There are myriad ways to embrace cold and snow. Skating. Skiing. Tobogganing. Pulling fishtails in the parking lot at Costco. One of my favourites involves a more sensible expenditure of energy. Stick a chicken pot pie in the oven, plant a bottle of chardonnay in the backyard snow and dash to the video store for a movie. By the time you're back (ideally with a motion picture set in a sweaty-hot place, like From Here to Eternity or Spring Breakers), the pie's half done, the wine's frosty and you're tearing open a bag of white-cheddar Smartfood from your polar video expedition. Go, winter.
Seriously, though, I do prefer snowchilled chardonnay to the electrically cooled variety. At least I prefer its symbolism. I caught that bug as a kid. My father would insist beer left in a fast-running stream tasted better than brew from the fridge. Scientifically speaking, he was skating on thin ice. But it was the conviction and romance that counted, as is often the case with alcoholic-beverage preferences. Besides, when you're tapping into nature's cold rather than that of an appliance, you're causing less injury to the planet and making Al Gore smile.
Winter wine imbibing is not all about chardonnay, of course. I simply happen to prefer it on a cold night with popcorn and creamy chicken pie. It's the quintessential comfort white, often buttery and toasty. But this is also a time of year – even more so right now in most of the country – when big, jammy, highoctane reds hold their greatest appeal. I refer to such full-throttle varieties as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, grenache, primitivo and nero d'Avola, grapes that take a long time to ripen well and that love the sun and warmth as much as I do.
Cusumano Noà 2010 (Italy)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $19.95
Noà (the stress is on the "a" in Italian) refers to the biblical Noah, who became a vintner after the flood. This lovely Sicilian red is made from the indigenous nero d'Avola (40 per cent) along with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Serious juice from an island known for value, it's rich with flavours of plum jam, cherry and dark chocolate. The mouthfeel alternates between smooth and juicy, with fresh acidity and a chewy-tannin finish. Great for hearty red meats or simply on its own. Available in Ontario.
Perseus Invictus 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $32.99
With a name like Invictus, Latin for invincible, this red creates high expectations. I don't know about the invincible part (depends on the wines it's competing against), but it's impressive stuff. A classic Bordeaux-style blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec, it's powerful yet velvety, with succulent berry fruit, chocolate and dark coffee, held together by lots of sticky tannins. Decant and serve with hearty winter food such as braised short ribs, lamb shanks or stews. Available direct through www.perseuswinery.com.
Lincourt Steel Chardonnay 2011 (California)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $24.95
The winery name is a mashup of owner Bill Foley's daughters' names, Lindsay and Courtney. From sunny Santa Barbara County, this is one full-bodied, silky white, and it shows brilliant structure. The "Steel" means stainless, as in no oak aging, and that's uncommon for California chardonnay. Think pineapple and green apples sprayed with lemon juice and herbal tea. Very nice. Available in Ontario.
Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé 2011 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $26.95
Not to be confused with Pouilly-Fumé, which is sauvignon blanc, this is 100-per-cent chardonnay from Burgundy – and terrific, too. It's medium-bodied and smooth, with beautifully focused tropical fruit and citrus flavours supported by integrated oak that whispers vanilla. A soupçon of chalky mineral registers on the elegant finish. $36.99 in N.B., $36.98 in Nfld.
Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Australia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.75
What a beauty for the price. This big, intense Aussie cab has flavours of juicy currant, dark fruit, lively spice and whiffs of charred wood and underbrush in the background. It's got excellent poise, too, with a backbone of fine-grained tannins. $47.49 in N.S., Also available in half bottles in Ontario for $10.80.
Bouchard Père & Fils Pouilly-Fuissé 2012 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $27.90
Dangerously drinkable, this is a beautifully balanced medium-bodied Burgundian chardonnay with flavours of apple, crunchy pear and lemon supported by that classic regional nuance of flinty mineral that keeps things interesting. $32.99 in N.B.
Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $25.99
The new, New York-designed labels for this 14-year-old winery sport a clean, minimalist look with a big red "7" front and centre. But the wine is anything but plain. Thanks to a cool, long growing season, it exhibits subtle layers of cassis, mint, black-olive tapenade and black tea, more reminiscent of the crisp, firm style of Bordeaux's Medoc district or cool Western Australia than, say, warm Napa. Medium-fullbodied, it delivers bracing tannins. Decant if you can. Ideal for steak. Available direct through www.township7.com.
Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel 2011 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $24.95
A stick-to-your-ribs red, this is dense but cheerful zin, with sweet berry jam, soft tannins and bright acidity. Nice on its own or with spicy wings or ribs. Available in Ontario.
Peninsula Ridge Shiraz 2010 (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.95
It's called shiraz but it tastes more like syrah. Those are two words for the same grape, yes, but "shiraz" tends to suggest the more populist, punchy-fruit style of Australia. This comes across more like classic syrahs of France's Rhône Valley – that is, tight and savoury. Impressive Niagara value. Available in Ontario.
Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2007 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $13.95
Identical to California's zinfandel, primitivo – the grape's adopted Italian name – needs consistent sunshine to ripen well. It finds that sultry weather in Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot. Full, ripe and smooth, this red packs a load of plum jam, raisin and spice into a concentrated, bargain-priced package. Available in Ontario.
The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook and drinks compendium by Beppi Crosariol and Lucy Waverman, is in bookstores everywhere. It is published by Harper Collins.