Winter Wines

Toss “winter wines” into a web search engine, and you’ll mostly turn up suggestions for hearty reds showcased around the idea of “hunkering down” and staying warm at home. That sounds cozy on cold days, and moreover, it makes sense.

It’s comforting to eat more red meat and tummy-filling carbohydrates in the winter. Those foods match best with fuller-bodied wines. Big whites do a tremendous job pairing with poultry, pork, grains and potatoes, but red meats usually work out best with red wines, the tender-flavored veal being an exception.

So, what’s on tap at your table? Why not Zinfandel and Syrah? Their panopoly of flavors offers a great spectrum of pairing possibilities for winter meals.

“Zin”, as it is more affectionately known, and Syrah are two grapes that many of us turn to less frequently. Since winter fodder makes for perfect pairings with these gutsy-flavored wines, there’s no better time than the present to check these out. Haven’t had either? Here are flavor profiles and some food accompaniment ideas for each.


Best known today in its homeland of the Rhône Valley (DNA testing and “parentage analysis” strongly dispute the idea the grape is from Shiraz, Iran), Syrah – or Shiraz as it is known in Australia and other, mostly New World, destinations – is strikingly different from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in flavors. Syrah tends to taste of blackberries, black olives, garrigue (a southern France bush that smells like a mix of rosemary, thyme and juniper under a Mediterranean sun), cracked black pepper and cola. It “plays well” with other grape varieties in blends, too. Basically, it’s an incredibly versatile grape variety. Lamb, venison and patridge, with their gamey notes, tend to be killer companions.


Zin is hailed as the indigenous California grape, and its pathway to fame is no doubt thanks to California’s welcoming climate and superbly adept winemaking - adjusted over time - for this variety. But, Zinfandel doesn’t come from California and its name is really Tribidrag. In geeky stuff, you might also see it labeled as Crljenak Kastelanski. Both of these names are Croatian, where the variety hails from. You’ll also see the variety labeled as Primitivo from Puglia, just across the Adriatic Sea from its homeland. Zinfandel, too, is extremely versatile in that its more easy-going and cheerful wines tend to be more “have a glass” in style while its more concentrated and age-worthy wines are often (surprisingly) lighter in color and (less surprisingly) much more refined. The former tends to taste more of blueberries and drying plums while the latter offers more exotic spice and blackcurrants. Magret de canard (duck breast) with fruit sauce is a terrific option with Zin!

Whatever your choice for a winter wine, the suggestions here are just a start. Both of these varieties offer plenty of pairing possibilities. Check out some suggestions here and give us some feedback after you’ve tried them to let us know your favorites!

Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media,, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.