When it gets to February the only thing I really want to eat is cassoulet (or short ribs, or a massive steak), what I want to drink is a bear-hug wine. That’s how I think of them: big, unabashedly luscious reds, the kind that grab you and won’t let go, lifting your body temperature and your spirits at the same time.
I don’t mind if they’re on the high-octane side, either. These days, sommeliers tend to recoil in horror at alcohol levels over 14 percent, but look: It’s snowing, and you’re not going anywhere. Who needs a lean, steely Muscadet in February? You’d be better off trying to drink an icicle. No, what you want is warmth, and until the local store starts sending out Saint Bernards with barrels of brandy around their necks, that means Zinfandels from California, Shiraz from Australia, and Italy’s great Amarones. All you need now is a roaring fire.
2014 Terra d'Oro Amador County Zinfandel
Silky and enveloping, this red from an eternally warm part of California has aromas of raspberry liqueur and sweet pipe tobacco. Buy: $14 at wine.com.
2013 Tait the Ball Buster Shiraz
Despite the blow-you-away alcohol level (15.9 percent), this cheekily named red is balanced and complex, full of earthy blackberry and black pepper notes. Buy: $20 at wine.com.
2015 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz
More savory than most Shiraz, this full-bodied red from Australia’s Barossa Valley evokes curry spices and black olives (try it with tandoori lamb). Buy: $25 at thorneclarkewines.com.
2014 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel
Dry Creek used pre–Prohibition era vine cuttings to plant the vineyards for this chewy red. In essence, it’s a young-vine version of Zinfandel from the early 1900s. Buy: $18 at wine.com.
2014 Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys Red
Single-vineyard specialist Ridge changed its approach for this raspberry-rich Zinfandel blend, using fruit from 10 sites in Sonoma County. Buy: $26 at wine.com.
2014 Tenuta Santa Maria Valpolicella Ripasso
Italian Ripasso-style Valpolicella is made by adding wine to casks containing the dried grape skins left over from making Amarone. This results in wine with seductive cherry-liqueur flavors. $30.
2014 Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Shiraz
An antique basket press from 1928 is used to extract the juice for this luscious McLaren Vale Shiraz, producing gorgeous cassis and spice notes. The method may not be cutting edge (owner Colin Kay says the device operates “a bit like those old-fashioned elevators used to lift motor cars”), but the results are inarguable. Buy: $25 at kaybrothersamerywines.com.
2014 Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley Zinfandel
Biale’s wines have always been, on the whole, unreservedly full-bodied and rich. But—especially in the case of this darkly spicy single-vineyard Zinfandel—they’re also unexpectedly nuanced: proof that “power” doesn’t necessarily translate to “brute force.” Buy: $42 at wine.com.
Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella 2012
Because the grapes used for Italian Amarones are dried before fermentation, the wines are innately potent, typically 15 percent alcohol or higher. But that process also gives them distinctive dried-fruit and baking-spice characteristics and a velvety texture, as in this layered example. Buy: $57 at wine.com.
2012 Allegrini Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico
If you need a no-holds-barred splurge for a cold day, this red is it. Allegrini is one of the great names in Amarone, and its complex, flavor-saturated 2012 vintage shows exactly why. The wine’s intense tannins are just asking for a Flintstones-worthy rib eye. $85.