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Warming reds 

Curl up with a glass

As I write this column in January, it's 80 degrees outside. In one of the hottest winters on record, I crave cooler days since, damn it, it's supposed to be a little chilly in January. Granted, I live in Florida, but sheesh ... 80 degrees?

Come on, global warming god ... can you give us a nippy break? On Florida's rare bracing days, the mood calls for red wines, but mustering enthusiasm has obviously been difficult this year. Still, it seems contrary to drink whites in January. They are just too ... too summer, conjuring up images of swimming pools and beaches. In an effort to remain firmly in the winter season, I will continue my mission to drink reds, no matter what the thermometer says.

My cheery affection towards red wine goes back to college -- when I lived in the tundra of upstate New York -- to the first time I tasted a toasty Empire State pinot noir. The days, and especially the nights, were frigid, and we needed all the alcohol we could handle to keep us thawed. Although the great majority of our alcohol choices skewed towards cheap Milwaukee's Best, lean college budgets sometimes included reds in front of the fire. The alcohol and the flames tamed our strong spring urges (the urge for spring's warmth, not the primal urges that come with spring.)

But since it's frickin' spring already in Florida, I think I'll just remember that soothing feeling, crank the A/C to arctic and bask in the glory of warming red wine.

Recommended Wines

HdV 2004 Syrah Carneros Like a black fruit salad covered in freshly ground pepper: blackberry, blueberry, black cherry with mellifluous tannins and the perfect touch of acidity. Sw=1. $60. ****

Simi 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Lovely smell of violets, roses and cedar. Taste is eucalyptus, bright cherry, vanilla, oak and a dash of leather from the tannins at the end. Sw=1. $23. ****

Hogue 2003 Merlot Reserve Columbia Valley This wine makes me want to purr. Elegant dark cherry, laced with astringent bittersweet chocolate and a sweet raisin-y finish. A touch of earthy eucalyptus with medium-soft tannins. Sw=1. $30. **** 1/2

Source Napa 2003 Heritage Red Wine Napa Valley Silky yet beefy, a dash of tobacco and full of woody cherry flavor, this wine makes me want a steak and a cigar. Damn good wine. Sw=1. $38. **** 1/2

Buena Vista 2004 Syrah Carneros Black pepper spicy, with tart blackberry, ripe cherry and touch of leather to give it some oomph. Seductive wine. Sw=2. $21. ****

Earthquake 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi Valley Like a glassful of charred smoked grapes, garnished with spicy dried black cherries. A bit out of the ordinary, as well as expensive. Sw=1. $28. ***

Kendall Jackson 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon California Elegant and smooth, with a perfumey, flowery smell and bittersweet chocolate, cherry and white pepper on the tongue. Very nice effort from KJ. Sw=2. $18. *** 1/2

Gouguenheim 2004 Malbec Mendoza (Argentina) A lighter-bodied wine than the others listed here, and it's equally as delicious. Soft, bright cherry with a black pepper zing. Quite yummy. Sw=1. $14. ****

Estancia 2004 Pinot Noir Stonewall Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Raspberry jammy with soft, ripe black cherry and plum. Good acidity and a cedar-y finish. Interesting wine. Sw=1. $25. *** 1/2

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