14 wines that are perfect for holiday celebrations, rich cuisine, and evenings in with Netflix.
Break out your ugly sweaters, digital Yule logs, and Game of Thrones references… winter is here. And here’s what we’re hot for when the temperature drops.
14 Winter Wines
First things first, the classics:
Whoever came up with the phrase “appearances can be deceiving,” must have had Nebbiolo in mind. Yes, it looks pale and pleasant like Pinot Noir, but this Piedmontese beast has high acidity and grippy tannins that will make for an experience you won’t soon forget. Decant for 45 minutes and your palate will rain complex rose, cherry, and leather flavors. You won’t know what hit you.
- Classic Regions: Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Valtellina, and Gattinara
- Food Pairings: risotto, charcuterie, winter squash, mushrooms, truffles, fancy silverware, and food cooked in quenelles
‘Tis the season for something rugged. Best described as big, brooding, and boozy, Australian Shiraz is known for its powerful black fruit flavors, savory undertones, and high ABV (14%-15%), thanks to plentiful Down Under sunshine. It’s not for the faint of heart or palate, but it’ll warm you up in a hurry.
- Classic Regions: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale
- Food Pairings: grilled meats, venison, boar, leather club chairs, and snow banks
We promise to keep high-acid and high-tannin Italian wines to a minimum on this list. (OK, we can’t promise that.) But can we gush about traditional Sangiovese for a minute? Earthy and rustic, it goes with all kinds of winter eats and even vegetarian fare. Added bonus: Its complex nose is perfect for sitting, sniffing, and contemplating New Year’s resolutions. BTW, resolve to drink a Brunello this winter. You’ll thank us later.
- Classic Regions: Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico
- Food Pairings: tomato sauce, roasted winter veggies, sausage, pizza, hard cheeses, and cigars
4. Cabernet Sauvignon
We can hear you now: “Thanks for the rec, Captain Obvious.” Still, just how awesome Cabernet Sauvignon is this time of year bears repeating. We’re all eating rib-sticking dishes, accumulating mass for hibernation, and Cab is a no-brainer pairing. But it’s also more than a eating companion, it’s a thinking person’s wine. It’s layered, complex, and if you go Old World, surprisingly subtle. Maybe it’s just us, but you never really know Cabernet Sauvignon. You just continuously rediscover it.
- Classic Regions: Médoc (Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux), Graves, Napa Valley, Maipo, Coonawarra
- Food Pairings: pepper steak, brisket, holiday roast, duck, goose, lentils, and mashed potatoes
It’s so cool to hate on oaked Chardonnay. No, we can’t get behind that. Every wine has a time and a place. The time is now for rich, buttery Chardonnay. Full-bodied with dominant flavors of vanilla, butter, caramel—and a touch of citrus—it’s quite an alternative to egg nog and hot buttered rum.
- Classic Regions: California (North Coast, Central Coast, Santa Barbara), Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Grand Cru Chablis, Pouilly-Fusé), Willamette Valley, New Zealand
- Food Pairings: chicken, turkey, sea bass, lobster, comté and gruyere cheese, mushrooms, cream sauce pasta, and cream-based soups
Tell us, friend: are you a person who drinks Champagne year-round? If so, come in for a fistbump. (Go ahead, bump the screen.) We’re not really sure why so many relegate their Champagne drinking just to New Year’s Eve. It’s light, refreshing, and insanely versatile when it comes to food. Sure, it’s expensive, but there are affordable alternatives. Plus, we can’t think of a better way to cure winter blues than with a bit of the bubbly.
- Classic Regions: Montagne de Reims (for depth), Côte de Blanc (for Blanc de Blancs), and Valée de la Marne (for Blanc de Noirs)
- Food Pairings: New Year’s Eve, fries, bacon, Christmas ham, potato chips, popcorn, latkes, cheese, and nuts
You say you don’t like Port. We say you don’t like Port yet. There are a lot of wines we’ll be sampling this winter, but this is the one we’ll be reaching for after celebrations, by the fireplace, and on the longest of winter nights. We’ll likely kick off with a Ruby, the least expensive and most fresh-faced of the styles. It probably won’t be long before with get to the more expensive, more aged Vintage and Tawny Ports, with all their rich, concentrated flavors. Our mouths water just thinking about it.
- Classic Regions: The Cima Corgo is known as the most classic section of the Douro Valley
- Food Pairings: blue cheese (stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola), creme brûlée, black forest cake, cherry pie, chocolate truffles, and walnuts
But wait, there’s more!
Try these winter wines when you’re ready to go beyond the classics:
Why would we recommend a classically flowery white wine known for peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle flavors? By Late January, you’re probably going to need springtime in a glass.
9. White Rioja
Seek out rare aged Rioja Blanco, then prepare yourself for welcome notes of roasted pineapples, caramelized honey, and hazelnuts.
Pair your red meat, mushrooms, and dark umami flavors with a full-bodied Superior Ripasso, one of Italy’s better values. If you can spring for Amarone, make it happen, Captain.
(aka Monastrell) A gamier, more untamed alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, seek out wines from Jumilla and Bandol for shining examples of this unctuous mother.
Grown on the small hillside of Montefalco in Umbria, deeply opaque Sagrantino is about as bold as bold red wine gets! Just make sure you have fats and proteins when drinking to counter all that tannin.
13. Orange Wine
It’s hard to get going when it’s cold and dark. Reach for one of these when smelling salts are in short supply. (Kidding – kind of.) If you like to warm up with more exotic dishes (Korean, Middle Eastern, African), think orange.
Scoff at Sherry all you want, but the preferred drink of bullfighters makes for one of hell of a winter nightcap. Try an Amontillado or an Oloroso Sherry for a rich, expressive alternative to whiskey.