3 Big Reds to Keep You Warm
It’s January and the frosty air makes you ready to reach for a big glass of rich red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon comes to mind, of course, as the go-to bold grape. We’re not sure what steakhouses across this great land would even do without Cabernet. Nothing wrong with that move; we have a favorite Cabernet on the menu for you, but at Tria we’re also here to help you expand your curious palate. So, this winter, let’s sip something deliciously different. Here we suggest three alternative big, bold reds to savor this season at Tria or at home. (Because you may not find them at the steakhouse.)
First, a Word About Cabernet
Cabernet Sauvignon is the George Clooney of the wine world: Rich, attractive and refined. Cab not only is the star of big California reds, but is also the leading grape of France’s First Growth Bordeaux wines. You may be familiar with these revered and outrageously expensive bottles: Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild. These are some of the world’s most coveted wines. Of course, Cabernet also features prominently in French reds attainable by mere mortals, too. Cabernet showcases cassis and black currant fruit coupled with some serious tannin. It is a fabulous grape. But enough of that; it’s time to try new things and impress your friends.
“To be, or Tannat to be, that is the question.” Well, no question here. We say “yes” to Tannat at Tria. Tannat is like Cabernet’s funky French cousin who lives in the rural countryside. More like tough-guy French actor Vincent Cassel than our own Clooney. You’re onto something if this rarely sighted grape’s name conjures thoughts about tannin, the astringent quality we know and love in big red wines. That’s because Tannat is France’s quintessential tannic red grape, whose mouth-drying bitterness stands up to the heartiest winter fare. (Charcuterie, anyone?)
Tannat boasts an opaque hue and huge depth of flavor - think of black fruit crushed by minerals. Madiran, in rural South West France, is the region in which the Tannat grape reigns supreme. Tannat also found a second home in Uruguay, courtesy of the phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s that forced many a vigneron to flee France’s decimated vineyards and head to the New World. At Tria, stop in to sample both a funky French Tannat (from Madiran, of course) and a supple-yet-powerful example from Uruguay. (Supplies are limited!) Either selection will show you that Tannat is a bold red grape that can make the tannin in Cab seem tame.
Now at Tria Madiran “Haute Tradition,” Domaine Berthoumieu, ’13 (South West, France)
Tannat, Artesana, ’15 (Canelones, Uruguay)
Hot Shopping Tip Instead of looking for the word “Tannat” on the label, the fancy French often label their wines by the name of the region in lieu of the grape. So, keep your eyes peeled for the word “Madiran” (aka the wine region in France most famous for using the Tannat grape), not the word Tannat (the name of the grape).
Compare Douro to the slick and sexy Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. The Douro is Portugal’s premiere wine region, is located in the north, and is named for the Douro River (translated roughly as “River of Gold”). The river cuts a ravine through the steep, sun-soaked slopes and snakes it way over the schist-rock soils that give the grapes their famed concentrated power. Over the centuries this UNESCO World Heritage Site Wine Region’s claim-to-fame has been the formidable fortified dessert wine we know and love as Port.
Today, the modern wine world also knows the Douro as the go-to region for impressive red table blends based on native grapes such as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). With one foot firmly placed in tradition (quite literally, thanks to foot-trodden fermentation in stone lagar) and the other in modern winemaking techniques (stainless steel tanks, newer oak use), these sexy, supple blends showcasing ripe tannins and jammy black fruit are evidence that the Douro is a place any wine lover should know. Move over Cabernet, let’s all get down with the Douro this winter.
Now at Tria Douro, Quinta do Infantado, ’15 (Douro, Portugal)
Hot Shopping Tip Instead of seeking fortified Port wines, reach instead for dry table reds labelled “Douro.” They will be sure to please and offer a big bang for your buck.
No discussion of big reds would be complete without mention of Italy’s noble Nebbiolo. Compares to Sylvester Stallone in Rocky: Appears lighter than expected, but packs quite a (tannic) punch. And just like Stallone, Nebbiolo ages well. This rich red grape dominates in the “King and Queen” wine regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, situated at the base of the Alps in Piedmont, Italy. The grape’s brick-orange color suggests a lighter-bodied beverage, but don’t be fooled! Nebbiolo is not only tannic, but also shows off a cornucopia of in-your-face aromas and flavors such as leather, dried fruit and herbs, truffle, woodsmoke, and a little tar thrown in for good measure.
If you’re a fan of wines that can age, Nebbiolo is one of slowest-maturing wines in the world, easily withstanding decades in bottle. After time, tertiary flavors develop making the leather notes, well, even more leathery. No wine puts Cabernet in the corner, but if you happen to find your nose in a glass of Nebbiolo, don’t be surprised if you keep coming back, dancing for more.
Now at Tria Barolo “Albe,” G.D. Vajra, ’14 (Piedmont, Italy)
Hot Shopping Tip If you’re seeking a lower price tag than costly Barolo or Barbaresco, reach for bottles labelled “Nebbiolo d’Alba” instead. Often half the price, but with the character you want from Nebbiolo.
Go Big (at Tria) or Go Home
There you have it. Alternatives to Cabernet to explore both in your own dining room and in ours. Winter can get a bit boring, but these rich-in-character wines will be sure to enliven the season.
Hot Tip All wines at Tria are available for takeout at 3X the glass price. It’s the best of both worlds.
Michael McCaulley, Tria Partner and Wine Director