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Winter Wines

They asked me to talk about this topic, since we are just on the verge of entering winter (in the southern hemisphere), but the first question I asked myself was, do winter wines exist?

I began to think that, if in the jargon of the wine industry there are "summer wines", referring to light reds, by contrast there should be "winter wines". But how do we define them? What must a wine have to enter this classification?

For this I began to think about how our diet changes at this time of year, between the shorter days and the colder nights it is natural that we want to eat foods higher in fat, higher in umami flavors (I will explain below) and, for some, foods that have some spiciness, either provided by spices such as pepper or directly by fruits such as chili.

However, these last two pairing topics are especially delicate to comment on, I think that from everything I have studied there is still no real consensus on what is best or not, especially with umami.

But let's start at the beginning, fatty foods. Although not all fats are the same, we have the difference between animal and vegetable fat, between yellow and white fat, between cream and butter. All of these are different, when we eat them they have different textures in the mouth and, therefore, that means that there are different wines to pair with.

Rather than giving the recommendation of which is the exact wine to pair with one or the other, I think it is better to analyze details to learn what is better or worse with one type of fat or another. For example, in general, animal fat, that kind which is remains stuck on the palate, requires tannins, the kind we know so well in typical Chilean red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. That sensation that dries the mouth and that manifests itself from the gums to the palate, will help to cleanse the palate and even make the wine feel more pleasant (as the tannins "stick" to the fat, they will not be felt in the mouth). On the other hand, there is the sensation of vegetable fat, oiliness. Here, the oily sensation that remains inside the mouth will be better eliminated with a wine with high acidity, something that the Germans learned well when they paired the Schnitzel (a kind of Milanesa) with a high acidity Riesling and, to finish it off, they put a lemon above, so you can measure the acidity as you please. The above works in the following way, acidity makes you salivate and a higher acidity makes you salivate a lot, so it is that salivation that will take care of pushing the oily sensation of the mouth and being able to enjoy the dish again without getting your palate tired.

The umami. Here perhaps I got into the more complex issue, a lot is still being learned regarding what umami means, where it comes from, how it is generated, how it is expressed and, more importantly, how it is interpreted by people. They talk about that feeling of warmth, of home, of that little taste that makes you say "ummm yummy". I know, it is super ethereal, but it is essential to understand it in order to develop the idea. Perhaps the most practical case is that at home they try a raw mushroom versus one that has gone through the oven (or even for 30 seconds in the microwave), that is the essential difference of umami.

Now why is this relevant to wine selection? The famous umami, which we can find more in winter foods, also acts as an enhancer of bitterness and astringency in wine. So that Cabernet Sauvignon I mentioned earlier with high tannins, it will generate an unpleasant dry mouth sensation. Not to mention if it also has a bit of bitterness, it will be further enhanced.

So what are we looking for? Low tannins, low bitterness, high fruit and, of course, that is consistent with what we are going to eat! Our existence got complicated, but not to panic. Think of wines like Pinot Noir or complex whites and sparkling wines, they can work wonders. Who said that a Champagne cannot go well with a truffled risotto?

Finally, the spicy and hot. Maybe I'm the only one, but thinking of a Pepper Loin or a side of spicy puree seems perfect for the winter. However, this also impacts wine. First and foremost for me is the alcohol level. Yes, alcohol burns and spiciness too. Now imagine putting out a fire with alcohol, that is exactly what happens in our mouth when we put some high in alcohol wine with a spicy dish.

What do we do? I have heard about everything, but what I have been able to verify and is also a point of great convergence is the level of fruit and sweetness. The spiciness will dull all the sensations in the mouth, since it tends to anesthetize the palate, so we are going to look for wines of high intensity of fruit that can fight with that force that the spice has. Also, the sugar or sweet sensation will work by lowering the spiciness sensation, I am not talking about necessarily very sweet wines like a Late Harvest (although I do not rule it out if it is in your taste), but about those wines that can be described as off- dry, all of them will work by controlling the burning sensation in your mouth.

Are there winter wines and summer wines? I don't know, I don't think so. I think there are changes in people's diets during the year and that leads us to look for what is the best we can drink for the food we are serving. So I invite you to reflect and think about what I am eating, what are its components and how they affect the wine. If that's not mindful eating, what is? And better yet, it also makes us more aware of what we are going to drink and enjoy each meal even more.


Giorgio Vecchiola


Sommelier Co-fundador de Winederlust

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