14 Winter Wines You’ll Love

14 wines that are perfect for holiday celebrations, rich cuisine, and evenings in with Netflix.

Break out your ugly sweaters, digital Yule logs, and Game of Thrones references… winter is here. And here’s what we’re hot for when the temperature drops.

14 Winter Wines

First things first, the classics:

  1. Barolo-winter-illustration-winefolly

    1. Nebbiolo

    Whoever came up with the phrase “appearances can be deceiving,” must have had Nebbiolo in mind. Yes, it looks pale and pleasant like Pinot Noir, but this Piedmontese beast has high acidity and grippy tannins that will make for an experience you won’t soon forget. Decant for 45 minutes and your palate will rain complex rose, cherry, and leather flavors. You won’t know what hit you.

    • Classic Regions: Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Valtellina, and Gattinara
    • Food Pairings: risotto, charcuterie, winter squash, mushrooms, truffles, fancy silverware, and food cooked in quenelles

    Micro Guide to Nebbiolo Wine

  2. Shiraz-winter-illustration-winefolly

    2. Shiraz

    ‘Tis the season for something rugged. Best described as big, brooding, and boozy, Australian Shiraz is known for its powerful black fruit flavors, savory undertones, and high ABV (14%-15%), thanks to plentiful Down Under sunshine. It’s not for the faint of heart or palate, but it’ll warm you up in a hurry.

    • Classic Regions: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale
    • Food Pairings: grilled meats, venison, boar, leather club chairs, and snow banks

    Barossa Valley and The Wines of South Australia

  3. brunello-di-montalcino-wine-illustration

    3. Sangiovese

    We promise to keep high-acid and high-tannin Italian wines to a minimum on this list. (OK, we can’t promise that.) But can we gush about traditional Sangiovese for a minute? Earthy and rustic, it goes with all kinds of winter eats and even vegetarian fare. Added bonus: Its complex nose is perfect for sitting, sniffing, and contemplating New Year’s resolutions. BTW, resolve to drink a Brunello this winter. You’ll thank us later.

    Guide to Sangiovese

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    4. Cabernet Sauvignon

    We can hear you now: “Thanks for the rec, Captain Obvious.” Still, just how awesome Cabernet Sauvignon is this time of year bears repeating. We’re all eating rib-sticking dishes, accumulating mass for hibernation, and Cab is a no-brainer pairing. But it’s also more than a eating companion, it’s a thinking person’s wine. It’s layered, complex, and if you go Old World, surprisingly subtle. Maybe it’s just us, but you never really know Cabernet Sauvignon. You just continuously rediscover it.

    • Classic Regions: Médoc (Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux), Graves, Napa Valley, Maipo, Coonawarra
    • Food Pairings: pepper steak, brisket, holiday roast, duck, goose, lentils, and mashed potatoes

    Bordeaux Wine Primer

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    5. Chardonnay

    It’s so cool to hate on oaked Chardonnay. No, we can’t get behind that. Every wine has a time and a place. The time is now for rich, buttery Chardonnay. Full-bodied with dominant flavors of vanilla, butter, caramel—and a touch of citrus—it’s quite an alternative to egg nog and hot buttered rum.

    • Classic Regions: California (North Coast, Central Coast, Santa Barbara), Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Grand Cru Chablis, Pouilly-Fusé), Willamette Valley, New Zealand
    • Food Pairings: chicken, turkey, sea bass, lobster, comté and gruyere cheese, mushrooms, cream sauce pasta, and cream-based soups

    Guide to Chardonnay Regions and More

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    6. Champagne

    Tell us, friend: are you a person who drinks Champagne year-round? If so, come in for a fistbump. (Go ahead, bump the screen.) We’re not really sure why so many relegate their Champagne drinking just to New Year’s Eve. It’s light, refreshing, and insanely versatile when it comes to food. Sure, it’s expensive, but there are affordable alternatives. Plus, we can’t think of a better way to cure winter blues than with a bit of the bubbly.

    • Classic Regions: Montagne de Reims (for depth), Côte de Blanc (for Blanc de Blancs), and Valée de la Marne (for Blanc de Noirs)
    • Food Pairings: New Year’s Eve, fries, bacon, Christmas ham, potato chips, popcorn, latkes, cheese, and nuts

    How to Choose Champagne the Right Way

  7. port-lbv-illustration-winefolly

    7. Port

    You say you don’t like Port. We say you don’t like Port yet. There are a lot of wines we’ll be sampling this winter, but this is the one we’ll be reaching for after celebrations, by the fireplace, and on the longest of winter nights. We’ll likely kick off with a Ruby, the least expensive and most fresh-faced of the styles. It probably won’t be long before with get to the more expensive, more aged Vintage and Tawny Ports, with all their rich, concentrated flavors. Our mouths water just thinking about it.

    • Classic Regions: The Cima Corgo is known as the most classic section of the Douro Valley
    • Food Pairings: blue cheese (stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola), creme brûlée, black forest cake, cherry pie, chocolate truffles, and walnuts

    Guide to Port Wine


But wait, there’s more!

Try these winter wines when you’re ready to go beyond the classics:

  1. 8. Viognier

    Why would we recommend a classically flowery white wine known for peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle flavors? By Late January, you’re probably going to need springtime in a glass.

     

  2. 9. White Rioja

    Seek out rare aged Rioja Blanco, then prepare yourself for welcome notes of roasted pineapples, caramelized honey, and hazelnuts.

     

  3. 10. Valpolicella

    Pair your red meat, mushrooms, and dark umami flavors with a full-bodied Superior Ripasso, one of Italy’s better values. If you can spring for Amarone, make it happen, Captain.

     

  4. 11. Mourvèdre

    (aka Monastrell) A gamier, more untamed alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, seek out wines from Jumilla and Bandol for shining examples of this unctuous mother.

     

  5. 12. Sagrantino

    Grown on the small hillside of Montefalco in Umbria, deeply opaque Sagrantino is about as bold as bold red wine gets! Just make sure you have fats and proteins when drinking to counter all that tannin.

     

  6. 13. Orange Wine

    It’s hard to get going when it’s cold and dark. Reach for one of these when smelling salts are in short supply. (Kidding – kind of.) If you like to warm up with more exotic dishes (Korean, Middle Eastern, African), think orange.

     

  7. 14. Sherry

    Scoff at Sherry all you want, but the preferred drink of bullfighters makes for one of hell of a winter nightcap. Try an Amontillado or an Oloroso Sherry for a rich, expressive alternative to whiskey.

winter-wines-illustration-winefolly

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Wine Wanderlust Travel Guide: December 2017 (Wine Spectator)

Plan your travels with wine in mind: This holiday season, look for festivals, Champagne dinners and more; plus, a special look into FICO Eataly World, Italy’s new food and wine destination
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An amendment to the Republicans’ ambitious tax bill would reduce taxes on wineries, brewers and distillers. But is it a giveaway to large producers?
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The New Sekt Wine Is Here!

The new guide to German and Austrian sparkling wines.

Anyone who loves Champagne needs to know about the new things happening with Sekt. What’s Sekt? It’s the term used for sparkling wines in Germany and Austria. And, it just might have the potential to roust France’s stronghold on bubbly.

Say hello to Sekt.

Getting to Know Sekt Wine

Since its inception in the 1820s, Sekt has endured a lifetime of mediocrity. This is because Sekt only maintained low quality standards, which allowed a tidal wave of cheap bubbly into the marketplace. On the positive side, everyone drinks the stuff.

In 2014, Germany consumed over 5 bottles of sparkling wine per person–FIVE times the rate in the US! Austria comes in right behind, drinking four bottles of sparkling wine per person each year. The two countries represent the largest sparkling wine markets in the world.

Of course, very little Sekt is exported because honestly, it’s not good… (Imagine what bad kids drink in public parks–my past self included.) Fortunately, some recent changes in wine governance show great promise for exceptional quality Sekt.

All About German Sekt Wine

We all may look to Champagne for bubbly inspiration, but Germany can claim three top sparkling wine houses. You may have never heard their names, but together the conglomerate brands of Rotkäppchen-Mumm, Henkell and Söhnlein, and Schloss Wachenheim produce 575.4 million bottles each year (2008 data). Just these 3 brands produce more Sekt than all of Champagne (which shipped 306.1 million bottles in 2016).

There are an estimated 2,000 producers of Sekt in Germany, the majority of which are small producers. Of course, as you’ll soon discover, a lot of the Sekt produced in Germany isn’t from Germany at all. Say what? Here’s a run down of how German Sekt is classified and a few notes on how to find quality.

Sekt

Fizzy booze water from pretty much anywhere but Germany.

Unlike the word “Champagne,” “Sekt” is not a protected term. In Germany, the large producers are allowed to import grapes, juice, or wine to produce Sekt. These bargain-basement wines are labeled according to EU minimum standards and aren’t allowed to use a protected designation of origin (PDO). Instead, these wines may say “Sekt of France” or “wine from multiple countries of the European Union” on the label.

Most of these Sekt wines are produced using the Tank (Charmat) Method, like Prosecco. These wines are made for local consumption and you shouldn’t find them outside of Germany.

 

German Sekt

Base model German sparkling wine.

(aka Deutscher Sekt) At least these wines are only from Germany and are usually made in a sweetish-fizzy style, using Germany’s more affordable varieties from economical regions (like Müller-Thurgau). The wines are not allowed to use a protected designation of origin, but will have the country of origin on the bottle.

Most base model German Sekt wines are made using the Tank (Prosecco) Method. This quality level of Sekt is kind of like a fizzy Liebfraumilch.

 

German Sekt b.A.

Quality sparkling wine from a protected designation of origin wine region.

(aka Sekt bestimmter Anbaugebiete or Qualitätsschaumwein b.A.) Quality starts at Sekt b.A., which specifies one of the 13 official German wines regions (Rheingau, Mosel, Pfalz, etc). Wines use regional grape varieties like Riesling, Silvaner, and Pinot Noir, and it’s even possible to find some Sekt b.A. made like Champagne using the Traditional Method and a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Because there are no rules specifying winemaking method (producers use both Tank, Transfer, or Traditional Method) it’s somewhat difficult to verify quality. The first thing to do would be check the label to verify:

  1. The Sekt is labeled after a specific German region
  2. The method of production is the Traditional Method
  3. The bottle has a quality control test number (in German, the A.P.Nr.)

The best thing to do would be to look into the producer and see if they list detailed information about the Sekt, including varieties used, length of aging, and vineyard areas.

 

Winzersekt

Exceptional single-varietal, estate-grown sparkling wines.

Winzersekt is Germany’s attempt to define high quality Sekt. This style of Sekt is most commonly made with the Riesling varietal, although it’s possible to find them produced of Silvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Kerner, and even Pinot Noir.

  • Grape variety must be listed
  • Vintage must be on the label
  • Produced using the traditional method
  • Grapes must come from a producer’s or cooperative’s combined vineyards
  • Wines must be made in the same region where they’re grown

 

Perlwein

Semi-sparkling carbonated wines.

The last classification of German sparkling is a bit of an odd duck. Perlwein is a carbonated wine (with about 1–2.5 atmospheres of pressure) that can either be really cheap and horrible or technically a decent quality wine with a protected designation of origin (PDO). There seems to be no in-between. A few producers are making quality wines, but since Perlwein is not a protected term, it’s really difficult to verify what you’re getting into.


Austrian Sekt Guide Infographic by WIne Folly

All About Austrian Sekt Wine

Even though Germany produces the lion’s share of Sekt, Austria recently set the standard for quality. In 2015, the Austrian Sekt Commission released a set of bottle labeling standards. The new standards launched this year on October 22, 2017 –Austrian Sekt Day!

The new standards add three quality tiers, of which two are very exciting. Here’s a run down of what to expect with Austrian Sekt:

Sekt

Fizzy booze water from anywhere but Austria.

Bottle is not allowed to include a protected designation of origin (PDO) and will include either the country of grape origin like “Vin de France” or even “wine from multiple countries of the European Union” on the label. What’s interesting is this standard is so low, it can’t actually be from Austria. You’ll only find these wines when you’re in Austria and, on the plus side, they will be cheap!

 

Austrian Sekt

Base model Austrian sparkling wine.

(aka “Austrian Qualitätsschaumwein”) This wine is not allowed to use a regional designation other than “Produced in Austria,” where it’s required it be made from 36 official grapes. Additionally, Austrian Sekt must have a minimum pressure of 3.5 atmospheres (3.5 bar – the same as Prosecco). The vintage and variety may also be displayed.

Up until 2015, base model Austrian Sekt was the name of the game.

 

Austrian Sekt “Klassik”

Austrian sparkling wines from a protected designation of origin.

The first level of “serious” Austrian Sekt wine quality starts at “Klassik,” which must be sourced only from one of Austria’s major wine regions. What’s cool is the additional aging requirement of nine months on the lees–a process that adds creaminess to sparkling wine. Still, Klassik is not quite at basic Champagne (which requires 15 months lees aging) levels. In terms of production standards, Klassik is much closer to Prosecco than Champagne.

  • Nine months lees aging
  • Vintage dating is allowed
  • Tank method and transfer method sparkling production is allowed
  • Grapes must originate from just one of Austria’s wine regions
  • Released on or after Austrian Sekt Day (Oct 22) of the following year

What’s great about Klassik is that many wines feature Austria’s awesome, zippy Grüner Veltliner variety and they are usually below the $20 mark. Grab some Thai take-out and have a party.

 

Austrian Sekt “Reserve”

Premium Austrian sparkling wines from a protected designation of origin.

The second level of quality Austrian Sekt is “Reserve.” The big difference here is wines must be made with the Traditional Champagne Method, which is the same method used in…Champagne (duh)! What makes bubble heads excited about “Reserve” is the aging requirement of no less than 18 months on the lees. Putting this classification on par with (or better than) non-vintage Champagne.

  • 18 months lees aging
  • Vintage dating allowed
  • Traditional sparkling wine method only
  • Grapes must originate from just one of Austria’s wine regions
  • Released on or after Austrian Sekt Day (Oct 22), 2 years after the harvest
  • Only allowed to be made in Brut, Extra Brut, or Brut Nature styles
  • Grapes must be harvested by hand

For a wine connoisseur, Reserve Sekt has all the pedigrees of excellence.

 

Austrian Sekt “Grosse Reserve”

Exceptional aged Austrian sparkling wines from a single village.

Grosse Reserve (“grand reserve”) will first release on Oct 22, 2018, and it’s the highest level of Austrian Sekt wine. Aging on the lees must be no less than 30 months, which is quite similar to vintage Champagne (at 36 months). Unlike Champagne, however, winemaking rules for Grosse Reserve even restrict blending red wine with white wine to make rosé. The additional requirement of being from a small village is very similar to Champagne’s Premier Cru / Grand Cru classification system.

  • 30 months lees aging
  • Vintage dating allowed
  • Traditional sparkling wine method only
  • Grapes must originate from a single municipality (village) and may have a registered vineyard designation
  • Released on or after Austrian Sekt Day (Oct 22), 3 years after the harvest
  • Only allowed to be made in Brut, Extra Brut, or Brut Nature styles
  • Grapes must be harvested by hand
  • Pressed only with a basket or pneumatic press

Last Word: Here’s Looking at You, Germany

Austria wouldn’t ever say this out loud, but we think they’re trying to one-up their big Sekt sister, Germany. The truth is, Germany makes many outstanding Sekt wines, they just don’t have official regulations that are quite as rigorous. To outsiders getting into Sekt, this simply means you can’t use bottle label logic to guesstimate quality.

Perhaps Germany will take the challenge and revisit their standards in order to better help us drink the good stuff!

 
Sources

Great article on the details of German Sekt, along with tasting notes by Schiller-Wine
Details about German Sekt production and big brands (pdf)
Check out Wines of Germany for more specific information on German Sekt.
Austrian sparkling wine consumption statistics based on percentages provided from Wines of Austria.
Statistics on annual Champagne production from 2016 by Comité Champagne (pdf)

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