SOMM FILE: Off-the-Radar Reds For Sultry, Wintery Nights

Winter Wines

Brad Ball, Advanced Sommelier | Owner, Social Restaurant + Wine Bar | Resident Wine Geek, Wine Awesomeness

Every wine has its place. Actually, I should say that every quality wine has its place and what tends to dictate my preference for that eveningʼs juice is either food or weather, usually being an intersection of the two. Hot, summer evenings equals lighter, fresh vegetable-driven dishes and crisp white wine, while cold winter nights consists of braised meats and hearty reds. Based in a rather warm, sultry climate, our winters are super short in Charleston so I have to get my guzzle on to satiate my need for big red wines. Nothing is better than curling up with your lady of the evening and over sized glasses of red wine on an Arctic polar bear skin in front of a large fire. Nice!

There are always the obvious, safe choices of high-octane, Cali Cabs or jammy Shirazes, but the fun in wine is discovering new varietals and regions at the fraction of the price for comparable quality. Here are some off-the-radar wines that Iʼm currently digging.

Caruso & Minini, Nero dʼAvola, Terre di Giumara, Sicily, 2009

Whatʼs fascinating about Sicilian wine is that there is an old-school, rustic vibe to them, yet an obvious modernity exist as well. This Nero dʼAvola-based example has plump red and blue fruit, fresh rose petals and white chocolate on the nose and the front of the palate as if it is a classic Argentinian Malbec. Then, subtle pomegranate, orange zest and dried spice notes fill out the mid-palate. Itʼs generous and delicious yet tempered and balanced. Itʼs as if Argentinaʼs Malbec and Tuscanyʼs Sangiovese had a love child.

La Syrah, Elqui Valley, Chile, 2009

Syrah might be the single most underrated varietal and this example delivers on many levels with layers and layers of complexity. The wine is from the 2009 vintage so it has had a hot minute to develop vinous qualities ranging from fresh violets and lavender to rosemary, juniper, and smoke. Primary notes of blueberry and black plum are still very present but this wine is all about the “other” stuff if you know what I mean. Itʼs like watching a David Lynch film…an enigma wrapped in an enigma with a random lounge singer in the background.

House of Independent Producers, ʻLa Bourgeoisieʼ Merlot, Columbia Valley, 2010

Merlot catches a lot of flack and deservedly so…five years ago. Luckily, some minor movie appears ripping on Merlot and before you know it, every producer and his brother are grafting their Merlot vines to Pinot Noir. Now, a sea of insipid Pinot exists and those who believed in Merlot are still producing killer juice. This particular project out of Washington state is one of the coolest gigs in the industry. They essentially say, “screw ratings” and drink balanced, well-made vino that you like and they deliver. Red plum, fig, bay leaf, fresh coffee beans, violet, and marjoram notes jump out of this forward but balanced example. Itʼs the style of Merlot thatʼs helping rebuild its reputation.

Chono, Carmenère Reserva, Maipo Valley, Chile, 2010

Once misidentified as Merlot, Carmenère has recently had a resurgence in interest, becoming the leader of the red wine revolution (more like a maturing process actually) throughout Chile. Originally transplanted from Bordeaux in the 19th century, Carmenère is the perfect blend of old world (Europe) and new world (everywhere else) styles. It has the structure, balance, and rusticity of old world wines coupled with the body, richness and fruit of new world wines. The Chono is a full-bodied wine with ripe blackberry, cassis, sweet spice, yellow bell peppers, campfire, and wet dirt notes. Sounds a bit odd (or intriguing) but it pulls it off in a magnificent way.