Five Unmissable Wines to Drink This Winter
As the mercury starts to plummet in our thermometers, we begin longing for warmth, for comfort, and for long evenings huddled in front of an open fire. The bright and airy days of summer begin to feel like a distant memory, and those balmy afternoons sipping at sharp, light white wines and rosés have faded with the darkening of the skies.
Winter is all about those wines which provide us with warmth and spice; full-bodied numbers that perfectly accompany big, hearty meals (and which are followed by a nap in a comfy chair… bliss!). We crave bold flavours, powerful aromas – the kinds of wines that keep the cold out, and make staying at home all evening a sensory pleasure, and something to look forward to after braving the blustery elements outside!
We’re a big fan of classic winter wines, and we’ve spent some time carefully thinking about which bottles you should be reaching for throughout the colder half of the year. With these wines gracing your wine rack, you’ll have no problem surviving the winter… you might not even want the summer to come at all!
Chateauneuf du Pape
When it comes to beautifully balanced, traditionally-made blended red wines, there’s simply nowhere else on earth that does it as well as France. All over this ancient and most highly-respected wine country, you’ll find blended red wines which edge as close as it’s possible to get to perfection, and we could kick off this list with any number of them. However, for my money, few do the job quite as well as a classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
This historic appellation is the crowning glory of the ever-popular Rhone region of France, and it has been associated with the production of high-quality red wines for hundreds of years. Made by blending together Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah grapes (as well as up to eleven other permitted varietals), it results in a gloriously juicy wine, packed full of savoury and herbal flavours, and with a richness which is impossible to mistake for anything else. What’s more, if you’re planning a traditional turkey dinner for Christmas, there aren’t many wines out there that are as good for matching with roasted fowl as this gorgeous French superstar. The ideal winter warmer!
In northern Italy, one wine region stands head and shoulders above all others: Piedmont. Here, in the foothills of the Alps, we find an enviable list of wine appellations which have helped shape the world of red wine as we know it. Appellations such as Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero produce winning wines with a consistency most other wine regions would give their left arms to achieve… and what do they all have in common? The crown prince of Italian wine grapes: Nebbiolo.
Grown in the cooler, fog-filled valleys of Piedmont, Nebbiolo grapes lead to beautifully complex and elegant wines, with amazing aging potential. Generally processed according to highly traditional methods, and overseen with the meticulous attention to detail that typifies the family wineries of this part of Italy, this is a wine style with rarely disappoints. Looking at Nebbiolo wines, you’d never imagine that they pack such a punch – they appear as light and gentle as a Pinot Noir. However, on the palate, they explode with delicious fruit flavours of dark cherries, high notes of rose petal, and an intense spiciness that seduces with aromas of leather, chocolate and tobacco. Drink a glass of Nebbiolo in the dead of winter, and you can’t help but feel that all is right in the world.
When winter rolls around, we’re immediately drawn to sitting down and eating big, hearty, boldly flavoured meals… usually featuring plenty of red meats, rich savoury sauces, winter vegetables and forest mushrooms. With such boisterous flavours on our plates, not many wines are capable of making their voices heard on our palates – the majority simply fade into insignificance, and fail to do the job of standing up to the competition. Not so with Shiraz. This Rhone Valley grape has long since found a new spiritual home in Australian wine regions such as Barossa Valley, and indeed, the Aussies have very much taken it to their hearts as the country’s flagship grape varietal.
It’s not surprising, really. The intense summer heat and long ripening season down under results in Shiraz grapes hitting extremely high levels of expression, and the natural richness and tannic character of these vines comes through beautifully in Aussie vineyards. Boasting intense black fruit flavours, plenty of complex tannins, and a rugged, rough ’n’ ready character, it’s the perfect wine to accompany all that comfort eating we do in the winter months. What’s more, it has a higher than average alcohol content for a red wine (usually between 14%-15%), which means it’s even more warming, and even better for those chilly nights in!
If there’s one country which has risen in prominence and fame over the past couple of years, it’s surely Portugal. This small southern European country has become the place to go, thanks to the beauty of its cities, its glorious climate, and its powerful foodie credentials. For the wine lover, there’s plenty to discover in Portugal, too – the Dao and Douro valley consistently impress with their output… but in the minds of most, this country will forever be associated with one key product: the beautiful, aromatic and fantastically warming Port wine.
Port wine has been produced for hundreds of years, and for a time in the late 18th century, it was so desirable and fashionable (particularly among the British, who still love it to this day), it helped prop up the expansion of an entire empire. Today, Port is experiencing something of a renaissance, as people all over the world are rediscovering this gorgeously elegant and potent wine style.
With its rich fruit flavours, intense spiciness and elegant sweetness, Port is perhaps the ultimate winter wine. It tastes like all your favourite Christmas memories in a glass – and the flavour it expresses lingers on the palate, constantly revealing secondary and tertiary notes as it does so. Perfect for pairing with your winter cheeseboard, and also ideal with indulgent chocolate cakes, nuts and fruit pie, you’re sure to fall in love with this Portuguese wonder all over again.
Although we generally opt for red wine in the winter months, there’s no reason to abandon the whites altogether. Indeed, there are plenty of white wines out there which are more than capable of providing the kind of warmth and comfort we need at this time of year, so long as they’ve got the body and punch of flavour required to help us get cosy in our favourite chair. A full-bodied Chardonnay, for example, does the job beautifully, as does an aged German Riesling, or off-dry Gewurztraminer. However, we’d argue the real champion in this particular ring would be Viognier, perhaps the most elegant and voluptuous of all the French whites.
Viognier hails from the Rhone Valley, and is has also seen plenty of success in various New World countries and wine regions, where it is prized for its richness, smoothness, and awe-inspiring flavour profile. With its delightful honey tones and floral character, Viognier is a stunning example of what a superb winter white wine can be, and if you haven’t already discovered this gorgeous wine style, you’ve definitely been missing out. It pairs fantastically with rich and creamy seafood dishes like lobster thermidor, and it’s got masses of personality to get stuck into when the weather outside is frightful.
So, there you have it – five wines to check out this winter. With these bottles, you can blast those winter blues away and enjoy some cosy evenings indoors with your friends and family. Do you particularly like any of the wines on this list? Do you feel we’ve missed out any essentials? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!