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The Perfect Winter Wine
Zinfandel is the perfect winter warmer. Here's three to grab. Plus: A great wine deal at Café LuLu

Café LuLu's new space, where it offers a great wine deal on Wednesdays.
Photo by Erika Kent

To pair with hearty stews, bowls of spicy chili, slow-roasted meats and other winter dishes you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Zinfandel. Although the Zinfandel grape is grown in just 10 percent of California’s vineyards, it’s got an avid fan base for the luscious, high-alcohol, robust red wine that sports a spectrum of flavor. Later this month, Zin fanatics will congregate in San Francisco for the annual ZAP event, featuring seminars, tastings and opportunities to mingle with storied Zinfandel makers. I went a few years back and covered some serious ground with my palate.

I recently sipped three affordable Zinfandels that are perfect for stocking up on this winter. What better way to while away the season’s dark, frigid nights than a glass of Zin?

2009 Edmeades Zinfandel (Mendocino, California, $20) begins with a bouquet of red cherries and toasty vanilla before sliding into layers of robust fruit (mostly red cherries) and wrapping up with soft tannins. (edmeades.com)

2010 Michael David Winery “7 Deadly Zins” Zinfandel (Lodi, California, $16) is a blend of seven Old Vine Zinfandels, resulting in a bright, expressive cherry nose followed by intense, concentrated currants and plums and a spicy finish. (michaeldavidwinery.com)

2010 Double Decker Zinfandel (California, $12) is deeply complex, yet lighter and brighter than the 7 Deadly Zins with a cherry-pie nose, and notes of cinnamon and vanilla that – added to the bright-cherry (almost jammy) flavors – are divine. (doubledeckerwines.com)

In early December, Café LuLu in Bay View wrapped a renovation of its original space, adjacent to its newer dining room. The result is a more clean and crisp look – think fresh coats of sage green paint and a wall of portrait paintings – but the vintage lunch counter was retained (whew). On a recent evening, I chilled in the new space with a glass of Vinho Verde from Portugal but eyed a heck of a deal on a return visit: The eatery’s “Wine-O Wednesdays” deal means $10 off all bottles of wine. If you ask me, this sounds like the perfect hump-day rescue!

You already know La Merenda in Walker’s Point for its global-tapas menu with a farm-to-table focus, and a very cozy dining space, but did you know the restaurant also hosts fabulous events for wine lovers? On Jan. 22 is a wine dinner featuring wines from Finca Decero in Mendoza, Argentina. The winery’s wines only became available in the U.S. in 2008, and La Merenda bought up Wisconsin’s entire allocation. (Just 1,000 cases of each varietal – including Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and the signature “Amano” – are produced each year.) Stephanie Morton-Small, who is the winery’s vice president of sales and marketing, will be the host and available to answer any questions about the wines. The feast, which costs $60 per person including wine pours, kicks off at 6 p.m. To reserve a spot, call La Merenda at 414-389-0125.

My go-to Cabernet Sauvignon is from Simi Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., where Alexander Valley fruit is sourced to build a blend that is consistently a good value from vintage to vintage. It’s a popular pick on restaurant wine lists, too – proof that this is a solid food-pairing wine. The 2009 Simi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, California, $24) features lush blackberry notes laced with vanilla and plum, and a finish with supple tannins. (simiwinery.com)

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