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Cool weather has begun to creep into much of the country, which means that the time is perfect for indulging in the kind of high-octane reds that provide so much comfort as the days grow shorter.
Of course, wines with a bit more alcohol have their fair share of detractors, many of whom tend to claim that they’re difficult to pair with food, overwhelmingly powerful, and often unbalanced. And while there are plenty of higher-alcohol wines available that certainly fall victim to those issues, there are just as many others that are unabashedly delicious, and that achieve great balance alongside their richness.
Here, then, are 15 “big reds,” each with a minimum of 15% alcohol by volume. They’re listed alphabetically, and, while California represents just over half of them, plenty of other greats from around the world are here, too. What they all have in common, no matter where they’re from, is generosity, richness, and the kind of balance that proves that truly great wines come in all styles.
Adamvs “Quintvs” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Napa Valley
Distinct flavors of chocolate-covered preserved orange peel, black licorice, cassis, cigar humidor, incense, smoldering sage, and a deep seam of minerality running through it all. Remarkable freshness alongside its excellent concentration. This is built for the cellar, but with time in the decanter, it’ll be great right now.
To buy: $200, wine-searcher.com
Brand “Brio” 2016 Napa Valley Red Wine
From Pritchard Hill, this shows beautiful with subtle aromas of brambly berries, black cherries, cherry pit, and a hint of violets alongside fresh-cracked black peppercorns. Savory flavors with a creosote note join crushed blackberries, charred fennel seed, and more of the deep savor of cracked black peppercorn.
To buy: $167, mrdwine.com
Cade Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
There is serious density to the plummy, jammy nose, with aromas of cassis, sachertorte, melted black licorice, and sun-warmed mineral, all preceding a plush palate bursting with flavors of blueberries, cobbler shell, warm vanilla-chocolate pot de crème, and blackberry liqueur, finishing with pencil shavings and black-cherry jubilee.
To buy: $115, wine.com
Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016
Stunning garrigue and sanguine aromas are joined by wild cherries and cherry pit, and precede a palate of concentration, balance, and remarkable freshness to the mountain and brambly berries, cracked pink peppercorns, fennel seeds, and iron and blood notes that simmer through the lengthy finish. Classic.
To buy: $60, wine.com
Clos Mogador “Com Tu” Garnatxa 2016 Montsant
A pure beam of cherries on the nose sets the stage for a palate of generous, juicy red berry fruit, scrubby Mediterranean herbs, slate-like minerality, and blood orange, all of it finishing with black licorice and kirsch tones, and just a hint of violets and lavender.
To buy: $59, wine-searcher.com
Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora 2017 Minervois La Livinière
This is so lush and generous already, with tons of licorice, warm black figs, spice cake, candied violets, lavender, a hint of meatiness to the floral black peppercorns, chestnuts, and thyme. Velvet in texture, with a long and spice-flecked finish.
To buy: $225, gerard-bertrand.com
Hamel Family Wines Nuns Canyon Vineyard 2016 Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County
Big and unabashedly rich, with star anise and black cherry aromas that precede a palate of plush power and silky texture, with flavors of black cherries, fig cake, flamed orange peel, cobbler shell with scorched vanilla, and deeply toasted fennel seeds. Massive and intense, and excellent for the style, with a lingering seam of minerality through the finish.
To buy: $168, acmefinewines.com
Justin “Justification” 2017 Paso Robles
This blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon and 35% merlot shows aromas reminiscent of Rolo chocolate caramel candy and cherries jubilee, yet it never seems overdone or sweet. The silky palate rolls along with plummy fruit that’s joined by fig cake, sticky toffee pudding, cafe mocha, sweet spices, and cassis, all of it balanced with beautifully calibrated acidity and length.
To buy: $48, justinwine.com
La Moradas de San Martín “Senda” 2015 D.O. Vinos de Madrid, Spain
This single-vineyard garnacha starts off nice and savory, a sense that runs through its cherry- and floral peppercorn-flecked palate. It’s all joined by distinct notes of leather and pipe tobacco, especially on the finish. Very food friendly: Calls out for slow-roasted beef or lamb, which will also soften the tannins.
To buy: $13, winetransit.com
Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County
A thoroughly complete wine, with slate-like aromas complicated by cherry pit, cassis, kirsch, and the suggestion of cafe viennoise. On the palate, this shows a pure silk texture, with a subtle singed-sage note to the cassis, violets (which ring through the generous and balanced finish), boysenberry, and balsamic reduction. A testament to how exceptional this vineyard site is.
To buy: $125, vivino.com
Maciarine Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2015
What a gorgeous nose, with concentrated aromas of black cherries, figs, and leather, and flavors of bright and concentrated cherries, amazing acidity, and a finish of star anise and cherry pipe tobacco. An excellent evocation of one of Tuscany’s unsung-hero appellations.
To buy: $33, tannico.com
Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Oakville, Napa Valley
What a beautifully effusive nose on this wine that was grown in the Dos Olivos Vineyard. It bursts with wildflowers alongside blackberries and crème brûlée crust, and then a palate overflowing with flavors of brambly berries, red currants, pink peppercorns, whole cloves, and an undertow of black olives.
To buy: $100, pineridgevineyards.com
Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel 2017 Alexander Valley
Loads of blue fruit on the nose, which is kissed with sweet spice, all before a palate of lively acidity, velvety texture, and a round mouthfeel carrying plums, spice cake, and a hint of violets and pepper.
To buy: $60, seghesio.com
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Selezione Antonio Castagnedi 2015
Distinctly aromatic and wonderfully lifted spice informs notes of tagine, meat, raisins steeping in beef stock, cracked black peppercorns, chocolate ganache, Amarena cherries, and star anise. Can certainly age for several more years, but there’s absolutely no need to wait.
To buy: $47, wine-searcher.com
Tenuta Sette Ponti “Oreno” 2017 Toscana
Dominated by its structure at this point but with tremendous potential for a long life ahead, with tea-like tannins wrapping around black cherries, Chinese five-spice powder, and black and purple plums, all of it tugged along by scorched earth and candied violets. With air, this really shines, but better to give it a few years in the cellar to fully show how remarkable it is.
To buy: $65, klwines.com