Hard-core vegetarians and vegans look away, please. We're talking red wines with the heft and character to show off the gargantuan roast beef or pork loin meat lovers hope to attack over the holidays. And by that we mean the extended holidays, i.e., the dinner parties that stretch on through January and February when we Angelenos get our small measure of chill in the air.
These reds don't necessarily show their best in warm weather, so if you've got a big Barolo or Bordeaux or Syrah stashed away for drinking, now's the time. The winter solstice has come and gone and days are getting longer. And that means summer is lurking around the corner. Drink up.
And for those who don't have a big red hiding out in their closets, we've rounded up some of our favorites languishing on wine shop shelves.
2011 Artadi Viñas de Gain (Rioja, Spain). About $25.
It's hard to believe this is Rioja producer Juan Carlos López de Lacalles' second-tier wine — one that's considerably less expensive than his revered single vineyard bottlings from the Artadi estate near Laguardia. The grapes for Viñas de Gain come from 20- to 30-year-old vines and several vineyards. And unlike his big dog Riojas, this one is made to be enjoyed today. One hundred percent Tempranillo, the wine is focused and beautifully balanced, tasting of cherries, red berries and sweet spices.
2012 Tablas Creek Vineyard Cotes de Tablas (Central Coast). From $30 to $34.
If you're planning to serve any kind of game or even a roast duck or goose over the holidays, Tablas Creek Vineyard's 2012 Cotes de Tablas could be your wine. A blend of organic estate-grown 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and a touch of Counoise and Mourvedre, it is a rich, spicy red with plenty of character and a beautiful balance. Call it lush, but fresh, tasting of cherries, plums and wild herbs.
2010 Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso (Umbria). From $15 to $25.
I've always loved this Sangiovese with a touch of Sagrantino and Merlot in the blend from the Umbrian hilltop town of Montefalco. And there, the winery Arnaldo-Caprai has always made one of the best. The 2010 vintage is no exception, bringing a full-bodied, tightly woven red with notes of cherries and cassis, a fine perfume and gentle tannins.
2012 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills (Central Coast). From $38 to $44.
This Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir from Dragonette Cellars is changeable and fully alive, lush with the taste of dark cherries, red berries and sweet spices. Unfined and unfiltered, it's drinking beautifully now. And boasting a terrific quality/price ratio.
2011 Boekenhoutskloof "The Chocolate Block" (South Africa). From $28 to $40.
Boekenhoutskloof's "The Chocolate Block" is a red Rhone blend, like a South African version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Syrah-dominated, but with some Cabernet in the blend. And that chocolate in the name? It's woven into this warm, full-blooded wine, along with notes of coriander, black pepper and dark berries.
2012 Saldo California Zinfandel (California). About $25.
The label is flat-out minimalist — just the name Saldo, nothing else — for an opulent California Zinfandel made by The Prisoner Wine Co. Dark ruby, with concentrated flavors of blackberries and dark cherries, a velvety texture and ripe tannins, the 2012 Saldo is big and bold, but dialed back just enough to call it elegant. Maybe it's the touch of Petite Sirah and Syrah in the blend.
2009 Bodegas Muga Torre Muga Rioja (Rioja, Spain). From $70 to $90.
The most modern of all of Bodegas Muga's reds, Torre Muga is a blend of 70% Tempranillo with 30% Garnacha. The vines are old, giving a red that's concentrated and plush. The texture is like black velvet, the taste black plums with a touch of smoke, gentle spices and firm tannins.
2012 Scarecrow M. Etain (Napa Valley). From $150 to $165.
The second wine from the highly lauded cult Napa Valley Cabernet producer Scarecrow on the old J.J. Cohn property. Named for "The Wizard of Oz" Tin Man (étain means tin in French), M. Etain is such gorgeous easy drinking, smooth and deep, tasting of cassis, dark cherries and cedar. A beautiful wine for the holiday roast.
2010 M. & S. Bouchet "Le Sylphe" Cabernet Franc (Loire Valley). About $24.
Silken smooth, this vibrant Loire Valley red from Matthieu and Sylvanie Bouchet tastes of bright fruit, sweet spices and black pepper. The vines are old, some of them 80 years or more, and farmed according to biodynamic principles since 1962. In fact, Matthieu's father, Francois, was a leading French consultant in biodynamics and wrote the how-to book on using its principles in the vineyard.
2011 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir "San Andreas Fault" Sonoma Coast (Sonoma Coast). From $55 to $60.
Hirsch Vineyards makes seductive, high-toned Pinot Noir from the cool-climate Sonoma Coast. The 2011 "San Andreas Fault" is a fascinating tangle of Santa Rosa plum, sweet cherries, herbs and earthy notes. And that's just to start. Spend an evening with a bottle and you'll discover even more flavor passages.