Some winter wine suggestions.
By Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week November 17, 2005
I am not a fan of cold weather. Shoveling sidewalks and scraping windshields holds no great fascination for me and I would much rather eat a meal served poolside than by a fireplace. But, when you live in the Northeast, winter weather is inevitable and you make due with whatever pleasures you can find until the crocuses return.
One of the compensations for the colder weather is the change from the lighter summer fare to richer, more robust foods. Summer salads, cold soups, and grilled fish give way to foods my grandmother said “stick to your ribs,” such as roasts, rich stews and hearty soups. And the wines change as well, from delicate Pinot Gris and Roses to more complex Cabernets, Merlot, and Zinfandels.
Merlot is a victim of its own popularity. The increase in demand for Merlot over the last decade led to a river of weakly flavored, undistinguished wine which explains why Merlot was beaten up in the movie Sideways. Quality exists in Merlot and it is worth the search especially when serving roasts, pasta or lamb dishes. Founded in 1976, Duckhorn was one of the first California wineries to bottle Merlot as a single varietal rather than blend it with other grapes. Their Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot Estate Grown 2002 ($85) is a splurge, but well worth it, a richly bodied wine with lovely anise, plum and earthy flavors and a long smooth finish. The Duckhorn Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2002 ($80) is also excellent with a full body and plum, herb and black cherry notes. Another very good Merlot is the Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Merlot 2002 ($25) that has sage, licorice and plum flavors while a more value-priced example is the raspberry and plum flavored Chateau Souvrain Alexander Valley Merlot 2002 ($18).
There are also a number of kosher wines that work well with a winter meal. The Galil Mountain Yiron Galilee 2001 ($25) is a medium bodied blend of Cabernet and Merlot with supple berry, cherry and plum flavors. Also from Israel is Yarden Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($26), a beautiful wine with cherry, cassis and plum notes and licorice and subtle chocolate in the finish.
When serving a roast, a leg of lamb or even hamburgers, consider opening a bottle of Zinfandel. One of my favorites is the delightful Rosenblum Rockpile Road Vineyard Zinfandel 2003 ($29), a rich, mouth-filling wine with blackberry, raspberry and spicy oak flavors. This vineyard also makes the excellent Rosenblum Paso Robles Richard Sauret Vineyards Zinfandel 2003 ($19) which has wild berry and blackberry notes and a great finish, as well as the very good raspberry and coffee flavored Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Continente Vineyard Zinfandel 2003 ($19).
Established by a former Disney executive, the Frank Family Vineyards produces a number of wines including the very good Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel 2002 ($33) which has a wealth of flavors including plum, cola, vanilla and berries. The Villa Mt. Eden Napa Valley Grand Reserve Mead Ranch Zinfandel 2001 ($22) has bold raspberry, berry and mocha flavors while the Dashe Dry Creek Louvau Vineyard Old Vines Zinfandel 2002 ($33) has vanilla, plum and raspberry notes. Rancho Zabaco has been making quality value-priced Zinfandels for years and their Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2002 ($10) has bright berry and citrus flavors and good balance. Made from vines almost 100 years old, the Dry Creek Old Vines Zinfandel 2002 ($25) with big bold berry and plum flavors, is enjoyable now, but can also be saved for a few years before opening.
Many of the world’s best wines are blends of different varietals. The Phelps Le Mistral 2003 ($30) is made in the Rhone style from Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah and the little known Alicante Bouschet. It has big raspberry, pepper and earth flavors with a full body and great balance and finish. The Hedges Three Vineyards Red Mountain 2002 ($18) is a wonderfully structured blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with berry and currant notes. From Washington State, the DeLille Cellars D2 2002 ($36), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, has spicy berry and cherry flavors and a gorgeous finish. With zesty currant, berry and plum flavors the Murphy-Goode Wild Card Claret Alexander Valley 2002 ($19), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot, is another good wine to serve with steak.
Australian Shiraz remains a popular choice for winter dining. Two high-quality examples are Plantagenet Shiraz Western Australia Omrah 2003 ($16) with peppery red berry flavors and a good finish and the Wolf Blass Shiraz President’s Selection 2003 ($17) with cherry and blackberry flavors. A great value is Lindemans South Eastern Australia Bin 50 Shiraz ($8) with its floral blackberry notes and a nice finish.