Somewhere, somehow, heavy red wines got associated with winter. Don't ask us who first did it; don't ask us who first said it. But we believe this is an endorsement that Old Man Winter himself would have made, had he been given the chance.
Remember the days of snow up to here, when kids made snow angels in your front lawn, and when you wondered if you needed chains on your tires?
Not that the Old Man has up and disappeared. He's still here, officially, until March 19. But there's something about him that has us wondering if he's changed. First he throws us 30-degree days topped
with threats of snow that never really materialize. Then he orders up 60-degree afternoons for two straight days, tossing in some rain for good measure. And this has us wondering: Has Old Man Winter thrown his weight behind another type of wine? Has he, in the words of two wine columnists, finally decided to lighten up?
We're not sure. But we do know that, without winter's typical harsh, biting chills, we haven't felt like drinking too many heavy red wines lately. In the meantime, we've found some lighter red wines from the West Coast of the United States that seem to be the vintner's version of a good compromise.
The 2008 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, California, is exactly that. This wine was brought to us by our good friend Phil, who did a bit of Googling to find a good red that would pair well with a venison tenderloin Greg prepared for dinner recently. Now some shake their heads at the thought of venison, thinking it much too gamey to be anything close to tasty. This is the wrong impression to have, since this venison was a wonderful match with this smooth, cherry- and
plum-flavored Cabernet Sauvignon. Greg carmelized some yellow onions and added a bit of flour, chicken stock and hot pepper spice to the gravy. After baking the venison for only 20 minutes at 400 degrees, what he pulled out was a juicy, moist, tender and decidedly ungamey tenderloin that was the best he's ever made. This Simi with 13.5 percent alcohol was the perfect combination, too, since it was neither too heavy nor too light. Since it had minor tannins, it was a good match with the venison, which is a very lean meat. We'd definitely get this again. Winetree. Under $20.
Here's another red wine that'll straddle cool and warm temperatures quite well: The 2010 A to Z Pinot Noir from Newberg, Ore. I'm a big fan of pairing Pinot Noir with baked or grilled salmon, since salmon seems to be the only relatively fresh fish we can get around here that can handle a good-quality red wine. I baked this filet of salmon for about 25 minutes with salt, lemon juice, black pepper, fresh cilantro and garlic, and this Pinot Noir was a very smooth, clean foil. The big concern we have with Pinot Noir is its acidity. That's why adding lemon juice to a dish you plan to pair with Pinot Noir can be a good idea, especially if the Pinot Noir is itself acidic. I'm not sure about the science involved. But often, an acidic dish seems to be counterbalanced by an acidic wine -- probably because they cancel each other out. In any case, this A to Z was a worthwhile try, with flavors of cherry and hardly any noticeable acidity. This wine was light, flavorful and smoothly elegant. It is, as A to Z says on its label, an aristrocratic wine at a democratic price. And oh, we got this 13 percent alcohol speciman at Schnucks on sale for about $17. Here are two red wines that are light and easy to drink but that have
a good amount of flavor, too. The 2009 Double Decker Tamas Red Blend was light, a bit black peppery, and filled with a bit of a bite a first -- until it smoothed out. Give it an hour, and this 13.5
percent, Central Coast Californian that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera ends a bit sweet. It's not a bad wine for under $10 at Winetree.
As for another tasty, inexpensive wine, try the 2008 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Amitage Red Blend for about $12 at Winetree. It had flavors of cinnamon, clove and cedar. The texture was smooth and light. But for the money, this is definitely a flavorful wine with good body. There are more expensive wines out there that don't have this level of personality. This bottle, which contains 13.5 percent alcohol, is from Columbia Valley, Washington.