Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wines to Brighten the Winter

By Liza B. Zimmerman


The Swedes have long celebrated Santa Lucia Day during the darkest months of the winter. To celebrate the holiday the family's eldest daughter generally wears a wreath of candles on her head and serves her parents breakfast in bed. Younger siblings often help and it is a tradition that continues among Scandinavian Americans as well.

These winter festivals are all about bringing light (both figurative and real) and festivities to the coldest and darkest time of the year. The types of wines you drink in the depths of winter can also lift your outlook on gloomy months and can be a reason in and of themselves to celebrate with friends and family.

A Little Fizz is All is Takes
There's nothing like sparkling wine to get everyone in a festive mood. It pairs divinely with rich winter foods, like fried and cheese-inflected dishes. Classic and yeasty Champagnes are always a good choice, such as Duval-Leroy Brut, and there are so many sparklers that will also be delicious.

The Loire Valley and Alsace both make some of France's greatest, primarily dry, sparkling wines. The varietals may not be the same--which is part of the fun--but the classic French winemaking style and pelage is there.

Prosecco is always an affordable Italian choice. Franciacorta is its granddaddy of the category and doesn't even cost that much more. The bubbles tend to be finer and it often tastes Older World with a pleasantly heavier yeast profile on the palate. There are also many fantastic Cavas, which can have a lighter taste profile than many Italian and French sparkling wines.

Big Succulent Reds
Winter is the time to bring out those wines you have been hiding: hopefully in a temperature-controlled space.  Luscious Zinfandels from places like Amador Country in California will pair so well with big hunks of grilled steak or lamb.

This would be the season to open those older Napa Valley Cabernets as well. Hopefully the tannins will have evolved enough to interact with the fat structure of fat-riddled cold-climate meats--and potentially stand up to bitter winter vegetables--in an appealing way.

Bordeaux blends are also ideal for this time of year. You can go left- or right-bank depending on what you are serving. Right-bank wines, that have more Merlot, often open up sooner and show softer notes with food. Or play around with some classics from Napa and Sonoma. Washington is also making a name for itself in the hotter climates out in Eastern Washington for creating some incredible, and food-friendly, Syrah-based reds such as Tertulia.

Go Sweet
Everyone put a few pounds on with holiday indulgences, and wine lovers are no exception  This would be the time of year to bring on that Muscat Beaumes du Venise with a Carmel treat or some multi-layered Tawny or Vintage Port on its own or with chocolate; and perhaps event a little Sauternes with a tiny bite of cheese.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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