The dark days of winter signal the time for "big" reds — elegant and rich, layered with complex cascades of dense dark fruit tethered to supple tannins and hints of spice and oak. A muscular, well-structured Napa Cabernet springs to mind, or perhaps an inky-purple Syrah/Shiraz, an exuberant, well-balanced Zinfandel, or a plump, robust Mendozan Malbec.
But there are other, lesser-known varietals that have plenty of backbone to chase away the sub-zero chills and pair up with the hearty soups, stews, and casseroles of the season. Here are three to consider!
One of the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc grape produces wines that exhibit a bit less body, tannin, and acidity than its more famous offspring, but shares the same intense, rich profile, with a seductive peppery perfume laced with aromas of raspberries, currants, violets, green pepper, and even graphite.
Nebbiolo is the world-class star of Italy’s Piedmont wine-growing region, the grape responsible for the legendary Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Despite their delicate aromas and translucency, Nebbiolo wines are powerfully bold and full-bodied, girded with ample acidity and fiercely gripping tannins that can only be tamed with aging.
Nebbiolo is known for its characteristic bouquet of tar and roses, and its lush palate offers up flavors of blackberries, raspberries, plums, and cherries with hints of baking spices, licorice, and red clay.
Aggressively tannic and purple-black in the glass, Tannat has its origins in the rugged Madiran region of southwestern France. It was 19th century Basque settlers who brought Tannat vine cuttings to Uruguay, where the grapes flourished. In this country, Tannat is grown principally in California.
Madiran Tannats are usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc to soften the severity of the tannins.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• Christina Anderson-Heller
Tasting Devine (Wheaton)
-2012 Lynfred Petite Sirah Reserve $35, sourced from California vineyards, this opaque, deep purple Petite Sirah showcases a generous bouquet of blueberries, currants, sage,
and cedar. The full-bodied palate is vibrant with rich, firm tannins, black and blue fruit.
-2012 Lynfred Tannat $25, an impressively tannic wine, balanced by juicy red raspberries, oak, and spices, all wreathed in enticing aromas of plums, smoke, and freshly-cracked nuts.
• Bruce Jaroski
Malloy’s Finest (Naperville)
-2013 Hill Family Estate "The Barrel Blend" $25, an elegant nose of red fruit and spices ushers in this Merlot-based blend, leading to a seductive palate of raspberries, black cherries, plums, and blueberries. This is a complex wine, dry, full-bodied, and voluptuous.
-2013 Green and Red "Chiles Canyon Vineyards" Zinfandel $25, sourced from three Napa Valley mountain vineyards, this zesty Zin bursts with saturated flavors of black cherries and raspberries with notes of cocoa, vanilla, and spice. The tannins are smooth and the acidity is nicely integrated.