Living in the upper Midwest, I don’t think of wine in terms of seasons. If it’s 12 degrees outside and I’m feeling something pink, I’m going to open a rosé.
I might not even chill it.
There’s something to be said, though, for a big, warming red wine when the snow is piled higher than the roof of my car.
For our February tasting, my wine group chose a simple, open-ended theme: winter wines. In looking for the wine equivalent of a fleece blanket and a warm cat, we tasted 10 locally available wines from pinot noir to ruby port.
The pinot we started with, a 2016 Bread and Butter Pinot Noir ($17 at Festival Foods) produced in Napa Valley from California-wide grapes, was exceptionally ripe. Chocolatey and smoky with flavors of dried currant, it reminded me of a merlot.
The 2017 Field Recordings Cabernet Franc ($20 at Square Wine Company) was just the opposite, a little spritzy with cranberry flavors. This felt like more of a warm weather, picnic friendly wine, better with food than the Bread and Butter.
We headed to the Uco Valley in Mendoza for a Rhone-style blend, the 2016 Ver Sacrum ($18 at Square). Full of black fruit and earthy flavors and spice on the end, this one was a little hot for some of us, meaning it felt overly alcoholic. We did decant this one, but it could have used more time to open up.
Italy sent us our next few wines, starting with the 2011 Casone Toscana ($12 at Trader Joe’s), a sangiovese-based blend that qualifies as a Super Tuscan thanks to 20 percent syrah. TJ’s is a great spot to find enjoyable Italian wines but this one was a little off, with folks finding rubbery, musty qualities in this older vintage.
The 2015 Pala Cannonau di Sardegna ($27 at Square) made from grenache was the most food-friendly yet, with dried fruit flavors and a barnyard kind of funk (sounds weird, but I was into it). This was such a savory wine, it seemed made for a meat and cheese board.
We splurged on a 2014 Sottimano Barbaresco ($59) from the Pajorè Vineyards in Neive, in Barbaresco. This one we decanted early. It showed dense, assertive tannins — the kind a friend calls “grippy” — as well as red fruit, some savory qualities and a smooth finish. In my better life, I will drink more barbaresco, preferably with meat braised for a long time.
Back in Argentina, the 2015 Finca Flichman Paisaje de Tupungato ($20 at Total Wine) was made from all malbec, with plummy, velvety flavors and lots of pepper spice. One taster took a sip and announced, “I want a steak. Right now.”
A 2014 merlot from Chateau St. Michelle in Columbia Valley ($16.79 at Sadhana Wine Shop) felt like it was going to stain my teeth, with raisins and plums and a slight harsh edge. One friend called it “a velvet pillow.”
To round out our winter wines, the 2013 Ravenswood Zinfandel ($32 at Woodman’s, past vintage) gave us jammy raspberries and lots of soft red fruit. A nonvintage Warre’s Warrior Porto ($20 at Sadhana) brought us home with just the right balance of sweet, dried fruit and freshness on the end.
$20 for a dessert wine this fresh and tasty? That warms me right up.