Robust Red Wines to Enjoy This Winter

Combat cooler temperatures with a warming wine.


There’s nothing more comforting and warming on a cold winter evening than a roaring fire and a full-bodied, robust red wine – one with a bit of oomph.  The frigid season ushers in hearty, meaty dishes with bold flavors that require wines equally as bold and assertive. While I can go down the list, the first four chest-thumping, macho grape varieties that come to mind are Petit Verdot, Tannat, Petite Sirah, and Sagrantino. These four red wine grapes typically produce deeply colored wines that express masculinity and power. And even though they make excellent wintertime wines, they’re also popular partners for the summertime grill. I’ve selected five wines that are well worth getting to know, in both the darkest of winters and most brutal of summers. Enjoy the chilly season, and keep something delicious in your glass – maybe one of these!
Keswick, Virginia: Keswick Vineyards 2009 Petit Verdot
Keswick Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated vineyard and farm winery located just outside of Charlottesville (aka Thomas Jefferson’s Country) on the Monticello Wine Trail. Vineyard manager and winemaker, Stephen Barnard, who hails from South Africa, has the Midas touch with Virginia’s signature grape, Viognier. Stephen grows and produces several different styles of Viognier ranging from crisp and refreshing to well-proportioned and nicely textured – all well-made and delicious renditions of the variety . You can even find a scrumptious, late harvest 100% Viognier dessert wine in the tasting room when Mother Nature cooperates. Stephen also crafts a very satisfying selection of fuller-bodied, robust red wines, including Petit Verdot – a variety that’s on the rise in Virginia that you don’t see on its own very often. I enjoyed this Petit Verdot a few years ago and it is drinking beautifully right now and will continue to reward patient cellaring. I’ve been enjoying Keswick’s wines for a number of years now and recommend putting them on your radar. This is the type of producer that would make Thomas Jefferson, one of America's original wine enthusiasts, proud!
Tasting Note: This Petit Verdot shows a deep violet and crimson color with expressive and ripe purple stone fruit aromas alongside blackberries, streaks of black cherry, sweet oak tones, and notes of dried rose petals. The aromas carry through on the voluptuously textured palate, framed by nicely integrated tannins with lovely length and a touch of grip on the satisfying, spice-accented finish. It is delicious with excellent depth of fruit, good balance, and adequate structure to further develop with short-term cellaring. Approximately 150 cases of this wine were produced.  Blended with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, matured 10 months in new American oak barrels, cork enclosure. 13.9% ABV. 
Glen Manor Vineyards is a small family-owned farm winery in Front Royal, Virginia, that is owned and operated by winegrower Jeff White. Glen Manor specializes in crafting small batches of 100% estate-grown wine from Bordeaux varieties as well as Petit Manseng; a white wine grape from southwest France that performs relatively well in Virginia. Before starting his own winery in 2007, Jeff worked and grew wine grapes on his family’s farm for twelve years for one of the state’s top producers, Linden Vineyards. Looking back, many of the Linden wines I enjoyed and wrote about were crafted from Jeff’s fruit. Today, Glen Manor Vineyards is deservingly recognized by many as one the top producers of quality wines in the state. Jeff’s Petit Verdot is some of the finest you’ll find in Virginia.  
Tasting Note: Deep and well-built, this inky colored Petit Verdot leads with ripe black and purple fruit aromas and flavors intermixed with scorched earth, light floral tones, and a touch of spice. It is round and expansive in the mouth, with firm yet well-integrated tannins, gaining weight and richness through the long, pleasing finish. Overall, this is an appealing wine that shows focus, nuance, and balance that is perfect for sharing with family and friends at the dinner table. It’s accessible now, but should develop nicely over time. Approximately 4 barrels of this wine were produced. 100% Petit Verdot, matured for 20 months in French oak barrels -- 50% new, cork enclosure. 14.5% ABV.
Here is a grape variety I typically don’t associate with Sonoma – on its own or in blends. But Y Rousseau Wines Yannick Rousseau’s love of Tannat, a variety indigenous to southwest France, goes back to his homeland of Gascony, France. There, the variety thrives in the village of Madiran and is capable of producing long-lived wines of high quality that are crafted for the patient and built to age. Yannick’s grandfather, Pepé, who made his own wine and was an artisan butcher, introduced Yannick to homemade wine at a very early age. Wine, food, and family, which Yannick calls “the simple life,” have been a driving force behind his passion for crafting wines to share with loved ones over a good meal. With his wine-making experience in Madiran, Yannick headed to Napa in 1999 and had successful stints at both Newton Vineyards and Chateau Potelle Winery. In 2007, he founded his own label to highlight wines from his homeland (e.g., Colombard, Tannat that perform well in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. His Tannat is quite tasty! 
Tasting Note: Deep in color, nearly opaque, this wine is firm and focused, opening with an impressive concentration of dark berry fruit flavors followed by anise seed, spice, and subtle earthy tones. It is fairly full in body, with well-balanced acidity and firm structure, backed by generous tannins that melt into the lasting finish. This wine opens up nicely with at least 45 minutes of decanting and should develop additional complexity with bottle aging. Grilled red meats and other hearty fare would be an ideal partner to this wine. 89% Tannat, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Syrah, matured 13 months in 33% new French oak barrels, natural cork enclosure. 13.9% ABV. 
Proprietor and vintner George Noble's foray into wine-making began with a move to the Napa Valley in 1999 where he began making Merlot with friends in a garage. By 2003, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon piqued his interest and Noble Family Wines was founded. George specializes in ripe, well-structured, and long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. All of George’s wines are barrel aged for upwards of 33 months.  Based on what I have tasted from his portfolio, the fruit can more than handle the oak regimen. One area that sets Noble Family Wines apart from many producers is how long their wines are held back before release. Typically, bottle aging is left up to you and me -- the consumers. Until George believes his wines are well-integrated and ready to be enjoyed, they are reserved. This Petite Sirah is drinking well now and benefits from approximately 30 minutes in your favorite decanter. 
Tasting Note: It’s inky-dark to purple in color and robust with brooding dark fruits, black cherry, peppery spice, and hints of sweet oak and vanilla bean. The entry is full and round with firm, chalky tannins that fill the mid-palate and melt into the bold finish. This is a nice wine to enjoy with a well-marbled rib eye steak. Approximately 165 cases of this wine were produced. Barrel matured for 19 months, cork enclosure. 14.8% ABV. 
The Sagrantino grape variety, grown almost exclusively in Italy's Umbria region within the town of Montefalco, produces some of the most assertive and gripping wines I’ve tasted. In blends, such as the Sangiovese-based wines of Montefalco Rosso DOC, a little Sagrantino goes a long way – adding depth, structure, and tannin to the final wine. In the case of Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wines, 100% Sagrantino is required and the wines are aged for approximately thirty months – twelve of which must be in barrel. Sagrantino plantings date back centuries in Umbrian vineyards, but acreage greatly diminished by the 1960s. However, thanks to a collection of pioneering wine producers that believed in the variety, Sagrantino has made quite a comeback. Sagrantino’s age-worthy qualities (deep fruit, high tannin, balanced acids) make it a great candidate for wine cellars. Speaking from personal experience, these wines are also excellent partners to hearty wintertime fare and grilled red meats. The 2009 vintage from Perticaia is one of many good bottles from this region to seek out! 
Tasting Note: Deep ruby in color, this (still) youthful, solidly structured wine delivers deep  black cherry and black berry flavors interwoven with mineral streaks, a touch of mocha, warm baking spice, and an almost [sweet] raisin like quality. In the mouth, it is full-bodied and dense, with understated acidity, a grainy texture, and an ample amount of dusty tannins, ending in a lengthy, drying finish. Overall, this is a masculine wine that’s still very much a teenager. It has the components to ensure a long shelf life and begs for a generous slab of well-marbled beef. 100% Sagrantino, 12 months maturation small oak barrels, 12 months steel vats, 12 months in bottle, cork enclosure. 14.5% ABV.

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