Good Spirits: Warding Off Winter’s Chill with Wine

There are many ideal wines that partner well with hearty meals and snacks.Ah, winter in New England. For many of us, it’s another chance to ice skate, watch the gentle falling snow or go skiing. But to me, it means hours of shoveling, slipping on the ice and basically becoming a human Popsicle. For those who may share this view, having a good cache of full-bodied delicious red wine (and maybe a white or two) is vital. Squirrels have their acorns-I have my wines.Not only do hardy wines embolden my spirit when it’s been snowing for three days straight, they’re also a perfect match for rich stews, succulent roasts and other savory staples of winter cooking. No light and subtle Pinot Grigios need apply. Garlic, rosemary or other strong seasonings won’t faze a rich red wine. Nor will Manchego, Roquefort or goat cheese. With a deeper flavor, big-bodied red wines can transform a merely good dinner or tasty snack into a memorable event.The key to finding such wines is to look for wine regions with consistently warm growing seasons. Provence, the Languedoc-Roussillon region and the Rhone Valley in France, along with Portugal, for example, generally produce the kind of robust wines craved by those suffering under the winter sun. Other areas-such as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, or Sonoma and Paso Robles in California-can also produce big, muscular wines if the weather falls the right way. Wines from Mediterranean countries can be more predictable in their quality. Imagine a place where sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen are necessities, and those are the wines you’re looking for.Here are some of my favorites to consider. Please note that the retail wine prices cited are from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s Liquor and Wine Outlet; while they are accurate at press time, they are also subject to change.Winter redsFrom the Languedoc, a region in southern France that produces a ton of reasonably priced wines, I like the rustic, dry and fruit-driven 2009 Ch La Roque Pic St Loup red ($15) or the 2009 Arrogant Frog Pinot Noir ($10).Two gems from the Cotes du Rhone that are textbook winter reds are the 2009 Le Pas de la Beaune ($14) and 2009 Domaine de la Janasse ($15). Rhone wines are largely Grenache-based blends of Syrah, Carignan and Mouvedre; all grapes that would make a blizzard back down in fear. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from the southern Rhone, can include blends with up to twenty-three grape varieties. It’s a wine that’s well worth trying if you have the $40 or so to buy a nice one.Some wine producers in California, especially from the Paso Robles area in the south, are inspired by these French blends and produce fine, satisfying wines. One made by Toad Hollow called Erik’s the Red is a gorgeous homage to Rhone winemakers. And at $14, it’s a steal. Another great wine, worth its $32, is the 2007 Vertigo blend from Edward Sellers.Speaking of the south, Argentina has been soaring in quality over the last few years. The Catena family is one of the country’s leading wine producers. Everything I’ve ever tasted from Catena has been well-made and very good for the price, whether high or low. Catena’s 2008 Alamos Malbec ($15) is one of the best bargains you’ll find if you love the big, earthy, richness of the Malbec grape.Like most New World wines, Argentina was inspired by what the French do with Malbec in Cahors. The 2009 Gouleyant Malbec Cahors ($15) has luscious raspberry, black currant and tobacco notes that pair perfectly with lamb.For any steak lovers among us, Bordeaux can’t be overlooked. Probably the most consistently high quality and reasonable example is the Chateau Poujeaux from the Moulis-en-Médoc area of Bordeaux. Blending 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Petit Verdot, this lovely wine shows cassis, chocolate and tobacco-like flavors in a dry and intensely rich delivery. The 2008 is currently available for $35.For another classic Bordeaux, look no further than the 2007 Chateau Rauzen Segla ($90) from the Margaux region. Silky, velvet-smooth and unforgettable, this is a special wine to savor with close friends.Pinot Noir is definitely something to drink in any season. It’s my favorite varietal. Some of the absolute best Pinots in America are made by the extraordinarily talented Merry Edwards in Sonoma. Burgundy is a key influence to her style, as the 2008 “Flax Vineyard” Russian River Pinot Noir ($70) demonstrates. Soft tannins, cherries, licorice and plum are among the many aspects of this fabulous wine. This or any other Merry Edwards wine is worth a detour to find.Mint, herbs and red fruit are also central to the 2009 Decoy Pinot Noir ($25) from California’s North Coast. Oddly, this is the “second” label from well-known but severely overrated Duckhorn Vineyards, and it beats the quality of Duckhorn’s more expensive Pinot Noir by many light years. A lovely, delicious red that virtually cries out “Drink me now!”Winter whitesOf the few white wines I’d choose for cold weather drinking, a concentrated and intensely flavorful Chardonnay from the village of Saint Aubin in Burgundy would fill the role like few others. Chardonnays from Burgundy are pretty much the only ones I like. Give yourself a gift and try the 2009 Saint Aubin from Louis Jadot ($28). You may never look at another California Chardonnay again.The 2008 Chablis of Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin ($18) is another surprising example of how flavorful and juicy Chardonnay can taste. Those from Chablis often show flinty and mineral-citrus qualities.Another excellent white wine to consider is the 2010 Villa Maria “Cellar Selection” Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region ($19). Great acidity, intense lime-citrus fruit and a dry, rich mouth feel are the hallmarks of this beautiful wine.For dessertFinally, for something to really warm the soul and provide a wonderful end to the evening, Quinta do Noval’s 10 Year Tawny Port ($31) is poetry in a bottle. Sweet and spicy, this will sear itself into your memory. Paired with aged cheddar, blue cheese or chocolate, this wine will rewrite whatever you previously thought the word “delicious” might have meant.