The 5 Best Wines for Cold Weather, According to a Sommelier

Plus, exactly how to buy the right bottle of wine for cold weather—whites included.

When cold weather and darker days approach, our palates start to crave warm, full-bodied flavors. As we trade summer salads and barbecue fare for roasted veggies and other comforting cold weather recipes, it's also time to transition our wine selections to bottles that enhance the autumn flavors of our food.

"While pinot noir and chardonnay are great go-to's, the seasonal change presents an opportunity to explore a new selection of wines," explains Christopher Hoel, founder of Harper's Club and Luckysomm and expert wine curator for Wine Insiders and Martha Stewart Wine Co. Below are lesser-known (but equally enticing) wines that beg to be uncorked in cold weather months. Whether you're sipping them by the fireplace or pairing them with a favorite meal, enjoy warming up with one of these five cold-weather wines.

5 Top Winter Wine Recommendations

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Cozy up with a glass of this quintessential Italian wine. Grown in the foothills of East-Central Italy, Montepulciano D'Abruzzo is a deep wine with dark fruit flavors, a spicy nose, and a welcomed dry finish. "I like to pair it with red meats, like brisket or lamb chops, and taste how the acidity and tannin cut through rich flavors," Hoel says. "But, don't let this dark horse fool you. Its high acidity and tannin levels also make it a great companion for a variety of vegetarian options, like mushroom or bean dishes, and rich roasted vegetables."

Gamay

Gamay's lighter body is a perfect transition wine when you're not quite ready to dive into the bold winter reds. It primarily grows next to Burgundy, France in a region called Beaujolais, making it a (sort of) cousin of pinot noir. Most loved for its floral aromas, red fruit, subtle earthy notes, and surprising versatility, Gamay is exceptionally easy to drink. Plus, it pairs well with all types of dishes—seafood included—and plays nicely with staple Thanksgiving herbs and spices such as sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, and fennel.

According to Hoel, to fully enjoy the flavors and aromas, Gamay is best served slightly chilled and in a wide glass (similar to one you'd use for pinot noir).

Chenin Blanc

If you're not big on reds, don't sweat. Cooler weather doesn't have to equate to fewer options. Few wines pair as nicely with fall as a Chenin blanc. "Not only does it commonly have an amber hue that mimics the changing leaves, its apple and pear nose are quintessential fall aromas," explains Hoel.

Flavors vary widely between bottles, but one constant is Chenin blanc's ability to pair well with fall favorites, including butternut squash soup, roasted parsnips, and pork—each bringing out that apple-y nose. "I always like to remind customers that with an unexpected acidity, Chenin blanc may not be a family crowd-pleaser, but because each bottle offers an individual experience, it's a great wine to sip solo by the fire."

Riesling

Riesling has a reputation for being very sweet, but that isn't always trueーthere is a whole category of rieslings that are dry or even off-dry, and they shouldn't be overlooked. These varieties are almost always pure and unoaked, boasting natural flavor profiles of apple, apricot, peach, and pear. "Considered one of the world's greatest food wines, the balanced flavor means it'll pair with just about anything, but I find it goes particularly well with spicy foods," Hoel recommends.

Hoel also has a genius tip for choosing a dry riesling: "Check the alcohol content. Higher alcohol content will mean a drier wine, while lower alcohol wines tend to be sweeter."

Lambrusco

When you think of sparkling wine, you might not think of red. "Well, Lambrusco will challenge that assumption," says Hoel. It's one of Italy's oldest wines and is said to date back to the Bronze Age. Made from grapes of the same name, Lambrusco is loved for its light effervescence and slightly lower alcohol content.

"It can range from dry to sweet, but the best are dry (secco) or barely sweet (semisecco). Quickly becoming one of my fall favorites, the light sparkle means this wine pairs great with savory or fatty foods." Serve it alongside your next charcuterie and cheese spread or classic Italian red sauce pasta.

Tips For Choosing the Right Bottle of Wine for Winter

Regardless of what you're in the mood for, understanding why certain wines are good for cold weather will help you choose one suited for the season. According to Hoel, there are three aspects to consider: acidity, alcohol content, and the wine's region.

  • Acidity: The acidity in wine pairs well with fatty and sweet foods, both of which are staples in traditional holiday meals. Where a highly acidic drink can cut through fatty foods and introduce a range of flavors, it also provides a necessary balance to the sweetness.
  • Alcohol content: The alcohol content often indicates whether the wine will be sweet or dry. Typically, the higher the alcohol content, the drier the wine. This becomes important when planning food pairings. A good rule of thumb: Sweet wines pair better with savory foods, counteracting the indulgent flavor profiles instead of overwhelming them.
  • The wine's region: Lastly, consider where the wine comes from. Where a grape is grown will change the characteristics of a wine considerably. For example, grapes grown in colder climates don't ripen as quickly, resulting in higher acidity and lower sugar content. Hoel likes to encourage "what grows together, goes together." Thus, pair wines with foods from the same region. "So, if you're planning to eat a lot of pasta or red meats this fall, Italian wines are a safe bet," Hoel recommends.

A good fall or winter wine should be like a favorite sweater—warm and comforting. That's not to say it isn't the perfect time to embrace change and let the seasonal transition usher in new wines, but there's also no harm in sticking with what you love.

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