Unleash the beasts: The season for big, decadent wines

| December 2, 2010 | 0 Comments
Pieter Van den Weghe

Pieter Van den Weghe

Every once in a while, a beast needs to come out. The beasts are those big, dense and decadent wines which sometimes gather and linger in wine collections waiting for their moment. What better time than now to enjoy their hedonistic thrill? Winter’s doldrums provide a great environment for appreciating their sinful irresistibility.
For dry whites, it’s usually the generously oaked, higher-alcohol Chardonnays that are called upon to provide the most heft. However, a few other styles of white wine can provide powerful experiences, too. Though often not as high in alcohol, Viognier, particularly from California, is on this list. These wines usually have a rich mouth-feel and burst with apricot and citrus flavours. When made in a dense style, Pinot Gris can be an interesting alternative. Whether from Alsace or Niagara, Pinot Gris of this kind is succulent with sweet fruit characteristics.
However, my favourite is white Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the southern Rhône in France. Typically made with such relatively obscure grape varietals as Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette and Roussanne, this wine is beautifully perfumed with fruit and floral aromas and possesses a viscous richness without relying on a crutch of new oak.
There are many grape varietals and regions which boast big reds. The south of France, particularly in warm vintages, can approach levels of density and alcohol typically associated with New World wines. Truly massive Cabernet Sauvignon with its fruit-drenched structure can be sourced from Washington State and Argentina’s Mendoza. Australian Shiraz and its countless blend variations is sometimes so dense and unctuous you can almost spread it on your toast. That said, there are two particular styles of wine which always speak to me of no-holds-barred richness.
Californian Zinfandel is certainly one of them. These monstrous, big-fruited reds can easily achieve 15 percent alcohol or more. Genetically identified as the same grape as Italy’s Primitivo, some of the best examples are sourced from old vineyards in the Sierra Foothills. These profound, lush wines hold your taste buds in a very long embrace.
Of course, no dialogue about powerful wines is complete without Amarone. Hailing from Italy’s Veneto region, Amarone della Valpolicella is made from later harvested Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes which are dried for three to four months on racks prior to fermentation. The resulting wine is dense, complex and opulent. Amarone is such a profound wine, it can be served with nothing more than a good dose of contemplation.
Fortified wines are easily enjoyed, too, as the temperature stays low. A great classic example is port, whether as a late-bottled vintage, an aged tawny or a vintage port. The flavours are rich and profound and the wines possess an awesome palette-coating texture. However, other fortified wine options exist, including Grenache-based Banyuls and Maury.
But things can reach a whole new level with two fortified wines in particular: Spanish sherries made from Pedro Ximénez and Australian Muscat. Both seriously blur the line between wine and dessert, and, when consumed with an appropriately rich dessert, can provide a near-religious experience.
Lastly, there’s a particular non-wine favourite of mine which warrants mentioning. It’s Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. This beautiful beer brims with roasted nut and malt aromas. The palette is richly flavoured and is nicely balanced with a hint of bitterness in the finish. It’s a diabolically good pairing with oatmeal raisin cookies.
Give in to the sheer pleasure of these hedonistic wines. They can otherwise seem intimidating and cumbersome in the warmer months of the year. With the days short and cold as they are, they’re now a very welcome bit of power and warmth.

Pieter Van den Weghe is the sommelier at Beckta dining & wine.

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Pieter Van den Weghe is general manager and wine director at Beckta dining & wine.

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