Winter weight. No, I’m not talking about the inevitable expansion of your waistline from being stuck inside during this brutal Chicago weather. I’m talking about the natural trend of drinking fuller bodied, weightier wines during the colder months. The weight, or body of wine, refers to how thick the wine feels in your mouth.
The short and easy guide to pairing is: the lighter the wine, the lighter the food and the heavier the wine, the heavier the food, and vice versa. I like to pair my food to my wine. If I’m in the mood for a Cabernet Sauvignon, guess what Honey? We are having steak for dinner.
Un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are two of the most common lighter bodied wines. Think of warm summers with all the tropical notes of a California or Australian Sauvignon Blanc paired with grilled chicken and fruit salsa: very light, crisp and refreshing. Not exactly something you crave when it is -1 outside. As you move up in body and weight, you come across oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnays and big German Rieslings. These wines feel thicker and lusher on the palette. Typically, fuller white wines are paired with rich cream sauces, seafood or pork.
For red wine, Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are the most widely known light body wines. Pinot Noir is light enough in body and flavor that it can be paired with richer seafood, but also compliments mushrooms, cheeses and duck. Scrolling down the wine list, we come across Barbera and Merlot. These are middle ground wines. Barbera, with its high acidity, pairs with tomato-based Italian fare, such as Italian beef stew. Merlot, with its lower tannins and dark fruit notes, pairs with leaner meats and dark chocolates. At the end of the list, and my winter favorites, are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These are big, rich wines that will stand up to the boldest of flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon, with its high tannins, needs fatty meats to balance it out. Braised short ribs or ribeye steaks are the my favorites. Syrah, which originated in the south of France where deer and wild boar have been hunted for hundreds of year, pairs well with wild game.
A full-bodied Syrah doesn’t sound refreshing when it is 95 degrees outside with blistering humidity. On the other hand, rosé and grilled Tuna Nicoise would be perfect. Right now, a glass of Hedges Syrah with braised lamb shanks sound absolutely delightful. The richness of the tomato broth and the lamb will balance perfectly with the wine.
Here is one of my favorite recipes for braised lamb shanks and if you manage not to eat them all the first day, they are even better the next day.
Braised Lamb Shanks
6 lamb shanks (I like to buy them from Paulina Meat Market)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 (750 milliliter) bottle red wine, preferably from the Rhone Valley
1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups beef stock
5 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy large pot (I use my Le Creuset French Oven which happen to be 20% off in January) over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook shanks until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Don’t rush this part! Transfer shanks to the upside down lid, which saves you dirtying up a plate.
- Add onions, carrots and garlic to pot and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and beef stock. Season with rosemary and thyme. Return shanks to pot, pressing down to submerge. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover, and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours.
- Remove cover from pot. Simmer about 20 minutes longer. Transfer shanks to platter, place in a warm oven. Boil juices in pot until thickened, about 15 minutes. Spoon over shanks. Serve with oven roasted potatoes or polenta.
What food do you like to pair with weightier winter wines?