What makes a wine a candidate for the winter list rather than summer? Both the winter and summer lists are meant to suggest high value, i.e., we think that they deliver more for the price vis-à-vis many wines in the same price range. Summer wines are lighter, with an emphasis on being refreshing. They are served with lighter fare and once again, the lighter body assures that they will complement rather than dominate the plate. Winter wines are served with heartier meals or enjoyed on their own as a sort of comfort wine–in front of the fire with friends, though in the COVID epoch, your friend may be a good book. We typically swing toward more whites and rosés for the summer, while focusing on reds and fuller-bodied, richer whites for winter. The list below reflects that variation, offering some fuller, richer, rounder winter warmers.
Pullus, Pinot Grigio, Stajerska, Slovenia, 2020: $15
This is a Pinot Grigio with serious identity. It shows a very pale but decidedly copper-pink hue, the product of 2-3 days skin contact with the “grey” (gris) skins. The wine has a spicy nose and palate, along with stone fruit (pear, peach), a whiff of something floral and that compelling minerality on the finish. It’s a full-bodied wine, an ideal winter white. Four of us tried it and all of us were so surprised by how much we liked it. You may be too!
Colombaio di Santa Chiara, “Selvabianca,” Vernaccia di San Gimignano, 2020: $19, organic
100% Vernaccia. We have championed this wine for the past 4 vintages; while it varies, it is always delicious. Though it shows plenty of freshness (it was bottled less than a year ago), it also has sufficient weight to be at the table. The nose carries aromas of Meyer Lemon and orange fruit along with some herbal notes of sage and maybe a whiff of tarragon. The wine goes in with that fresh crispness before you get the weight. Flavors include ripe pear and date, then the green sage now bay herbal note emerges. The almondy-bitterness comes in on the finish, which I find very pleasant.
Pikasi, Rebula, Vipava Valley, Slovenia, 2019: $15
Rebula is a white variety found in Friuli, where is it known as Ribolla Gialla, and in Slovenia, where it is called Rebula. Aromas and flavors include a hazelnut-almond nuttiness that is both sweet and bitter, melon, lemongrass, a whiff of spring blossoms, some lime curd and a lovely minerality. Though there is some weight to the wine, it gets lifted by the burst of acidity on the finish. The dancers on the label are inspired by winemaker-owner, Matic Rodica, also a professional ballroom dancer. 200 cases made.
Mullineux, Kloof Street, Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 2020: $18
100% Chenin Blanc, and this description from Neal Martin, Vinous, 89: 85% fermented in tank and 15% in neutral oak, has a fresh nose of citrus fruit and touches of grass clippings. The palate is well balanced with notes of lemon curd and orange peel, gently fanning out on a flavor-rich finish, and leaving hints of crème caramel and chamomile on the aftertaste. Delicious.
Castelfeder, Kerner, Alto Adige, 2019: $20
Two of us tasted this wine independently, then shared notes. Here are some of those: Really interesting wine, more umami than fruit. The nose is fairly petrol, with Beeswax, lanolin, floral and something vaguely green– lime and eucalyptus. Gorgeous and compelling nose. The palate is round and soft, yet lighter than the 14% leads one to expect. There are flavors of cedar, eucalyptus and mineral; these are balanced by a sweet, candied fruit (lemon drops, pineapple) and a hint of spice. We like this a lot.
Cantina Marilana, “Sikele,” Grecanico Dorato, (orange) Terre Siciliane: $17, organic
Grecanico Dorato is Garganega (Soave) but called Grecanico on Sicily. This is our “intro” to orange wines, i.e., white wines in which the juice stays in contact with the skins and extracts both color and flavor (and tannins). This wine spends less than a full day on its skins, which gives you a sense of the difference it makes yet retains a freshness that often gets subjugated by white wines aged in amphora and thus exposed not just to skins but to oxygen. The nose is salty and citrusy, with a bit of resin and ginger. The palate shows riper fruit than the nose suggests, moving more toward apricot and pear; plenty of minerality and some nuttiness (almonds) with a repeat of that ginger note.
Pesquié, Luberon, 2019: $16, organic
We had a little hiatus from Pesquié when the 2017 did not keep its position in our Southern Rhone offerings, but it is back and beautiful this vintage. Pesquié is located on the lower slopes of Mt. Ventoux which, through a combination of altitude and wind currents, is a decidedly cooler appellation than most of the Southern Rhone. Less intense heat and cool nights allow the berries to ripen more slowly and retain their acidity. A blend of 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, the 2019 displays aromas of raspberry and blueberry fruit, a whiff of lavender and something invitingly earthy, a combination of herb and spice, and a pretty minerality on the finish.
Biotteau, Anjou Rouge, 2019: $16
80% CF, 20% CS—a near perfect blend, so far as I am concerned. Warm earthy-sweet coriander seed and orange peel, floral, a dark dried cherry fruit with a Luden’s lift, maybe just a slight bittersweet, dark cacao with cayenne, but then it transforms to that floral and back. Molasses, fig sandalwood—lots going on in this little wine. There are tannins here, which suggests that it could use more time, and one reviewer gave it a tasting window of 2029-2050! Maybe some of you young people could buy some to cellar for the next 25 years. My plans include drinking more of this in the year ahead!
Cesari, Mari, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, 2018: $20
A blend 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Mollinara. Ripasso is an excellent winter warmer, made by taking the most recent vintage of Valpolicella and passing it over the skins and pulp left from the fermentation of Amarone. This “repassing” starts an additional fermentation that extracts more flavors and creates more weight, transforming Valpolicella from a light, simple, higher-acid red to a more glycerol, and thus more silkiness, and more concentrated flavors that include spice and earth.
The “Mara” is a terrific example of this transformation. After its second fermentation, it spends 2 months in French oak, then 10 months in Slavonian oak before being bottled. The Ripasso method and aging transform the tart cherry to something more like fig or even balsamic. It adds a note of toffee or roasted coffee that will pair nicely with a charcuterie plate that includes blue among the cheeses. Snuggle up by the fire with your stack of New Yorkers or a favorite mystery author (Martin Walker and ML Longsworth if you want to indulge in the food-wine theme), a plate of cheeses and nuts—and cured meats for those who eat them—and a glass of Mara. January is not so bad after all.
Crotin, “San Martina,” Barbera d’Asti, 2019: $17, organic
Crotin is one of those producers that embodies everything we like about this business: it is a small, independent, family-owned and run winery, organically farmed, making wines that are so tasty and for which we are just grateful to be able to support. Brothers Federico, Marcello and Corrado Russo run the farm, winery, restaurant and bed and breakfast.
Barbera is a low-tannin, higher-acid red that because of its acidity is going to come off lighter and fresher. This is a red to put into the regular rotation and know that each time you open a bottle, you will be reuniting with an old friend with whom you can spend a casual evening and who will lift your spirits and bring a smile to your face.
Three Wine Company, Old Vines Field Blend, Contra Costa County, 2018: $15
Carignane (42.0%), Mataro (19.8%), Zinfandel (21.3%), Petite Sirah (13.3%), Alicante Bouschet (1.1%), and Black Malvoisie (2.5%) The grapes come from some legendary old vines around Oakley, California, an area settled largely by Portuguese who planted vines there 150 years ago. Oakley sits about midway between Oakland and Stockton, and most importantly for vines, it is characterized by extremely sandy soils that have resisted the aphid phylloxera; these are own-rooted, old vines. A field blend refers to a single vineyard that is planted with multiple varieties, all of which are picked at the same time and co-fermented.
This is a very full-bodied, hedonistic wine that Matt Cline, Three’s winemaker, describes as “piercing, high-toned aromas of boysenberry, violets and dark plum. Massive on the attack, showing off all of its 100+-year-old-vine pedigree. Packed with crushed black fruits and black cherry liqueur . . . .”
Cuturi, “Zacinto,” Negro Amaro, Puglia, 2018— $18, organic
This Negro Amaro is charming and delicious, which is not surprising since it is made by Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, a winemaker who has charmed us when we’ve tasted with her. Eric Guido, Vinous, reviewed the wine. He said this, while awarding it a 90: “The 2018 Negroamaro Zacinto balances ripe black fruits, lavender and violets with a pleasantly grounding hint of musk and underbrush. This is silky and pliant in feel, casting notes of black cherry and sweet herbal tones across a core of brisk acidity. There’s just a hint of framing tannins that come forward through the finale, but they don’t get in the way of this juicy and fresh expression of Negroamaro.”
Hornillos Ballesteros, MiBal, Tinto, Ribera del Duero, 2019: $18, organic
100% Tempranillo, concentrated yet fresh, all stainless (but conically-shaped “tanks” that increase the skin-to-juice ratio and thus extracts while keeping the wine in natural motion). The resulting wine is earthy (dried leaf and a sweet tobacco), fruity (blueberry, pomegranate) and finishes bright with a hint of spice.
Kumusha, Cabernet Sauvignon-Cinsault, Slanghoek, South Africa, 2020: $17
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cinsault Kumusha wines, made by Tinashe Nyamudaka, are meant to honor the essence of South African wines. As a sommelier, Tinashe learned about wines that people enjoyed drinking. He purchases fruit, then relies on natural fermentation, large foudre and minimal intervention to create wines expressive of place, mostly Swartland.
This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault displays cherry and plum fruit on the nose become more pomegranate and strawberry on the palate. For those who like Cabernet’s flavors but not its tannins, this wine has a softness that you will appreciate.
Rosset, “Trasor,” Valle d’Aosta, 2019: $20
A blend of mostly Syrah, with Petit Rouge and Cornalin, grown at high altitude (2500’) in the Aosta Valley below the Alps. Good Syrah is always a treat—with aromas and flavors that include savory smoky-sweet cured meats, dried fruit (cranberry and cherry), and minerality. Too many get overly ripe and show only fruit or are insufficiently ripe and are just iron and bitterness. This may be our best value Syrah in the shop. It checks all the boxes. My notes from tasting with the team say iron, sweet soppressata, fennel, peat, minerality; a very nice wine.