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14 Warming Winter California Wines

Red wine is clearly the unofficial drink of cooler weather, and certainly the winter. Not only does it warm the body from the inside out given it has a higher level of alcohol than its lighter counterparts; it is made stand up to the richer, saucier, heavier foods that are back in force on menus right now. Here are some amazing California red wines to sip when temperatures start to dip.

2019 Justin Isosceles

This wine, originally crafted in the 1980s, helped put Paso Robles on the map. Just as good as (perhaps better?) its breakout first years, Isosceles is a blend of 79 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with just over 10 percent Merlot and Cabernet Franc, respectively, and feels like it was made to sip by a fire. Enjoy every full-bodied sip and its notes of baking spices, ultra-ripe black fruits and dizzyingly delightful vanilla. $85

Smith-Madrone 2019 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

A shining star of the Spring Mountain District of Napa, the aromatics of this vintage of the Cabernet come in waves. First, there is the cassis. Then, the black plums. Finally, the black cherry settles on the nose. To the taste, there is a noted spice – both baking and pepper – as well as a zing on the long finish. $65

Davis Estates 2019 Pinot Noir

This gleaming gemstone in a glass is a cherry dream at first, but as it is sipped, the sweet fruit gives way to bold earthiness, baking spices and tart rhubarb pie. Though not a strong, there are also some crisp, zesty cranberry and balancing, soothing vanilla on the finish. $75

2019 Rombauer Napa Valley Merlot

Though its buttery Chardonnay sets the standard for the region, do not sleep on this velvety smooth Merlot. Its dizzyingly delightful combination of pipe black plum, black tea, freshly baked pie crust, vanilla and spice makes it the perfect California red wine for a holiday dinner. $48

Charles Krug 2018 Generations Family Reserve Napa Valley

The Mondavis are the first family of Napa, and this Bordeaux-style blend made from vineyards directly on the estate is to honor their lasting, impactful legacy. The aromatics intoxicate well before the wine touches the lips, notably the strong notes of tobacco, pomegranate, dark berries and chocolate. Vanilla and oak join the fun on the palate and each sip ends with a creamy lusciousness that is hard to forget. $85

Ehlers Estate2018 Napa Valley Cab

While Ehlers often focuses on estate wines, this ultra-dark dream sources a handful (18 percent to be exact) of its grapes from nearby coveted vineyards. The result? A Wine Spectator 93-point winner that beckons with its earthy start and then explodes with fruit on the palate, most noticeably cherries and berries of all shapes and sizes, before offering balancing notes of dried herbs and black pepper. $72

2018 Hamel Family Ranch

While technically called a red wine, this blend of 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 13 percent Cabernet Franc is a glowing deep purple to the naked eye, a promise of the bold richness to come. The blackberry is strong here but not overpowering. Almost silky on the lips, there are also distinct notes of spice and raspberries, followed by chocolate, oak and a touch of cherry. $160

2019 Mt. Brave Merlot

Complex, aromatic and seductive, the 2019 Mt. Brave Merlot (pictured at top of page) has velvety tannins and offers layered flavors of rose, earth and a medley of fruits including plum, blueberries and blackberries. The acidity is there but is well balanced. $95

2019 Far Niente Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Since 1885 – minus some very pesky Prohibition years – Far Niente has been wholly focused on crafting the top Cabernets in the world. This one is right up there thanks to its combination of the top fruits from across Calistoga, Oak Knoll, Diamond Mountain, Stags Leap, St. Helena and Yountville and its own coveted estate juice. A masterclass in flavor, enjoy every nuanced note of mixed berries, dried lavender, black tea and spiced oak with this California red wine. $150

2019 Cakebread Napa Valley Merlot

This recently released Merlot boasts familiar flavors of blackberry and plum, showcasing the richness and elegance treasured in the varietal. It pairs beautifully with the season’s most loved dishes, including meatloaf, filet mignon, cheese and all the carbs. $60

Red Bear Winery 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon

Rawr! This boutique brand is roaring its way into the hearts, minds and wine cellars of oenophiles across California and beyond. The brainchild of acclaimed winemaker Drew Damskey, the 2019 vintage is full-bodied with a dry finish. Juicy yet spicy, it is hard to miss the ripe blackberry and plum combined with a healthy kiss of cinnamon and touch of oak in every sip. $69

2020 Aperture Bordeaux Red Blend

Created as homage to Bordeaux, a world capital of wine, this dense, dark, delicious blend features nearly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot as well as a touch of Cabernet Franc. It is composed of all hillside vineyards, which ensures the concentration is strong, and bursts with tobacco, black fruits, oak, cocoa and apple. $60

2018 Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah

Every bottle from Nickel & Nickel is 100 percent crafted from a single site and a single varietal. Made exclusively from the best lots across its Darien Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, the dimension of flavor here is impressive, ranging from very earthy notes to subtle white pepper to a symphony of fruit flavor, especially plum. $65

Jackson Estate Winemaster’s Blend Red Wine Blend 2019

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon come together here – with help from the tiniest bit of Petit Verdot – to make magic in this bottle. Structured and complex, it is a love letter to bright red fruit but is balanced thanks to notes of cedar and tobacco on the nose and palate. $50

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