Well, winter is upon us, and consistent with the philosophy that we create our realities through our moods - let's embrace the season!!!
We often talk about pairing wine with food, but today we discuss the merits of pairing libations with the weather as well. We will get into wines that warm the body as well as the soul, but for fun let's introduce a discussion of other spirits first.
Whiskey is the clear choice (for those who can stomach it) to warm up with, and I have some hot recommendations that you may not be hip to yet, but let's start lighter, and discuss this year's pumpkin beers. We'll start with what to avoid: Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale, which is the most available, is terrible and not worth trying. There are no pumpkin or spice notes to it - rather, it is a slightly bitter, watered down ale that is truly disappointing. Much better, and in the mid-tier of pumpkin ales worth trying, but that fall short of excellence are the Abita Pumpkin Beer and the Ichabod by New Holland Brewery. These are both warming, with allspice aromas, and pronounced roasted pumpkin flavor.
Other pumpkin beers that I enjoyed this year were the Dogfish Head Punkin and the Terrapin Pumpkinfest - these were both great for beer, but were just slightly slacking in the pumpkin flavor department. In contrast is my top-rated seasonal brew for this harvest season: Pumking by Southern Tier Brewery. This has a very warming aroma, and is so balanced and smooth. Notes of brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, and well integrated pumpkin make this the brew to do.
Moving on to whiskeys, Rye Whiskies have really broken into the market and been making waves: Ri is a product that consumers have been loving, and that I recommend trying. The one that has blown me away is the Templeton, a rye whiskey from Iowa that dates back to Al Capone and his bootlegging during prohibition. This recipe and label were his favorite, and he was involved to some extent with the company itself. Stockpiles of Templeton have been found that are believed to belong to Al himself. Stories are nice, but it's what's in the bottle that counts - this is a smooth, robust whiskey that appeals to connoisseurs and novices alike. This is a mid-priced liquor that rivals much pricier ones on every level.
The other American Whiskey that is new, hot, and sure to please is called Angel's Envy Bourbon. This, again, is notable smooth, and is woody, slightly sweet, and sure to warm you up on these cold nights. I did a tasting with Chivas Regal once, in which we tried their 18 and 25 year scotch blends. Neither were anything special, until their ambassador encouraged us to put several drops only of water into the glass. Wow. It opened and softened the spirit to the point that it instantly became enjoyable, delicious, and complex. This being said, I strongly advocate this procedure when trying any whiskies, blends or single malted scotches, and really with any brown liquor. It may completely change your exeperiences in the future.
Finally, this being a wine blog, and us being wine lovers, let's talk about some wines to pair with this cold weather. I recently had an Israeli Wine called Clos du Gat from the Jerusalem Hills that was excellent, and as a vintage 2006, it drank like an aged bottle of fine Bordeaux. It is full bodied, delicious, and quite warming. I highly recommend this wine for the season.
Other, less specific pairings would be anything full-bodied - the darker in color, the higher in alcohol, and the more viscocity, the better. What this translates to, to me, are old vine zinfandels, old-vine granacha, and premium Australian Shiraz. Good values for these are Gnarley Head (Zin from California), Atteca (Grenacha from Spain), and Peter Lehman (Australian Shiraz). These are all available for under $20, and are all consistantly good wine.