Like a lot of people, I waited tables during college, but unlike a lot of collegiate servers, I was lucky enough to work for a company that believed in wine education for all front-of-house staff. Given that, at the time, my drink of choice was California “Chablis” over ice, I clearly needed the information.

Over the course of our training, I learned to serve red wine at a cooler temperature than I thought it should be and white wine a bit warmer; I took lessons about regions, grapes, and the basics of pairing. But what stuck with me the most was the power of wine to transform a moment.

Though all wine — including Champagne — is food-friendly, there’s something almost thrillingly anticipatory about opening a bottle of red just before a meal. The swirl, the aroma, then, finally, the sip…and a second, just to be sure. Time slows, and if you time it just right, you can enjoy the last of the bottles on the sofa or porch after the dishes are done.

Let these reds do the same for you.

Ehlers Estate 2019 Cabernet Franc

bottle of ehlers estate 2019 cabernet franc
Courtesy, Ehlers Estate

Though Ehlers Estate produces award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons, consider the winery’s sophisticated take on its more free-spirited cousin, Cabernet Franc. Concentrated but well-balanced; tannic but velvety; lush but dry, the garnet-hued wine is a delightful change of pace from Cab Sav. Ehlers Estate is named for Bernard Ehlers, who purchased the property in the 1880s and soon built the stone barn that now serves as the tasting room. The winery’s location in a narrow passage between two mountain ranges keeps temperatures cool, setting the stage for winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz to create lively, vibrant wines. SRP $77

Valdemar Estates 2020 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon

bottle of valdemar estates 2020 walla walla cabernet sauvignon
Courtesy, Valdemar Estates

Produced from vines planted in solid basalt rock, Valdemar Estates’ 2020 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon is both powerful and polished, with sleek tannins and mellow earthiness that explodes into brambly red fruits, figs, and roasted plums. Valdemar Estates is owned by Spain’s Mora family, which has been producing wine in Rioja for more than 130 years. Fifth-generation brother and sister team Jesús Martínez Bujanda and Ana Martínez Bujanda operate the business; winemaker Devyani Isabel Gupta was recently named an Emerging Leader by the Auction of Washington Wines. SRP $70

Double Diamond 2021 Proprietary Red Wine

bottle of double diamond 2021 proprietary red wine
Courtesy, Double Diamond, Schrader Cellars

For the inaugural release of this Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown has crafted a wine that offers generous flavors of blueberry, red cherry, and pomegranate, all bound by finely-grained tannins. The wine’s fresh acidity makes it particularly food-friendly; try it with grilled ribeye or roast prime rib. Double Diamond is part of Schrader Cellars, which was founded in 1998 to focus on making the best Napa Valley Cabernet possible. SRP $90

Ruffino Romitorio di Santedame Gran Selezione

bottle of ruffino romitorio di santedame gran selezione
Courtesy, Romitorio di Santedame

Chianti is one of the world’s most popular wines, and it’s easy to see why: resembling liquid rubies and tasting of dried herbs, cherries, and earth, it’s beautiful, versatile, and delicious. Newly available in the US, this limited edition, single-vineyard blend of Sangiovese and Colorino delivers its ripe flavors alongside aromas of violets, dark chocolate, and sweet spices including clove and cinnamon. Well-structured and dry on the palate, this polished and elegant Tuscan will only improve with age. SRP $70

Brendel 2020 4454 Clean Slate Pinot Noir

bottle of drendel 2020 4454 clean slate pinot noir
Courtesy, Brendel

Brendel has made a name for itself as a producer of highly drinkable Napa Valley reds and whites made with biodynamic practices using organic grapes. Like all of the wines in the company’s 4454 library, Clean Slate Pinot Noir is produced in extremely limited quantities. Vaguely off-dry, the wine leads off with flavors of red plum, cherry, and cola before melding into a savory finish punctuated by green and black tea. It’s well structured but light; an ABV of just 12% means you can sip it all night long. SRP $62

San Pedro Cabo de Hornos Cabernet Sauvignon

bottle of san pedro cabo de hornos cabernet sauvignon
Courtesy, Cabo de Hornos

Named after the explorers who discovered Cape Horn, the rocky southern tip of Chile where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, this Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is grown 500 meters above sea level in volcanic soils at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Elegant and concentrated, Gabriel Mustakis’s pure Cabernet has the kind of ample mouthfeel that encourages sip after sip, where flavors of blackberry and cassis swirl with grounding forces of graphite and tobacco. The wine has excellent aging potential but is drinking beautifully now.  SRP $80

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