Hands up who has been drinking big glasses of rich, opulent red wine over the past few weeks? Me too.
There’s nothing better than opening a full-bodied red to warm the cockles after a cold commute or a day at the footy – especially if you’ve had a pot of something slowly bubbling away in the oven all afternoon.
I reckon the key to a winter wine pleasure is to find a bottle with high drinkability – one that tastes equally good from the first glass to the last. On plenty of occasions recently I’ve opened up a big red and been seduced by the first sip, only to be looking to drink something different by the end of the glass.
Not for me are wines that have had every ounce of colour and flavour extracted from the grapes, or been aged in so much new oak that it’s hard to recognise the grape variety inside the bottle. Big and boozy wines, full of jammy port-like flavours and with alcohol levels so high they’re likely to induce a hangover after a couple of glasses are off my radar, too.
In winter I want opulence, depth and balance in the wines I drink. Barossa and McLaren Vale do this style of full-bodied reds better than most and I’ve been drinking my fair share, but you can have too much of a good thing. You’ve got to mix it up a little, and there are plenty of wines out there that tick the right boxes for winter drinking.
In the interests of diversity, gracing the dining table at our place have been comforting cabernet blends, gutsy durif and wines from warmer Victorian regions such as Heathcote and Rutherglen.
Pinot noir from Central Otago and Marlborough in New Zealand’s South Island has also been getting a run – and providing great winter drinking when something lighter is required.
I tend to think of cabernet sauvignon blends, especially those made for immediate drinking, as perfect comfort wines.
For $20 and under it’s easy to find a wine that’s well structured, yet soft and fruity – the perfect match for slow-cooked lamb that’s so soft you just need a fork to eat it. We’ve been eating a lot of that these past few weeks.
Reds from Victoria’s warm spots in Bendigo, Heathcote and Rutherglen have a knack of packing in complex layers of flavour, balance and regional character along with the warmth that’s required in a wine at this time of year.
Durif, from its spiritual home in Rutherglen or one of our other warm-climate wine regions, is a great winter-time tipple.
It’s a grape that needs heat and sunshine to ripen, and the best examples have an inky purple colour, dark-berry flavours and a little of that sunshine shining through.
It’s important to drink big, full-bodied wines at the right temperature. Too warm and they’ll smell too alcoholic; too cold and you’ll miss all that rich flavour and just taste tannin. Ideally, these wines should be served around the 16-18 degree mark. Getting the temperature down is not an exact science, but I find it doesn’t hurt to put a red in the fridge for half an hour before opening. Outside by the back door for about the same time works well on a cold night too.
Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Here’s more proof – if you needed it – that Marlborough is anything but a one-trick sav blanc pony. It’s on the big side for a pinot noir, with bold aromas of cherry, rhubarb, strawberry, vanilla and earthy beetroot and truffle. There’s a nice balance between sweet and savoury flavours, with sweet strawberry nicely offset by morello cherry, along with some smoky oak and a touch of autumnal forest floor. It’s silky smooth, with fine tannins that offer grip and excellent length.
Food match \ Hotpot of duck legs and star anise
Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz 2010
The year 2010 marks the 41st vintage of Bobbie Burns – just think how many people have enjoyed it over the years. Whether you’ve tried all previous offerings or are new to the wine, this is a release to look out for. Packed with character, it has complex aromas of plums (and their pips), black cherry, spice and wet stone that are mirrored on the rich palate. Rustic tannins have a puckering grip that are screaming out to be served alongside a piece of red meat. They’ll soften over time, too, as this is a wine that will age nicely for another 10 years.
Food match \ Rare roast beef
919 Wines Durif 2009
A certified organic wine, this is a powerhouse with an elegant side. It has brooding aromas of violet, red and dark cherry, mulberry and spice with fresh-picked raspberries adding a bright lift. Its full-bodied dark-berry, chocolate and liquorice flavours, while deep and rich, are nicely balanced by a line of bright acidity. Drying, savoury tannins complete the structure of a wine that finishes with intense cherry, chocolate and liquorice flavours of considerable length.
Food match \ Roast venison with a chocolate and red-wine sauce
Plantagenet Omrah Cabernet Merlot 2010
A blend of 58 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 38 per cent merlot and the balance made up with cabernet franc and shiraz, this is a complex and rather delicious wine. Aromas of blackcurrant, mulberry, bay leaf, dusty cedar oak (it spends 20 months maturing in a mix of French and American oak) and bay carry on to the juicy palate. Smooth in texture, it has fine-grained tannins and lively acidity that carry dark berry and mocha flavours through to a fine finish.
Food match \ Eight-hour shoulder of lamb
Love a bargain?
De Bortoli Windy Peak Shiraz 2010
Another wine of ripping value from the Windy Peak range, this is loaded with opulent plum, blackberry, blueberry and graphite aromas, with stalks and bay-leaf characters providing a herbal lift. There’s a rich core of similar flavours that are medium-bodied and smooth in the mouth. Well-structured, with juicy acidity, fine-grained tannins that are ripe and soft, and a layered finish of dark berries, plums and mocha oak, this offers length not usually seen at this price.
Food match \ Osso bucco