There aren’t many things better this time of year for warming your tummy than a big glass of red wine. Most wine drinkers opt for big reds during the winter because of their hearty qualities and dense, dark flavor profiles. Having a glass of Chardonnay doesn’t have the same appeal when you are hanging out in front of the blazing fireplace, as snow blankets the landscape. But choosing the right wine can be confusing for some people because there are so many American red wines on the shelves these days. Here’s a look at several domestic red vintages that are guaranteed to make your toes curl in delight this winter.
1) Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($13)
Columbia Crest Winery produces some of the best wines in Washington. This Columbia Valley winery is well-known for its luscious Cabernet Sauvignons. (Wine Spectator magazine recently gave Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon a coveted number one rating.) The winery’s 2007 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon is an affordable wine that is widely available in the U.S. This medium-bodied red wine is relatively silky and mild on the palate, but it intensifies as it races down the sides of your tongue. Its chocolaty cherry essence gives way to a pronounced cassis flavor, followed by a slightly spicy finish.
2) J. Lohr Estates Old Vines Zinfandel 2008 ($17)
The Paso Robles area of California’s Central Coast region is known for its big, eye-opening Zinfandels. And J. Lohr Vineyards produces some of the best and most accessible red wines that this region has to offer. One in particular is the J. Lohr Estates Old Vines Zinfandel made by winemaker Steve Peck. This big Zin, aged in American oak barrels, then finished in French oak barrels, boasts concentrated flavors that range from raspberry to chocolate to tobacco, with a hint of black pepper on the finish. Its dark plum hue looks beautiful when swirled in a big wine glass.
3) K Vintners Motor City Kitty Syrah 2007 ($30)
Winemaker Charles Smith, owner of K Vintners in Walla Walla, Wash., has become a rock star of sorts when it comes to making Syrahs. (Food and Wine magazine recently named him “Winemaker of the Year.”) This flamboyant winemaker (you should see his wildly curly long hair) seems to have a knack for producing beautifully dark Syrahs. His small winery has become so popular that his wines are literally flying off the shelves, making them harder and harder to find. But you will probably be pleased if you are lucky enough to score a bottle. Motor City Kitty Syrah is an excellent pick for a cold winter night. This deep, dark red wine is redolent of a damp forest floor (musty, if you will), with pleasant hints of fennel and mild floral tones, finished by a cedar-like spiciness.
4) Snake River Winery SGM blend 2006 ($17)
Idaho’s Snake River Valley wine region is starting to produce some excellent red wines, considering that the area’s wineries are relatively new to the world of winemaking. (The government-approved Snake River Valley AVA just went into effect about 3 years ago.) Snake River Winery, located in southwest Idaho, is quickly earning a name for itself, especially for its Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre blend. Winemaker Scott DeSeelhorst seems to have found a winning combination for this hearty Rhone-style blend. The SGM is an extremely drinkable wine that is reminiscent of black currants, licorice, musty raspberries and wild herbs, making it a good pick for wintertime drinking.
5) Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007 ($25)
It’s widely known that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is Pinot Noir country. This lighter red varietal doesn’t necessarily fall into the big winter red category, but that doesn’t mean that Pinot Noirs can’t be enjoyed during the colder months. Willamette Valley Vineyards produces some incredible wines that delineate the region’s moderate climate. The winery’s Pinot Noir is earthy and bold in its subtleties, which range from hints of a musty forest floor to anise to tart cherries, not to mention lingering tones of cedar and vanilla. Expect a mellow finish with this well-balanced Pinot Noir.
6) Thurston Wolfe Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red 2007 ($16)
Red table wines (usually blends) are a perfect pick this time of year, and Thurston Wolfe Winery in Washington’s Columbia Valley puts out an affordable blend of Primitivo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, with a hint of Lemberger. Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red is a full-bodied blend that’s aged in American oak barrels. This fruit-forward wine makes a bold, lush statement on the palate, followed by an earthy spiciness that is indicative of the sprawling desert region. This wine is widely available in Washington and Oregon, even though Thurston Wolfe is a small winery.
7) Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($20)
Clos du Bois is a large California winery, located in Sonoma County, which produces several remarkable wines. The winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon (made with 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Cabernet Franc, and 10 percent of other Bordeaux varietals) is full-bodied in nature with a deep ruby red hue, giving it a luscious mouth-feel. Expect lots of blackberry and vanilla essences, with a subtle roasted coffee bean aroma on the nose. This big red has a velvety finish, accentuated by hints of spicy clove.
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