Here are 12 wines tailored to match hearty, cold-weather foods. Most are from California, but there are also wines from New Zealand, Argentina, and France. Each wine is made from a different grape.
Cassis and blueberry teem in the intensely floral bouquet of the Niebaum Coppola Cabernet Franc 1999, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Seductively plummy and jammy, rich, dense and velvety and framed with plush, polished tannins, it`s an authentic and delicious representative of the grape that provides the red wines of France`s Loire Valley. Excellent.
Depths and widths of spicy oak and grainy tannins cradle black cherry and cassis flavors in the absolutely lovely Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Knights Valley, enticingly accented with chocolate, licorice and lavender. Excellent.
The "Block Collection" series of individually designated wines launched by Geyser Peak a few years ago includes some of the company`s best products. An example is the Geyser Peak Block Collection Ricci Vineyard Chardonnay 2000, Carneros, a resonant, vibrant and pure chardonnay lively with classic pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with orange zest and blossom. Generously ripe, the wine is dry and structured with spicy oak that never threatens to overwhelm. A big spicy finish seems to revel in elements of buttered toast and grilled hazelnuts. Excellent.
Forget everything you believe about the supposed light-hearted nature of wines from Beaujolais. The Morgon 2000, Domaine Jean-Ernest Descombes, "negociated" by the ubiquitous firm of Georges Duboeuf, is hugely ripe, wild and winsome, dense with branchy, briary elements (and a touch of beet root) supporting luscious black currant, plum and blueberry flavors. It manages to be fresh and autumnal simultaneously and was terrific accompaniment to lamb shanks braised with potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Excellent.
Morgon is one of 10 villages in Beaujolais allowed to attach their names to their wines; theoretically, they should be better than Beaujolais-Villages or generic Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau isn`t even on the same planet. The other "named" villages are Moulin-a-Vent, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Regnie, St. Amour, Chenas and Chiroubles.
From way south of the border comes the Catena Malbec 1999, Lunlunta Vineyards, Mendoza, Argentina. Smoke, briars and brambles, touches of leather and roasted meat and intense cassis and plum scents roil in the bouquet; a rich, warm and spicy wine, decked with formidable tannins, it still displays notable jammy, luscious black fruit flavors. Excellent.
The Sterling Merlot 1999, Napa Valley, possesses every quality you want in a merlot that emphasizes seductiveness over profundity. No edges mar this luscious and succulent amalgam of ripe black currants draped in dark chocolate, violets and glittering minerals. Drink up and be happy. Excellent.
Pinot gris and pinot noir
The Byron Pinot Gris 1999, Santa Maria Valley, sports a lovely bouquet of slightly buttery and creamy pears and apples wreathed with spicy oak; lushness and juiciness in the mouth are deftly balanced by limestone and flint elements and a slightly bitter finish. A superior example of how the grape, well-known in Alsace and northeastern Italy, can be handled in California. Excellent. The absolutely entrancing Byron Pinot Noir 1998, Santa Maria Valley, reveals depth upon depth of cranberry and black cherry flavors twined with baking spices, roses and violets in a voluptuously satiny texture wrapped around a core of remarkably intense sweet ripeness. All this is a dry wine meant for food; roasted duck or chicken would be perfect. Excellent.
Scents of lychee, pears, exotic spice and a touch of rubber eraser practically detonate in a glass of this incredibly pure and intense wine; smoke and toast come up, leading to vibrant mango, banana and pear flavors and a finish startling in its bracing qualities. This is what riesling was meant to be. Exceptional.
The Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand, leaps from the gate in a welter of anise, hay, gooseberry and pink bubblegum, almost preparing your palate for the scintillating acid, dense and powdery and chewy texture and the luscious ground upon which grapefruit and limestone contend. This is the sort of wine that has secured New Zealand`s reputation as a hotbed for sauvignon blanc. Excellent.
Soft, mellow and quite drinkable, the Marques de Caceres 1998, Rioja, is rendered in the traditional style of dried spices and flowers, plum and cherry scents and flavors with touches of leather, licorice and chocolate, while moderate oak and tannin provide unobtrusive firmness. A lovely wine and great accompaniment to ox-tails braised in rioja wine with tomatoes, peppers and onions.
Mouth-filling, smacky tannins don`t detract a whit from the luxurious exoticism of the Rancho Zabaco Stefani Vineyard Zinfandel 1999, Dry Creek Valley. A heady bouquet of new leather, violets and licorice, intense boysenberry, blueberry and black currant scents hint ing at minerals, iodine and creamy oak segues smoothly into a wonderfully velvety and luscious wine that could still age two or three years. Excellent.