As temperatures cool and layers pile on, diners across the country tend to order more comfort food with richer, more familiar flavors. Red wine is this food’s natural accompaniment. Here are a few big and bold favorite selections.
French Cahors Malbec blends
Even in warm and sunny San Diego, Bertrand Hug, owner of Mister A’s and Mille Fleurs, says he sees a major increase in sales of full-bodied red wines this time of year. He routinely tastes 25 to 50 wines daily to determine which will make it onto the expansive wine lists at his two restaurants. Hug was born in southwest France very near Cahors, so he is proud to serve red wines from Château de Haute-Serre and Château Eugénie in the little-known Cahors appellation. “Their vinification process has changed,” he says. “The current fruitier, softer wines are more approachable than the tannic monsters of the past which were made for long cellaring periods.” Cahors wines are primarily Malbec with some Tannat and Merlot blended in and pair well with duck, lamb, truffles, stews, and goat cheese.
At The Loyal in New York City, wine director Amy Racine frequently pours Bodega Garzón’s Tannat from Uruguay for foodies open to a less-obvious pairing. “It’s a fun and lesser-known grape that I love to introduce friends to,” she says. “Tannat is an inky, dark red that is wonderful with rich winter stews and hearty dishes. It’s juicy but balanced with a leathery and spicy palate that just really fits a cold winter night.”
Spanish Alicante Bouschet
Instead of stews, Brent Braun, wine director at Castagna in Portland, Oregon, craves whole roasted birds in the winter, washed down with Alicante Bouschet by Nacho Gonzalez. “The La Perdida estate wines are full-bodied but have this seductive floral quality that really makes me want chicken fat,” he says. “Nacho is working with really old vines and taking a hands-off approach to winemaking. As a result, he’s been able to wheedle an insane amount of depth and spice out of a grape that was historically considered a high yielding, blending grape of limited complexity.” Although Gonzalez’s wines are small production, look for other Spanish natural red wine that balance body and freshness.
Croatian Plavac Mali
Ashley Broshious, wine director at Joséphine Wine Bar in Charleston, South Carolina, also enjoys introducing guests to varietals they’ve never heard of from smaller wine regions, like Plavac Mali, the most planted grape varietal in Croatia, which is related to Zinfandel. “I think the grape has a tougher texture while still having the spiciness and ripe fruit character of Zinfandel,” she says. “I’ll pair it with roasted squash, especially if the dish has a spice aspect such as cinnamon or allspice.”
California Cabernet Sauvignon
Even as more esoteric grapes like Plavac Mali are trending, classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is still a top seller, especially at steakhouses. Chicago sommelier Daphne Stratta is bullish on the soft tannins and black cherry and mocha flavors of Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon for restaurant Steadfast’s signature 35-ounce Long-Bone Tomahawk Steak.
Italian Piedmont Barolo and Barbaresco
At Smyth in Chicago, sommelier Richie Ribando comes up with wine pairings on the spot as Chef John Shields changes the three tasting menus on a daily basis, often at the last minute. Some of his classic go-tos for root vegetables, truffles, and wild mushrooms include Italian Piedmont reds like Barolo and Barbaresco, along with Bordeaux.