Why Winter Warmer Wines Work

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Most operators who pay any amount of attention to the wines they offer change things up when the weather warms. Sparkling, pink or lighter reds all become more prominent on menus as temperatures rise and snow disappears. So why don’t operators do something similar when the days become shorter and the weather gets colder?

If summer wines are expected to be lighter, served colder, and more quaffable and thirst quenching, what should we expect from winter wines? More impact and depth, for one. Also, wines meant to be sipped slowly that give the impression they warm the body. Cold-weather wines should be have big, bold flavors, structure and density to stand up to heartier winter dishes.

These are the types of wines many people turn to at retail, but it doesn’t appear that operators pay as much attention to them at the on-premise level. Big, rich reds, some higher in alcohol than the day-to-day tipple, come in all forms and from all countries; it’s just a matter of deciding what to feature. Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon sales tend to spike this time of year, all the more reason to try even heartier reds: Syrah, Aglianico, Petite Sirah, dense old vine Grenache/Garnacha, Malbec and Carménère.

When the winds chill the night air it’s a good idea to shift some menu space from summery Sauvignon Blanc to the fuller-bodied white wines from the Rhône (Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne). Heavily oaked Chardonnays, plus other white varietals that benefit from some aging, also play well with cold weather. Some white wines, like Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, go great with big, heavily seasoned and meaty dishes (particularly those featuring pork).

What’s the downside, then? Well, there really isn’t one. There’s not much effort required to add a half-dozen or so wines by the glass and feature them as “Winter Warmers,” just as many places do with other beverages and many food items. Customers don’t stop drinking red wine when the weather gets warm, so any wines that linger in inventory can still be sold in May and September. Unlike rosés, which only lately have expanded their popular seasonal surge beyond summer, these heartier reds don’t really have an off-season. Recently, at the Napa Valley Vintners Sommelier Summit, I discovered that Napa Cabernets dominate even during the seafood course in many operations, so while professionals may be attuned to food pairings and such, the average customer, well…not so much. Featuring any of these wines briefly can give you an idea where your customers’ tastes are heading.

We’ve found that seasonality isn’t just about what’s in the market but adjusting food and beverage offerings to what stimulates a customer’s appetite and attention. It’s yet another reason why adding winter warmer wines to the menu this time of year might help break up the winter doldrums.

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