First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 20th February, 2016
I could and possibly should have written this piece at the start of the year, when half the country was underwater and everyone was suffering from storms, the cold and the rain. General misery in other words. I am not suggesting wine as a cure, but a glass or two of something warming and red over dinner can brighten up a miserable cold evening. I did not partake in dry January.
I had been suffering from a cold/chest infection (yes, that one) for an extended period over Christmas, and was unable to taste anything properly. I felt deprived, so I indulged myself in the month of January, although I observed my alcohol-free start to the week fairly strictly. I drank some very nice wines; it certainly helped me through the darkest month of the year.
Now, with March almost upon us, (and spring, according to some) there are signs of warmer weather to come. On clearer mornings I can see daylight as I return from my walk. But the days are still bitterly cold. As I write, the wind is howling outside. For the moment my rieslings and other light white wines are on hold. I have certainly been drinking more substantial wines to provide warmth and a little comfort.
I am eating different foods, comforting, slow-cooked meals, meat stews, roasted root vegetables and squash. These bigger flavours demand more robust wines. An extra percent or two of alcohol helps keep the cold out of the bones too, although higher-alcohol wines seem to be less common as winemakers decrease alcohol levels. Even after dinner, over fireside chats or snuggled up on the sofa, a rich red wine seems appropriate. I tend to serve these wines a little warmer too (but still only 16-18 degrees).
I have covered winter whites before; as a reminder, I tend to head for richer, more textured white wines too over the colder months. This means chardonnay, viognier, chenin blanc from South Africa, and southern Rhone blends that include roussanne and grenache blanc.
When it comes to red wines, remember that warmer climates tend to produce bigger, richer wines. Countries such as Argentina, Australia, South Africa and California all offer wines that pack a real punch. In Europe, Spain, the southern parts of France and Italy, as well as Portugal and Greece, have the necessary climate. The reds and whites from the southern Rhone often seem tailor-made for winter drinking.The reds cover the full price spectrum. Otherwise I look to the Languedoc and Spain for good-value winter reds. The grape varieties change a little too: less pinot noir, more grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre and malbec.
Our three wines this week vary in price. I have ignored the most expensive full-bodied wines, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plic, Plic, Plic is the sound of rain on the ground, apparently. Montsant is in the hills of Catalonia, high above Tarragona. It surrounds the sought-after region of Priorat, and can produce wines with a similar structure and concentration, if seldom the same polish. Prices are significantly cheaper though. The Casa Castilla comes from Jumilla in southeast Spain.Monastrell, known elsewhere as mourvèdre or mataro, originated in this part of the world. The wines are usually big and structured, sometimes tannic and rustic; certainly not wines to sip before dinner but great on a cold evening. This particular wine hides a warming 15 per cent alcohol very well.Turkey Flat is run by Christie Schulz, one member of a family that arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1847 with the first Silesian settlers. The Butcher’s Block (they once had a butcher’s shop too) is a classic Barossa red in the very best sense. Rich in fruit with plenty of power, this went well with my Szechuan beef stew and the remainder with grilled lamb chops.
Plic Plic Plic 2013, Monsant, Spain
Medium to full-bodied with blackcurrant fruits and a toasty, spicy touch.
Stockists: Wines on the Green; Mitchells; Baggot St Wines; Red Island; Fresh; McCabes; Clontarf Wines; The VIntry.
Casa Castillo Monastrell 2013, Jumilla
Slightly gamey rich, rounded plum fruits; rich and rounded with a subtle oakiness on the tail. Great value for money.
Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines; Red Island, Skerries; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Fresh Outlets.
Butcher’s Block 2013, Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley
A lovely rich full-bodied red that will provide instant warmth. Plush dark fruits with a solid backbone.
Ardkeen, Waterford; LaTouche, Greystones; Matson’s, Cork; Sweeneys.