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Drinks: Hearty meals call for husky reds

I'm seeing red. Or, to be exact, reds. Early fall, and all those lighthearted whites and fruity rosés seem far away, especially when there's a stew in the works, one more steak to grill and the prospect of game. Time to find something huskier.

That definitely takes in the 2009 Steelhead Vineyards Red ($15), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel rife with blackberry and just enough tannin. Enjoy it with grilled beef or pizza. The Sonoma winery is named for the steelhead trout, and proceeds from sales go to help restore trout-spawning grounds and watersheds.

For a balanced, concentrated and very pure zin: the 2008 Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard Viñas Antiguas Zinfandel ($30). Loads of black fruit here, along with a suggestion of spice. Ripe, with a whiff of vanilla, it's a vivid, versatile wine. Ideal with beef stew, braised lamb, or your very best cheeseburger.

Moving to cabernet, consider the full-bodied 2008 Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($27), a smooth production that's loaded with blackberry and black cherry. It's a fine match for either beef or lamb, grilled or roasted, smoked or braised.

Cassis defines the excellent 2008 Newton Vineyard Unfiltered Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). This is a big wine, elegant and harmonious, potent and complex, with generous fruit. You can savor it with a medium-rare porterhouse steak, or wait until game season is under way, this year or next and a few beyond.

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