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Warming Wines for Winter Sipping

As the cold, dark nights draw in, my absolute favourite thing to do this time of year is to wrap up warm, head out for an invigorating walk in the nearby countryside, and then come home for a glass of wine by the fire, while a comforting beef stew cooks in the slow cooker – bliss!

I always think that red wine lends itself best to this scenario, and my usual go-to would be a GSM blend from the Southern Rhône. Made from a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, this wine is like a big hug in a glass. The Grenache provides plump, juicy flavours of strawberries, raspberries and black cherries, enhanced by a hint of baking spice. The Syrah brings dark fruit flavours, such as blackcurrants and blueberries with an evident note of black pepper on the finish. Mourvèdre is a seriously bold grape adding body and flavour to wine, with notes of dark fruits, violets and herbs. For me, this is the ultimate fireside wine and one that I frequently reach for at this time of year. As well as the infamous Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which typifies this style, also look for wines from neighbouring appellations such as Cairanne, Rasteau or Vinsobres for great quality, but better value options. For an more inexpensive bottle, Côtes du Rhône villages will also hit the spot nicely.

If you prefer an oaked wine, then Rioja is a great choice. Made from the Tempranillo grape, Rioja is produced in four different levels of oak ageing. Rioja Joven is a young wine that will have had no oak ageing, Crianza will have been aged for at least two years, including six months in oak, Reserva must be aged for three years in total, of which one year will be in oak and the mighty Gran Reserva must be aged for a whopping five years with 18 months of this in oak and top producers will often age their best wines for even longer than this. If it’s a cosy winter wine that your looking for, then it’s definitely worth spending a little extra money on a Reserva or a Gran Reserva. Bold fruit flavours of strawberries, cherries and figs are enhanced by notes of vanilla, coconut and sweet tobacco from time spent in American oak barrels. This is a truly excellent wine for sipping while snuggling by the fire.

My third choice is usually a special treat that I save for Christmas. Significantly more expensive than the first two due to the time and effort that has gone into its production, Amarone della Valpolicella is an Italian red wine made with Corvina grapes using the appassimento method. This means that the grapes are partially dried before being pressed and fermented, thus concentrating the sugars and flavours in the wine. The high alcohol level in this wine (usually 14-15% abv) will definitely warm you up, as will the luscious flavours of black cherries, figs, chocolate and cinnamon. If Amarone is a little above your ideal budget, then it’s younger brother Valpolicella Ripasso is a great alternative. Made by reusing the skins of the grapes after the Amarone has finished fermenting, it is a little lighter in flavour and texture, but has the same succulent flavours and aromas as its older brother.


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