On our way to a recent girls’ weekend, my friends and I were all about enjoying the crisp fall weather in sunny eastern Washington State. Then an early-season storm blew in. People, I’m talking temps in the 20’s and three inches of snow. Suddenly it seemed a better idea to whip up a hearty beef stew and fill our glasses with big red wines.
It was time for a My Wine Tribe tasting.
Our aim was to find the best red wines for winter. We were looking for wines that would help take the chill out of the air and pair well with rich, wintry food. And since this is My Wine Tribe, we wanted to provide customized recommendations based on a variety of palate preferences. Not sure what your preferences are? Take this quick quiz to identify them and discover your associated wine tribe.
Off I went to the store in search of robust red wines. In support of my friends in Napa and Sonoma counties, I chose wines from the areas affected by recent fires. Buying Northern California wines is one easy thing we can do to help those in the wine industry who were impacted. So, with full hearts, four California wines and a surprise bonus bottle, our tasting began.
Here’s what we tried:
– Ferrari Carano 2013 Merlot (Sonoma County) $25. Family-owned and operated since 1985, Ferrari Carano has two wineries in Sonoma County, one that focuses on whites and the other on reds.
– Gundlach Bundschu 2014 Mountain Cuvee (Sonoma County) $18. This is a Bordeaux-style blend—mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with touches of Malbec and Petit Verdot—from a Sonoma winery that sustained damage in the fires.
– Seghesio Family Vineyards 2015 Zinfandel (Sonoma Country) $22. Seghesio is synonymous with Zinfandel and has been a fixture in Sonoma County winemaking since 1895.
– Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Reserve (Napa Country) $30. This Napa Valley wine is a classic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.
And now for that surprise bonus bottle:
– Viña Herminia Crianza Rioja 2013 (Spain) $12. Yeah, I know this isn’t from California, but the price was right on this award-winner and the Spanish are known for making hearty wines, so I threw it into the mix for fun.
Let me start by apologizing to the Accessible Tribe. Sorry friends, but these powerful wines are likely not to suit your palate.
The Ferrari Carano 2013 Merlot was the favorite of the Balanced Tribe. Though the scent was a bit questionable (cherries and black pepper are fine, but ethyl acetate and glue?) the flavor won over the Balanced. They appreciated the juiciness of the wine, the cherry flavors and the floral finish with a touch of honey. On its own, this wine is too acidic to be an easy drinker, but it paired nicely with our beef stew. If you’re in the Balanced Tribe and looking for a good wine to go with winter foods, look no further.
The Gundlach Bundschu 2014 Mountain Cuvee wasn’t anyone’s number one choice, but no one found it objectionable, either. Tasters picked up scents of sugar-coated plums, cranberry jam and stinky feet. Without food, this wine is uncomfortably tannic, causing that weird sensation of dry mouth, but with food it’s spicy, with hints of caramel, dirt and berry syrup. Overall, this wine is good, but not great.
The Seghesio Family Vineyards 2015 Zinfandel was a fave of the Developed and Complex Tribes, but it evoked a bit of controversy. This wine is plush, thick and delicious—almost too much so. With tastes of cooked plums, blackberries, baking spices and wood smoke, it’s unforgettable. Though for us it was a bit overpowering, even with beef stew. But this wine is such an experience that, if you’re in the Developed or Complex tribes, you must try it. I recommend pairing it with a spicy brisket or any smoked or barbecued red meat.
Rounding out our California wines was the Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Reserve. This wine was a winner with the Complex Tribe. Scents of black fruits, toast and green bell pepper led the way to tastes of savory herbs, black pepper and fig jam. This is another wine that, on its own, might be too big for everyone but the heartiest of Complex Tribe members. It’s full-bodied, powerful and tannic. Add food, however, and Developed Tribe members will join their Complex friends in digging this wine.
As long as we’re snowed in . . .
A wine from Spain, Viña Herminia Crianza Rioja 2013, was my bonus pick. Lucky me! I really enjoyed this wine, as did my pals in the Developed Tribe. We appreciated the scents of orange peel, smoke and leather and the tastes of baking spices, leather and plums. It’s true one taster found it to taste like dishwasher detergent (Cascade, to be specific) but she got over it when we paired the wine with food. This wine is lighter than the Californians we tried. It isn’t so in your face with tannins, so it’s likely to pair well with an extended selection of nibbles.
So when you are looking for the best red wines for winter remember this; Balanced Tribe members can count on the Ferrari Carano Merlot. Developed Tribe members looking for an easy-drinking wine should try the Viña Herminia Rioja. Developed and Complex Tribe members, if you are barbecuing meat, give the Segehesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel a whirl. And finally, if you’re in the Complex Tribe, look no further than the Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon. Cheers!