It’s winter and cold outside and there’s nothing better than hearty food and some big red wine! I’ve had a couple this weeks that just knocked my socks off. The three range from a dynamite and impressive Washington Blend, an Italian classic, and a bold California Cabernet!

Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Les Cheavaux – Indeed, it would not be a crazy mistake to mis-identfy this Merlot-driven blend as a Bordeaux wine. While not as nuanced as inexpensive Saint Emilion, it has the fruit characteristics to make you look twice at the bottle. It also has a price that doesn’t look anything like what you’d pay for a right-bank Bordeaux!

Lets start with the blend which is 80 percent Merlot, 13 percent Cabernet, and 7 percent Syrah. If you like big bold fruit, you’re going to love this wine. Big fruit, big tannins from 18 months in oak, and enormous value. Dark fruit, dark chocolate, some spice, plenty of earth, and a big finish makes this a great wine for hearty meals.

I’m excited about this wine because of the price point. You just can’t find wine this big and this balanced for $10-$20 – and that exactly the price range you’ll find Horse Heaven Hills in at your favorite wine shop. The national average is $15, duh, and I found it for a bit less!

Oh, did I mention I’m not the only crazy for this wine? Wine Spectator scored this wine at 90 points – and as one of 2012’s outstanding values!

Horse Heaven Hills Les Cheavux, $15, Very Highly Recommended.

La Palazzetta 2009 Rosso di Montalcino – Long one of the best values out of Tuscany, the Rosso di Montalcino wines seldom disappoint.

While this one was a bit flat on the fruit the freshness of the wine was still a defining characteristic. Good Sangiovese has acidity, certainly, but the better-drinking Sangiovese-based wines bring a clean fresh fruit to the palate.

This wine is even a bit floral and incredibly pleasant. I’ve had better, but not many.

La Palazzetta 2009 Rosso di Montalcino, $19.99, Cork+Cracker, Indy, Recommended.

Fontanella 2008 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon – Oh my! This is darn fine wine. This bottle was a gift I had been saving for a nice occasion and a medium-rare roast with herbs and a friend made for good enough excuse.

After a nice two-hour decant, the Fontanella was silky smooth yet big Cabernet. I absolutely loved the rich mouth feel. Certainly has dark fruit and some hints of wood. It’s a big mouthful of very drinkable California Cabernet.

Truly outstanding wine! 91 points from Wine Spectator!

Fontanella 2008 Mt. Veeder Cabernet, $50, Very Highly Recommended.

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