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Warming reds for winter

Have you ever wondered why soups, stews and pot roasts are so fabulously soothing when it's crappy out? Winter seems to be the time when these dishes perform their best work, and heavier red wines share a similar calling. Why not combine them? When having a meal, try choosing your wine first, and then find something on a menu or in the fridge that complements it. The grapes are the foundation of red wines, providing the heavier or lighter heft in the juice. Each piece of fruit carries its own personality, featuring tannins and flavor that provide the backbone of the wine. Then the winemaker employs certain methods during the fermentation and aging processes to either enhance or reduce these traits. One technique allows the skins and seeds of the grape -- where the tannins reside -- to macerate longer together, giving the wine a heavier, more tannic taste.

A classic winter food wine is Cabernet Sauvignon since it's really difficult to slurp down a big, tannic beverage with cool summer fare. But introduce it to some beef stew, braised lamb shank or pork ragout and you've created a match made in heaven.

Zinfandel, although plenty will argue with me on this point, is a fabulous food wine. With its fruity, earthy qualities, my favorite pairing is pot roast. Pot roast is braised beef with a hearty, roasted "brown" flavor, simmered in wine or broth for hours until tender.

A trendy mover and shaker on the wine scene is Syrah. Its popularity has grown exponentially since it is so approachable and friendly. Known as Shiraz in Aussie-speak, this grape provides a wide base of wine styles -- from light and fruity to bold and spicy. The latter works best with richer, flavorful dishes. Think Steak au Poivre.

A distant cousin, Petite Sirah, is a really fun wine. It has been blended into other wines for centuries to add cool, deep purple color and depth to an otherwise dull, drab mix. Alone, it produces deliciously grapey, easy drinking wines that love milder winter foods like baked beans or spare ribs.

Cabernet Franc, an under-appreciated blending grape from Bordeaux, is peeking its head out of the bottle these days. Lighter in body than its brother Cabernet Sauvignon, it's more versatile and social as well. Since it's somewhat new to the stand-alone spotlight, not all winemakers have perfected the wine yet, but those who have...look out, it's good stuff. Cab Franc's raisin and berry flavors lend it to beef-based soups, nourishing ragouts with plenty of roasted vegetables, and even grilled steaks.

Recommended Wines
2000 Storybook Napa Estate Mayacamas Range Zinfandel Raspberry jammy, with a touch of earthy tobacco on the tongue. Pricey but truly worth the dough. 1/2 $25

1997 Atlas Peak Consenso Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon This wonderful blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot creates a full-bodied, oaky and subtly fruity wine, suitable for hearty winter meals. $30

1999 Girard Petite Sirah Yummy, yummy and big to boot. Black cherry and plum abound in this dark, mysterious liquid. 1/2 $25

1999 Conn Creek Cabernet Franc Nice, smooth tannins with a chocolate-covered cherry kick. Fabulously smooth. $30

The Wine List

ARTHUR'S RESTAURANTS AND WINE SHOPS 4400 Sharon Rd. Feb. 19-Australian Wines; Feb. 26-Oregon Wines. Both classes are held from 6:30-8pm. $20 per person. 704-366-8610.


BARONE'S WINE ROOM offers wine tastings every Wednesday night from 6-8pm. The cost is $10. Barone's is located in Birkdale Village, Huntersville. Call 704-987-0011.


CAROLINA WINE CLUB Winter classes will be held at the Mint Museum of Craft and Design from 6:30-8pm. Four Series: Series II: Session III, Feb. 25-Exploring Wines and Ports; and Session IV, March 4-How to Taste Wine. Individual sessions $30; each series of classes $100 (mix and match any four sessions from any series). Call 704-344-8027.


LA DOLCE VITA! A winter evening of food and wine. Pasta & Provisions and Bonterra Restaurant have planned a wine dinner at Bonterra, 1829 Cleveland Ave. Cost: $85 per person ($10 credited toward wine purchases). Call 704-364-2622 for reservations.


MANGIONE'S 1524 East Blvd. A dinner on Mar. 6, 7pm, featuring wines by Marco Laico of Vino Vino! Each course is paired with a different wine. $65 per person includes tax and gratuity. Call for reservations: 704-334-4417.


NECTAR 1730 E. Woodlawn Rd. Wine tastings will be held the last Tuesday of every month from 5:30-7:30pm. There will be six wines tasted, which will follow a monthly theme. $15 per person includes light hors d'oeuvres. 704-519-4174.


REID'S 7TH ST. WINE SHOP Wednesday Night Flights-5:30-7:30pm, very informal. Three wines will be tasted each week, $10. Four For Friday-Festivities begin at 4pm. Four premium wines are featured in four ways: 2 oz. sample, 5 oz. glass, by the bottle or in a flight, $20. Call 704-513-7014.


SOMETHING CLASSIC AT THE VILLA 715 Providence Road. Wine & food tastings are held from 5:30-8pm on the last Wednesday of the month.Call 704-347-3666.


SOUTHERN SPIRITS announces Winter Wine Classes. Feb. 20: How to Read A Wine Label. $20. All classes are held from 7-8:30pm. Located on Hwy 521, 3 miles south of Ballantyne. Call 803-548-8888 to register.

Wine tastings, classes, or other wine-related events will be listed at the discretion of the editors. Send information to Creative Loafing one of three ways: Fax to 704-944-3605; email to lindsey.herman @creativeloafing.com, or mail at 6112 Old Pineville Rd. Charlotte, NC 28217.

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