Greetings, Wineaux Friends:
Here we are, deep in the dead of winter, and there are two things I crave. 1) Red wine (not, like, at breakfast, or even lunch, really, unless it’s Friday or Saturday and there’s a burger involved) but in the evening, I want red wine. It beckons with warmth and begs thoughtful consideration of so many interesting aromas and flavors. 2) The second thing I want is good company! It’s all too easy to curl up on one’s couch in the winter catching up on movies or TV shows, but getting out and having fun with friends makes gray, cold winter days and weeks so much brighter!
And so I propose: winter wine tastings! You can find wine tastings all over the place, at supermarkets, wine shops, even your local wine bars – all you have to do is check web sites or call and ask.
A new chef friend and I recently ventured out on a frigid Monday night to a tasting at the fancy, new Whole Foods near me: $5 for five 2-ounce pours of “winter reds.” We figured we’d taste, talk, catch up and be home an hour and a half later.
Three hours later, we’d tasted generous pours of five beautiful wines, snacked on a variety of tasty hors d’oeuvres and cheeses and met some new friends! It was an extraordinary evening for two key reasons: 1) our gracious hosts, J.P. and Alisha at Whole Foods, created a really convivial vibe. They got conversations started, asking people about why they liked wine, what sort of foods they thought might go well with each wine, etc. And 2) they poured delicious high-quality wines, paired with really nice bites.
The tasting was seated, and our table of six ended up comparing notes on each wine, dishing about what foods would go best with each wine. It was a really fun night that reinforces how food and wine bring people together – even at a supermarket wine tasting!
Below are impressions of the five wines we tasted, in case you might be looking for some wine-spiration this winter.
The official ratings: ♥=meh, it’s okay. ♥♥=like it, want to be friends with it; ♥♥♥=really like it, want a second date with it; ♥♥♥♥=love it! put a ring on it, want to marry it!
♥♥ El Terrano 2015 Tempranillo This Spanish Tempranillo is a beautiful dark ruby color, with blockbuster tannins, carrying notes of tart cherry, black pepper, tobacco and a slight rose scent. After it opened up a little in the glass, we all noticed an appealing aroma of cocoa. This wine would be great with salty charcuterie and hard cheeses, like Manchego and any red meat, especially lamb chops. $10.99
♥♥Angels & Cowboys 2015 California Red Blend From Sonoma County, this Zin-forward blend was bursting with fruit — red fruit, black fruit, all the fruits! Then came an herbaceous note – tomato leaf (I know this because I sniff tomatoes on the vine at the grocery store!) – followed by an alluring earthy scent. It was big, powerful, brawny but also quite silky in texture and when someone called it “sexy,” the whole table agreed! We all wanted some sweet, tangy BBQ-sauced meats – pulled pork or brisket – but alas, no one had any on them, so we satisfied ourselves with cheddar cheese, which was pretty damn good with this wine. The wine was a little high in alcohol for me (14.8%), but I liked it and imagine I would promote it to three stars with … BBQ sauce! $23.99.
♥♥♥La Royale 2015 Châteauneuf du Pape Châteauneuf du Pape is a French wine from the Rhône Valley that can be red or white (red is more common) and it can contain any combination of up to 13 grapes. This one was 70% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah and 5% Cinsault and it was fascinating. At first, it was super tight – like, we were getting no aroma. But after just five minutes in the glass, it opened up to reveal a whole universe of fruits, flowers and spices! Black raspberries and dried strawberries, lavender, earth, cardamom and other baking spices. It was gorgeous! We all wished for some leg of lamb with roasted caramelized vegetables or a bowl of beefy French onion soup brimming with melted gruyere cheese. $31.99.
♥♥♥ Banshee 2016 Pinot Noir From Sonoma County, this rooty-tooty, fresh ‘n fruity wine sang with cheery cherries and raspberries, then gave way to vanilla and coconut notes, followed by a floral flash of violet and lavender and finally a tangy exclamation point of pepper and even a little citrus, like Meyer lemon. It was a little on the shallow side (short finish), but it’s a baby still and I imagine a year or two in a cellar would do wonders for this wine. The food pairing ideas ranged from roasted chicken to fried chicken, marinated pork tenderloin, pulled pork and roasted salmon with soy or teriyaki. $16.99
♥♥♥♥ Damilano 2016 Barbera d’Asti Every time I taste, there always seems to be one wine that really grabs me, and this was it. It’s big, lush, velvety, fruity (ripe red plums and cherries), floral and smooth as silk. It’s super young, but absolutely charming in every way and I wish I had a glass of it right this instant! Barbera is made in the Piedmont region of Italy, from the Barbera grape, and it’s a little softer, a little sexier than its block-buster neighbor Nebbiolo from the same region (which goes into Barbaresco and Barolo). This Barbera would be a charming partner with so many foods – pasta with Chanterelle or Cremini mushrooms, pizza with sausage and/or mushroom, hard cheeses like Parmesan, any roasted meat, salamis and sausages. I. love. this. wine! $21.99
I hope you are inspired to check out some winter wine tastings in your own ‘hood. It’s a fun way to spend time with friends old and new and discover fun new wines to warm up your winter. Cheers, everyone!