14 Comforting Red Wines for the Coziest Time of the Year

As winter approaches, this is the time of year to start enjoying big, dramatic reds from Napa Valley.

Red wine in front of a fireplace

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We’re well past the Game of Thrones, winter-is-coming phase of the year. Winter is here. Maybe not officially according to the calendar yet, but the chill of the season has firmly clamped down on much of the country. Which means two things for many of us: Richer foods, and bigger red wines to pair with them.

Don’t get me wrong: You can and absolutely should be drinking plenty of rosé and Champagne this time of year: They’re perfect reminders that warmer days and better weather will return, and incredibly food-friendly as well. But sometimes, all you really want is a full glass or three of big, dramatic, generous red wine.

With that in mind, I set about tasting reds that ring in at or close to 15% ABV, and searched for the ones that remained balanced and retained a sense of freshness. The fourteen below, listed alphabetically and all from Napa Valley, are among my favorites.

And because of stylistic choices that many of the producers here have made, as well as the nature of the vintages themselves, there are plenty of options that can work brilliantly when sipped on their own without anything accompanying them. Of course, all of them will shine even more brightly in the presence of a great dish, whether it’s a plate of cheese and charcuterie or a hearty dinner. But their versatility is remarkable — something that more powerful wines don’t necessarily get credit for as often as they should.

But these selections deserve it – and should be considered all year long, not just this winter.

2018 AXR AxR1 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

From winemaker Jean Hoefliger, this Cabernet Sauvignon practically drips with decadence. Think candied violets and plum pudding, chocolate pot de creme, crushed blueberries, cinnamon stick and whole cloves, plus a core of minerality and crushed rocks that vibrate through the plush, sappy finish that lasts a full minute. Decant it now or hold it for the next 25-plus years.

2019 Bella Oaks Proprietary Red Wine Rutherford, Napa Valley

This is a fantastic wine, proof that concentration and verve can coexist with balance and length. Black cherries, brambly and wild mountain berries, toasted fennel seeds, and scorched earth ring alongside kirsch and subtle suggestions of cracked pink peppercorns, coffee-bean oils and singed spearmint enrobed in chocolate and studded with lavender. Mostly Cab, with a bit of Cab Franc.

2017 BRAND Proprietary Red Blend Napa Valley

Pritchard Hill-grown, this blend of 65% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon is brooding on the nose, with plum pudding, black licorice, and candied violets teeing up a palate of sweetly spiced boysenberries, hoisin sauce, and cured black olives alongside dark cigar tobacco. Drink now or hold for the next 15-plus years.

2018 Cliff Lede Vineyards Songbook Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Sourced form Thorevilos and Madrona Ranch, this small-production beauty is ambrosial on the nose. Cafe mocha is joined by toasty vanilla, black walnuts, and cedar that are  well-integrated, as well as suggestions of blueberry and mineral. All of this sets up a palate of plush texture and firm tannins framing crushed rocks, mashed blueberries, wild-mountain berries and blackberries, kirsch, orange oils, cedar, cigar tobacco, and singed sage. Flavors of flint ride through the violet-kissed and cocoa-powder-dusted finish.

2018 Darioush Shiraz Napa Valley

Spicy with floral black peppercorns, ripe with blackberries and black cherries, and somehow saline on the finish, this Syrah is wonderfully generous yet still structured for years in the cellar. You’ll find root beer spice lending lift and complexity to flavors of cardamom-dusted black cherries and hints of spice-rubbed bacon.

2019 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, Napa Valley

From Schrader Cellars and winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, this wine conveys the depth and length of the producer’s flagship bottlings in a bottle that’s ready to enjoy right away and that rings in at  under $100. Expect to notice sweetly spiced plum sauce, vanilla-scented French toast, dried black figs, dates, and cinnamon-caramel pot de creme, all of it lifted with flowers and anchored by a subtly toasty edge to the chocolate-enrobed orange peels. It’s great already, but with years to spare.

2019 Faust The Pact Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville, Napa Valley

Bright acidity cuts through this rich red. Generous flavors of currants, cassis, and kirsch lend further depth with touches of espresso, raspberry coulis, and dried oregano, all vibrating through the long, mineral finish.

2019 Lail Vineyards Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Dense, dark, and with a real core of savoriness, this Cab is structured by dusty, scorched-earth tannins that frame flavors of blackberries, plums, hoisin sauce, and dry-rub seasoning. It’s long, generous, and promises decades of evolution ahead, which is impressive for under $100.

2020 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Opulent and propulsive, this wine speaks of black raspberries, pomegranate syrup, and blackberry coulis as well as espresso, cocoa powder, and hot-rock minerality that’s informed by flecks of cedar, singed sage, and tobacco. Charred vanilla sings through the toasty, candied-floral finish, all of it carried on a velvety, plush texture that’s excellent now and promises two decades of evolution.

2019 Modus Operandi “AntithesiS” Red Wine Napa Valley

This is a thoroughly unique California red that is made by bleeding off a bit of juice to increase the ratio of wine to skin, and then adding more grape skins afterward. The result is a Merlot-based wine that resembles a Ripasso in some ways, with brambly berries and cassis lending exceptional richness to notes of espresso beans, blackberry liqueur, and melted chocolate filled with dulce de leche. The wine finishes with sweet woodsy spices and a distinct hint of pencil shavings.

2019 Shafer TD-9 Napa Valley Red Wine

Bringing together Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, this wine is fantastically balanced and layered, with tobacco, sage, blackberries, and savory-sweet mountain berries, all informed by charcoal, sarsaparilla, and green and cured black olives. An excellent wine in general, and even more so given the fact that it offers a delicious experience of Shafer for less than $65.

2018 Sullivan J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot Rutherford, Napa Valley

Deep and rich with propulsive energy and impeccably integrated oak, this wine has style and detail to spare. Sage adds further complexity to the cocoa powder-dusted flavors of cassis, blackberries, and coffee grounds; a powder of tannins and excellent acidity promise 25-plus years of evolution, but it’s also delicious to enjoy right now. This bottle is proof that top Napa Merlot can absolutely justify the same prices as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2018 Taylor Family Vineyards Cumulus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Plush, comforting aromas of blackberry coulis, toasted oak, vanilla pods, nutmeg, clove, cafe mocha, and cedar rise from the glass. The palate possesses power and grace–this is a lively and elegant Cab whose flavors of black raspberries, pomegranate syrup, and gently singed sage are framed by dusty tannins with hints of scorched earth and charcoal. Tobacco leaf and black cherries, all sprinkled with cocoa powder, linger through the finish. This is great right now, and promises even more pleasure over the next 25-plus years.

2019 TOR Tierra Roja Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, Napa Valley

This is a big, generous wine that is also exceptionally elegant. Chocolate-enrobed mint flavors keep the mid-palate and finish fresh and lifted, and flashes of orange oils, peppermint, and chamomile lend the black raspberries, ganache, tobacco, and stony mineral notes added depth. One for the cellar, but there’s also no need to wait.

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