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The Vine Guy: Wines to warm up with

By: Scott Greenberg

Baby, it's cold outside. Winter has come to Washington with a vengeance. Even the snowmen my kids made last week want to come inside and warm up. I usually look forward to the cold weather each year so I can break out big red wines, but this winter, I think I'll have to dig just a little deeper and find some really big red wines -- the thermal underwear equivalent -- to keep me company through this frigid frosting.

What is it about cold nights that beg for the company of big red wines? They just seem to go together. Like Simon and Garfunkel (am I dating myself?), they tend to make each other a little better for pairing. Personally, cold nights give me an excuse to hunker down and enjoy leisurely dinners with friends featuring hearty fare (my wife's cassoulet is my favorite), warm crusty bread and long, stimulating conversations energized by bottles of red wine. I am convinced most of the world's problems could be solved if people took time to sit down and share a glass -- or two -- of red wine and a plate of beef bourguignon.

However, finding the right big red takes a little bit of thought. After all -- and no offense to the beauty and grace of pinot noir -- 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. Retail prices are approximate.

2006 Bennett Lane "Maximus" Napa Valley, CA ($35)

Each year, the winemaker at Bennett Lane creates a special blend from red varietals selected from vineyards located throughout Napa Valley.  This full-bodied blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah 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 pumpkin spices filter in on lengthy finish.


Welcome to Bennett Lane Winery  - Home of 36 90+ Point Wines from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate


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