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Reds to Beat the Winter Blues

by Laura Grimmer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 23, 2013

When the weather turns colder, our palates change. We don't really want fresh basil-tossed pasta, or light and frothy desserts. No, we seek warmth and comfort. Things like silky stews dolloped over noodles, hearty winter salads of escarole and toasted walnuts, and homemade desserts like apple tarts.

The same can be said of wine. While a bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire region brightens up a warm summer night, a chilly winter evening pushes us toward a homey red, something with meat on its bones that can match wits with a Boeuf Bourguignon.

You've got a lot to choose from when it comes to delicious reds, but your final choice will depend on your palate and your pocketbook.

Pairing red wines with food can sometimes be a little tricky. You've been told that red wine goes great with a grilled steak, right? But for some lighter reds, a grilled steak would completely overpower the flavor and weight of the wine, which would disappoint you by tasting wimpy and thin. And then you've heard that white meat and fish should only be paired with whites, right? But there are few matches as lovely as a perfectly roast chicken and a Bordeaux, or salmon and Pinot Noir.

The Perfect Pair

Here are three things to consider when looking for the perfect wine and food pairing.

1. The weight of the food and the wine.
Is the food heavily seasoned or dripping in a rich sauce? Char-grilled? That’s full-bodied food. You’ll want to choose a wine with a similar weight and flavor profile that will stand up to the food and complement it versus being overwhelmed.

2. What grows together goes together.
Start with wines that are from the part of the world where your dish originates. If you’re making an acidic tomato-based dish, look to Italy for wines that were "made" for that taste profile. Love Spanish tapas? Look no further than Rioja. Sounds simple, but it’s a terrific guide to matching up wine with your menu.

3. The kind of wine you like.
Ultimately, drink what you like. If you prefer lean, acidic Old World wines from France or Italy, chances are you aren’t going to like a bold, fruity New World wine from California as much, even if it’s a great "technical" match.

Save the Skinny for Summer

I’d Like a Medium Body, Please
Do you like reds that are ineffably quaffable? Ones you can drink without making a funny face? Chances are, you like so-called medium-bodied red wines. These wines will have moderate tannic acid (the trait that makes your mouth feel dry inside) because medium-bodied grapes tend to have thinner skins, which release less tannin when the wine is made.

Examples of grapes that usually make light- and medium-bodied reds are Gamay (found in Beaujolais), Cabernet Franc (perfect specimens of this come from France’s Loire Valley, from regions like Chinon and Bourgeuil), Pinot Noir (from Burgundy in France or Oregon in the United States), Tempranillo (from Spain), and Sangiovese in Italy (the lovely grape in Chianti).

These grapes make wines that go with nearly everything, but especially dishes like a roast chicken, anything pork, lighter beef dishes and even some weighty fish dishes.

I Prefer My Wines Full-Bodied, Thank You
Do you love nothing better than a glass of deeply colored nectar, oozing juicy fruitiness and tannins that threaten to take skin off the roof of your mouth? Big, fleshy New World styles made from thick-skinned grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon (California’s shining star), Malbec from Argentina, or Shiraz from Australia may be for you.

Cabernet Sauvignon also lives in another famous guise in France’s Bordeaux region, typically as a leading actor in those world-famous blends. There, the grape will produce less fruity wines made in a slightly different, more subdued style. But the weight and tannins will still be a lovely match for a heavier dish.

And Shiraz is the Down Under equivalent of Syrah, the noble grape of the Rhône Valley in France and part of one of the standard-bearing wines from that region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Weightier dishes like grilled meats, fatty pork fare, hearty stews and lamb and mutton cry out for these bigger wines.

Five Can’t Miss Picks

EDGE turned to one of our favorite sommeliers and wine educators Kristen Siebecker for these gems that run the gamut from everyday drinking to special occasions.

2010 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
At $45, this is a lovely example of a Northwest Pinot Noir, with firm acidity balanced with bright red fruit, cherries and smoky chocolate.

2011 Christmas Red Puglia Sangiovese IGT
A steal at about $10, is a terrific way to enjoy this lovely Italian varietal.

2009 Scholium Project Chuey Cabernet Sauvignon
From Sonoma County, it’s a little spendy at around $71, but the rich, smooth mouth feel is a perfect match for fatty pork cheeks.

2009 Domaine des Senechaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape
This a standout at $35 and a great representation of this Rhône all-star.

2010 Boom Boom Syrah
For a North American spin on Syrah, this wine from Washington State’s Charles Smith Wines is a juicy match for that steak and even better on your wallet at $20.

If you’re in the New York City area, you can get firsthand advice from Siebecker at one of her "Popping Your Cork" classes, which provides informative tips for casual wine drinkers. The next session is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Laura Grimmer is a private chef and trained sommelier based in New York.


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