Sommelier Roundtable: Winter Wine Picks

Nine wine pros from Restaurant Award winners share recent discoveries to pair with the cold-weather season, plus a few longtime favorites

Sommelier Roundtable: Winter Wine Picks
This season, the pros are sipping everything from rich sparklers to savory reds to Chenin Blanc aged in chestnut barrels. (Images say more about me than words)
Feb 24, 2021

While many seasonal wine barriers are meant to be broken—like reserving rosé for summer and Champagne for holiday celebrations—certain wines can be standout matches for specific times of the year. For the winter months, these nine sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners tend to look to more savory, rich, warming styles from around the globe. Their picks cover recent findings as well as time-trusted labels, for everything from sipping by the fire to pairing with the season’s heartier dishes.

Wine Spectator: What cold weather–suited wines have you discovered this season?

Kelsey Wonsavage, former wine director at Sava’s and Aventura in Ann Arbor, Mich.

I love drinking bubbles, and I’m always recommending a good crémant d’Alsace this time of year, just because of the richer mouthfeel, and it’s a crémant, so it’s cheaper than Champagne but you’re still getting that fantastic Champagne method. And it’s bubbles—I think everyone needs some happiness and to drink more bubbles because they’re fun. Or even sparkling wine from the Jura, that’s another favorite region of mine.

Nick Liang, owner and wine director at Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard in Livermore, Calif.

I am always fond of these wines for cold weather: Alsace white wines; German off-dry to sweet wines; Beaujolais and red-and-white Burgundy; Syrah from northern Rhône or Central Coast of California; Sauternes or dessert Alsace wines.

Andrea Cornwell, director of beverage at Ohio-based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

I’ve been exploring Spain as a wine region lately. I have always been familiar but am diving in deeper to study. I’m enjoying young Tempranillos for the spiciness and tart profile. They are inexpensive and interesting! Also, a young Garnacha has sweet red fruit notes and lovely tannin. They’re warming and delicious all on their own.

Will Howard, wine director at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Valpolicella and Ripasso. Rich, dark and warming wines. Nothing new here, [but] Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore and Buglioni Valpolicella Ripasso are some great choices.

Rafa García Febles, beverage manager at Le Crocodile in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The reds of Trentino-Alto Adige have become a winter go-to. While many associate the region with crushable, chillable Schiava-based reds, there's a world of sturdier, long-lived wines made there, from the baking-spiced Teroldegos of Elisabetta Foradori to the polished, herbaceous Cabernets of Alois Lageder. This winter I've fallen hard for the Riserva Lagreins from Weingut Nusserhof in Bolzano. The 2012 was dense and smoky, with aromas of woodland berries and a savory side, like a Syrah from an ancient forest. The 2013 is lighter but lush, full of fresh herbs and underbrush, like a wintry Pinot Noir.

Paola Embry, wine director and CEO at the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix

Well, I live in Phoenix, Ariz., so it doesn’t really get that cold here. 50 degrees Fahrenheit is considered “bitter cold.” We wear hats, gloves, scarves and coats once it falls below 60 degrees!

Since the cold weather doesn’t come to me, I go to the cold weather. The last time I traveled to cold weather, I visited the [French] Alps and fell in love with the wines of the Savoie, Jura and [Italy’s] Valle d’Aosta. It’s often hard to find these wines in the USA. They don’t export much. They wisely drink the wines themselves! But this is what I’m drinking this winter. These wines feature uncommon red grape varietals like Poulsard, Trousseau for the Jura. For Savoie, Mondeuse is the red grape, and for Valle d’Aosta, look for the Fumin. Fumin can age like a good Barolo at a fraction of the price.

Producers I would recommend to check out: For Valle d’ Aosta, Ermes Pavese and Grosjean Frères; for Savoie, Romain Chamiot and Domaine Louis Magnin; for Jura, Jacques Puffeney, Joseph Dorbon, Vignerons Les Matheny, Domaine Overnoy-Crinquand, Domaine de Montbourgeau, Domaine du Pélican.

Juan Carlos Santana, beverage director at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Le Jardinier in Miami

During the cold-weather months I tend to reach for more savory wines [such as] the Domaine Georges Vernay Fleurs de Mai Collines Rhodaniennes 2017. This lovely northern Rhône Syrah showcases red and black fruit with notes of duck fat, olive tapenade, lavender, thyme, and all of the good things, all the time.

Another red option on my radar (though I drink it year-round) is the Villalobos Viñedo Silvestre Colchagua Valley 2016. This Carignan from Chile is dry-farmed and shows beautiful finesse at 12 percent alcohol. Red fruit, bay leaf, herbes de Provence, purple flowers all come together harmoniously and match perfectly with lamb, pork, duck, and other game proteins.

Troy Revell, head sommelier at Herons in Cary, N.C.

For New Year's Eve, we opened some of Sadie Family's Pofadder Cinsault, from the Swartland of South Africa. Paired with a duck dish, this showed an herbal nose, with beautiful dark-red fruits, cranberry, pepper spice, a hint of iodine, and delicate tannins. The kind of wine you would sip in front of a quiet fireplace.

Justin Chin, beverage director at Hina Yakitori in San Francisco

This is not a new producer but I opened one recently, and it totally brought the winter up for me. It’s Domaine du Viking, it’s a Vouvray produced by Lionel Gauthier. There’s this one called Cuvée Aurélie, that’s their most exclusive bottling. It’s a moelleux style, so that means it’s actually on the sweeter side. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, both times I actually broke out that bottle of wine from the 2002 vintage, which is incredible. Definitely, again, more off-dry and on the sweeter side, but we had all this cheese spread out and that was perfect for it.

What they do differently is they actually age their Chenin Blanc in chestnut barrels, so as soon as I thought about the chestnut barrels, the first thing that came to mind was chestnuts roasting on an open fire. It was definitely more rounded, but it had all those flavor profiles—the spice notes from the chestnut barrels and the honey and ginger from the botrytis—and it totally brought me to the winter.

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