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Pairing wine with your winter meals

Knock, knock, knock. The holidays – the festive season of family, friends and feasts is here.

As winter descends upon us, so does the change in dinner fare. The time for warm, rich soul food is stewing. Pot roasts, stews and chili seem appropriate with the falling snow and frigid nights. Pairing wines for these meals is actually easier than you would think.

First and foremost, the basic rule of white with white and red with red is always a safe philosophy when confused about which wine to serve. As with all wine-pairing commandments, though, there are always exceptions. A perfect example is Thanksgiving turkey. This iconic meal works well with red, white, rosè and sparkling wines.

Deep, rich, red wines seems to be what most people fancy in winter. There is something warm and soothing to the soul about them that helps us accommodate the chill knocking on our doors.

The first wines that comes to mind are the Ripasso and Amarone wines from Veneto in northeast Italy. These deep, soul-driven wines are always blends of corvina, rondinella and molinara – obviously not a blend of grape varietals familiar to most, but don’t let that deter you from experiencing these soft and opulent wines. These wines are a must have when serving pot roasts, stews or chili. The idea is to pair rich foods with rich wines, or weight with weight.

Now, what about the classic cabernet sauvignon? This is a also a great wine for winter dishes. The main difference is that cabernets are actually slightly lighter – still big and bold – but have a distinct boldness and higher natural acidity that we can all relate to. While cabs will work well with winter meals, they are better suited to meals or meats that have a high portion of fat. Cabernet is one of the most notoriously thick-skinned varietals, and as a result, offers wines of high tannin, that sensation of drying the palate – think cat tongue or cottonmouth. Add the heavy component of long barrel-aging and these wines are always best with grilled red meat. The char-grilled fatty rib-eye or New York steak marries well with the toasty oakiness of your classic Napa Valley cabernets.

Lastly, the famed rich and soft varietal zinfandel. These are reputable winter wines because of their full body, opulent, smooth and oaky flavors that pair well with savory winter meals or simply sitting next to the warm fire while watching the snow accumulate outside. Inherently, zinfandel is a low-acid and low-tannin varietal, which is why these wines are so soft and appealing. While California is home to the greatest zins in the world, the Colombia Valley in Washington also produces excellent zinfandels if you can find them. Let’s not forget the Italian version, referred to as primitivo. Primitivo is grown in Puglia, the southern heel of Italy. These wines are structurally similar to California zin but with a darker, earthier note that is often very appealing.

Winter is here, and nothing warms the soul like a rich glass of red wine ... or whiskey for that matter.

Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at info@putacorkinit.org.