cherry flavors.
Peter Lehmann Shiraz 1999 (Barossa Valley, Australia), $20. Warm, generous, and mouth-filling, with great density and structure.
McDowell Valley Syrah 1999 (Mendocino), $12. One of the oldest producers of Syrah in California still makes one of the best bargains, with flavors reminiscent of cherry pie and hints of vanilla. A very satisfying red; a more than satisfying price.
Fetzer Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 (North Coast, CA), $17. A Cabernet like this ― full of simple but delicious boysenberry and cassis flavors ― makes a Sunday night roast memorable.