Baby, it’s cold outside. Winter has come to D.C. with a vengeance. Even the dogs don’t want to go out for a walk — and that’s saying something.
But, believe it or not, I actually look forward to the cold weather each year. It gives me an excuse to open bottles of “big” red wines. Given the early chill this winter, I just might have to dig a bit deeper to find some really big red wines to keep me company through this frigid frosting.
Like flannel sheets or a bowl of chili, big red wines provide warmth and contentment. Pair them with comfort foods, such as beef stew or cassoulet, and big red wines can be elevated into legendary partnership status. More than a few big red wines can stand on their own merit, relying on weight and elegance that demands the spotlight all to itself.
However, finding the right big red takes a little bit of thought. After all, most warm-your-toes reds need to have a little “chewiness” to them. Some of the essential qualities that I look for in winter reds include depth, structure and power. Big, full-bodied black fruit — such as blackberry, dark plum and cassis — usually supplies the power. Tannins provide structure while acidity keeps the wine balanced.
Most “winter reds” will benefit from an hour or two in a decanter in order to soften the tannins and bring out the fruit.
One other trick, if you don’t have the time or patience to wait for the wine to soften, is to pair it with soft cheeses — such as Brie or Camembert — and bread. The milk fat in the cheese will soften the tannins and give provide a rounder mouthfeel to the wine.
Here are several big red wines that will warm your palate without melting your wallet.
Domaine Bousquet is Argentina’s largest producer of wines made exclusively from organically grown and certified grapes. The winery and a significant portion of the vineyards lie in the uppermost reaches of the Gualtallary Valley in Tupungato, within the larger framework of the Uco Valley. The 2017 Domaine Bousquet Reserve Malbec from Argentina is a robust red wine made from one of the most popular grape varieties in the country. Flavors of ripe plum, blackberry fruit and earthy red berries are spread out on a firm body supported by sweet tannins. It’s definitely capable of pairing with pork, game and fowl, or simply enjoyed on its own. $18
Over 25 years ago, Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipping owner and avid traveler, was won over by a small corner of the famed Maipo Valley in Chile. Driven by his Viking ancestry of exploration, he bought land in Chile’s premium red wine-producing valley and tended to the vineyards. Today, with 284 acres of 100 percent certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Maipo, Lontué and Maule valleys, Odfjell Vineyards is recognized as one of the leaders in organic viticulture and biodynamic farming practices in the new world. The 2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100 percent organic vineyards in the famed Maipo and Casablanca Valleys in Chile. Armador, meaning “shipowner,” is Odfjell’s inaugural wine and was first released in 1999 from its Padre Hurtado Estate, where daytime high temperatures during the ripening period are moderated by cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean, which are ideal for bringing balance to big wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose provides scents of dark fruit aromas with attractive notes of mint-chocolate. The mouthfeel is rich and lush, featuring black plum, dark cherry and cassis up front with hints of cocoa, tobacco and leather on the persistent finish. A great wine to pair with burgers or chili. $15
Another big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Bellacosa Wine Company and, according to their website, “hearkens back to a time when wine was expertly crafted in small batches by artisans whose passion was to make the most memorable wine; an era in California when vineyards were family farmed and wines were made by hand in pursuit of purity, flavor and finesse.” Their 2015 Bellacosa Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful expression of Sonoma Cabernet. This full-bodied wine is an electric blanket for the palate. Aromas of dark plum, black cherry and hints of vanilla lead to weighty flavors of blackberry, cherry and cocoa on the palate. Warm waves of earthy cedar and baking spices filter in on lengthy finish. This is a wine looking for a steak. $25
In the center of a windswept Roussillon vineyard in France sits an imposing rock. According to local lore, it possesses a magical capacity to capture power from the earth and diffuse it throughout the surrounding land. It appears that a little of that power makes its way into the oldest vineyard on the Bila-Haut estate, Occultum Lapidem, Latin for “hidden gem.” Produced by legendary winemaker Michel Chapoutier, the 2015 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem from the Cotes du Roussillon region of France is a blend of 50 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache and 20 percent Carignan from biodynamically farmed vines that average 60 years age. It has an expressive nose of black fruit, roasted coffee and red floral notes (think violet and rose petals). Flavors of dark cherry, black plum and smoked meat are supported by soft tannins that give the wine a round mouthfeel and lets the notes of dried plums and fresh herbs shine through on the finish. This “hidden gem” would be a wonderful accompaniment to cassoulet or roast game. $25
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