Chapter 5: Winter Wines
The winter season is right around the corner and for many, this means more time spent indoors with the opportunity to spend time with friends and family. To others, it means sampling rich and hearty foods and wines as the holidays and colder weather make their appearances or spending cozy evenings sipping their favorite wine in front of the fireplace. Since wine and winter go together beautifully, it’s no surprise that wine sales are highest during the winter months.
Throughout the winter months, you may be the host of holiday get-togethers for Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day or even St. Patrick’s Day. As you focus on what you’ll need to prepare for the season, you may wonder what kinds of wines are best to drink in winter. While there is no set answer, a good rule of thumb is to choose wines that will pair nicely with the rich textures and savory flavors of the hearty meals that are often served during this season.
The Best Kinds of Wine to Drink in Winter
As the crispness of fall starts to fade, the cooler temperatures and unpredictable weather of winter become a central focus and sweaters, slippers and objects of comfort become more prominent. Because of this, fortified wines and deep, full-bodied varieties become more popular wine choices. During the winter months, many people choose wines that are a little higher in alcohol than they would normally choose, to keep warm and complement rich winter meals.
Many factors make certain wines better suited for enjoying in certain seasons. The way each wine looks and feels along with the foods with which they pair best are just a few of the items to consider when choosing an appropriate winter wine. The temperature at which the wine is served, along with the surrounding temperatures also helps determine what kinds of wine will go best in certain seasons.
Winter wines are generally:
- Heavier and richer: When choosing a winter wine, it’s important to consider the types of foods that you’ll be pairing with them. Winter foods tend to be heartier and contain more meat and fat so the wine you pair with them needs to be strong enough to stand up to and cut through the bold and savory flavors. Winter wines are richer, full-bodied and more flavorful, making them the best complement to foods with the same qualities.
- Served at warmer temperatures: With the exception of champagne, winter wines are typically served at warmer temperatures than summer wines, which are usually chilled to be more refreshing. The warmer serving temperature helps bring out the wine’s aromas and flavors and is more appropriate for drinking when the temperature outside is colder. Certain winter wines are also delicious when served hot, such as in mulled cocktails, which is perfect for keeping warm during cold winter nights.
- Deeper in color and less fruity: Since winter wines typically contain more tannins — the compounds that are derived from the skin, stems and seeds of grapes — they are usually deeper in color. The higher concentration of tannins also causes the wine to have a more sharp and dry taste. While both warm weather wines and winter wines possess fruity notes, those found in winter wines tend to be more earthy and less sweet.
How to Pick a Winter Wine You’ll Love
When it comes to choosing a winter wine, no hard and fast rule dictates what you have to drink in any particular season. Think about the types of wine you enjoy drinking in the other seasons. Do you prefer light and fruity or rich and complex? Each wine possesses different flavors and qualities such as crisp, acidic, dry or oaky. Identifying the flavors you like best and learning about the qualities of the most popular winter wines will help you to choose one that you’ll love.
Since certain types of winter foods go best with certain kinds of wines, you can also learn to choose a wine that will pair well with the types of foods that you like to eat in the winter. Holiday get-togethers usually provide the opportunity to try many different types of food and wine. Don’t be afraid to experiment with food and wine combinations that may be unfamiliar. You may be pleasantly surprised. You can always speak with your local wine merchant and even schedule a wine tasting to try some of the different winter wines that are available.
Winter Reds, Whites, Roses and Wines With Sweet, Rich or Earthy Flavors
Whether red, white, rose or fortified, these winter wines are sure to help you stay warm and beat the winter doldrums. Enjoyed by themselves or paired with your favorite winter fare, be sure that your wine collection is stocked with these must-have winter wines.
Winter Red Wines
Although many people automatically think that red wine is the best wine to drink in the winter, there is no official red wine season. Red wines are usually higher in alcohol, which tends to make you feel warmer. They are also richer and fuller due to the higher concentration of tannins which give the wine a darker color and a drier feel in your mouth. The flavor and texture of winter reds pair well with rich, savory and acidic foods.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a great winter wine, possessing a rich, bold, fruity flavor. Its notes of plum, cassis, blackberry and even coffee, caramel and herbs are flavors that taste even better when it’s cold outside. It is aged in oak barrels which contributes to its complex flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon can be described as sharp, dry, sweet and smooth and is a great red wine for beginners.
Pairs well with: Steak and other beef dishes, holiday roasts, mashed potatoes, mushrooms and cheese plates with sharp and aged cheeses.
2. Petite Sirah
This rich and flavorful wine contains notes of dark fruits, coffee and dark chocolate, reminiscent of yummy holiday treats. It has a high tannin content and a dark, rich color. This bold wine pairs well with bold, flavorful foods and can even be used in sauces and reductions.
Pairs well with: Savory stews, potatoes, braised meats, spicy foods and strong, dry cheeses.
Also known as “Syrah,” this popular winter wine is bold and flavorful. While some Shirazes can be described as “lighter,” many varieties of Shiraz lean toward the “savory” side, with notes of cured meats, blueberry, coffee and smoke. It has a beautiful opaque magenta color due to its high tannin content and a clean, velvety finish. Shiraz is available in both New World, containing more fruity and spicy flavors, and Old World, being more earthy and acidic, varieties. Consider adding a variety or two to your rotation this winter.
Pairs well with: Lamb, grilled meats, seasoned mushrooms, spicy stir-fries and hard aged cheeses.
Developed by adding wine to casks that have grape skins left over from the production of Amarone, Valpolicella wines are full-bodied, rich in tannins and perfect for winter wine-worthy occasions. There are several variations of Valpolicella including Classico, which contains the flavors of strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry and spice, and the Ripasso which possesses notes of plum, espresso, nutmeg, cocoa and spice. Amarone and Recioto are two other variations that are even richer and sweeter.
Pairs well with: Red meat, mushrooms, poultry, grilled vegetables, seafood stews, salmon and other foods with rich, savory flavors.
To many wine enthusiasts, there are few things better than a hearty, deep red wine in the middle of winter.
Winter White Wines
While many people associate white wine with warmer weather, it shouldn’t be passed over as an appropriate winter wine. White wines pair well with many winter comfort foods, and can even be included as an ingredient in your favorite fondue, braised or slow-cooker meal. Winter is the perfect time for sipping full-bodied white wines. The higher acidity level found in the winter whites below helps to cut through rich and heavy winter foods. White wines are best served at temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees F and decanted to bring out their aromas.
1. Chenin Blanc
While Chenin Blancs are often used in context with the word “wooly,” they’re perfect for cozying up with some comfort food, clothes and relaxation. Who couldn’t use more of that? Chenin Blancs contain fruity flavors of apple, pear and passionfruit along with ginger, honey and jasmine and oaky flavors of butterscotch and nutmeg. They can range in variety from fresh and fruity to sweet and oaky and even sparkling varieties, making them a versatile white wine choice for all tastes.
Pairs well with: Sweet and sour cuisine, salads, vegetable dishes, creamy chicken dishes, rich fish, aged cheeses and souffles.
Buttery, flavorful and rich can be qualities that are craved during the winter. Many oaked Chardonnays bring just that. Try a “toasted” variety for a new tasting experience that might be worthy of regular winter enjoyment. Oaked Chardonnays boast flavors of caramel, vanilla and butter with a little citrus. Their dry and fruity taste make them the perfect complement to savory and filling winter foods.
Pairs well with: Thick creamy chowders, mashed potatoes, creamy pasta sauces, chicken, turkey, lobster, sea bass and warm, dense breads.
3. Pinot Gris
Also called “Pinot Grigio” this popular white wine possesses a heavier texture than other white wines while maintaining a light and refreshing feel. Earthy and sweet, Pinot Gris possesses notes of lemons, white nectarines, jicama, clove and ginger. Varieties made in the Alsace region possess more powerful winter flavors than those produced in Italy, which tend to be lighter and crisper.
Pairs well with: Meat stews and other crockpot meals, smoked meats, cream sauces, flaky white fish, mussels and oysters.
Winter Rose Wines
While typically considered a warm weather wine, it is perfectly okay to drink Rose during the winter months. Darker, fuller and more complex than their lesser aged summer peers, winter Roses are bright and palate-cleansing and pair well with heavy and rich winter foods. Rose champagne, while evoking the warmth of summertime, also pairs well with hearty winter dishes. There are several different varieties of Rose wines available.
Rosato is Rose that hails from Italy, made with grapes that can usually only be found there. It is richer, darker and more flavorful than other Roses due to its higher tannin content. It contains notes of spiced cherry and cranberry, melon and jasmine.
Pairs well with: Roasted and grilled fish, shrimp, chicken, vegetables and pork chops.
Described as clean and acidic, this variety of Rose contains notes of melon and strawberry, along with cool weather spices such as cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Although refreshing on a hot day, its ability to pair well with most foods allows Sangiovese Rose to be an appropriate winter wine as well.
Pairs well with: Italian meats and cheeses, curries, Chinese-inspired cuisine.
3. Syrah Rose
This rich Rose contains flavors of red and white peppercorns, smoky cured meats, cherry and zesty lime. Its lovely deep color comes from the variety from which it’s grown.
Pairs well with: Roasted vegetables, shrimp linguini, Southern French and Italian cuisine, garlic and citrus.
Fortified and Dessert Wines
Fortified winter wines are perfect, sweeter and stronger options for winter events, after-dinner enjoyment and holidays. Typically drunk by themselves, dessert wines also pair well with certain foods such as full-fat, sharply flavored cheeses and sweets. Their richness and sweet flavors complement the sweet and savory foods that are often enjoyed during the winter holidays.
To be considered a Port, the wine must hail from a specific region in Portugal. It is then fortified with unaged brandy, adding an extra layer of warmth and a higher alcohol content. It’s perfect for after dinner sipping by the fire. Vintage and tawny ports are richly flavored due to their age, making them the perfect wine to sip on a cold winter evening.
Pairs well with: Blue cheese, chocolate truffles, cherry pie, black forest cake and creme brulee.
Made from a variety of up to four different grapes, grown on the island of the same name, Madeira wine can be starkly dry, very sweet or anything in between. Due to its aging process, it possesses an extra layer of complexity and can generally be enjoyed in the evenings following dinner or at your leisure.
Pairs well with: Nuts, sharp cheeses, stewed and smoked meats, sweet desserts and dark chocolate.
Produced exclusively in Cyprus, containing Xynisteri and Mavro grapes, Commandaria wines are sweet, extremely rich and fruity. These wines contain up to 20 percent alcohol, making them perfect for winter sipping. Sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest wine, Commandaria is meant to be drunk as a dessert wine.
Pairs well with: Preserved fruits such as figs and quinces, bitter oranges and blue cheeses.
Winter Wine Cocktail Recipes
Whether hosting a holiday get-together or cozying up by the fire, these winter wine recipes are sure to keep you warm. The combination of rich fruits, winter spices and full-bodied wines makes them a festive addition to any winter occasion.
1. Apple-Cinnamon Winter Sangria
- 750 milliliter bottle Rioja red wine or Merlot
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup dried apples
- 6 dried apricots, slivered
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups club soda
Stir together the fruit, vanilla bean, honey, cinnamon and brandy in a large saucepan and cook until the mixture boils gently. Allow it to cool a little and stir in the wine. Use a covered pitcher to chill for up to 24 hours. Stir in club soda before serving and serve over ice. For an extra touch, add some of the wine-infused fruit to each glass.
2. Cranberry Thyme Spritzers
- 1 bottle of dry white wine
- 1 cup white cranberry juice
- 1/2 cup seltzer
- Two sprigs thyme
- Fresh cranberries
Add a sprig of thyme to a pitcher or other container and pour the white wine over the top. Let it sit in a cool, dry place for several hours or even overnight. Before serving, add the seltzer and white cranberry juice. Add fresh cranberries and a thyme sprig to garnish.
3. Fireside Martini
- 3 ounces red blended wine of your choice
- 1 ounce Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka
- 2 tablespoons caramel topping
- 2 tablespoons crushed graham cracker
Using two plates, pour some caramel topping and crushed graham crackers onto each. Dip the rim of a martini glass into the caramel topping, then into the graham cracker crumbs. Pour in the wine and vodka and serve.
4. By the Fireside
- 2 ounces 10-Year-Old Tawny Port
- 3/4 ounces Chicory coffee syrup*
- 1/2 ounces lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon of a 70/30 blend of ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon
Fill an Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice and shake and strain in the ingredients. Use a lemon wheel to garnish.
*To make coffee syrup, use a strong Chicory coffee such as Cafe du Monde. Measure 3 scoops of coffee grounds for 2 scoops of water, or 12 scoops of coffee for 8 cups of water. Add in white sugar equal to one-half the volume of coffee and dissolve. Add 2 ounces of vodka per quart of syrup to stabilize the mixture.
5. Mulled Rose
- 1 quart Triennes Rose
- 2 ounces St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
- 2 ounces Creme de Cassis
- 2 star anise
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
Simmer all the ingredients over medium heat and serve in a mug with a cinnamon stick and star anise as a garnish.
Check out some more warm winter wine cocktails in Chapter 6: Winter Holiday Wines.
Get Winter Wines From Marketview Liquor
Whether hosting a holiday gathering or just planning a cozy evening at home, Marketview Liquor has all the wine you need to keep warm this winter. Browse our large selection of winter wines and have them delivered to your door just in time for the colder weather. We also offer select wines that are available with free shipping of six or more bottles or eligible for a mix and match case discount which means you can easily stock up on all your favorite wines for sipping, entertaining or gift giving.