Reviews & Articles
full throttle - drinks. by ralph kyte-powellJun-2009
As the mercury drops. Ralph Kyte-Powell steers us toward full-bodied wines to warm the chilly nights.
One of the things I love about winter is the opportunity it offers us at the table. Robust slow-cooked meats, pies, filling soups, hot puddings and pastries, roasts with all the trimmings - these things are just too weighty for summer, but at this time of year, they come into their own. So do the wines of this season: concentrated reds, fuller-bodied whites and sticky, luscious fortified wines.
Red wine is probably the first thing most wine sippers think of when winter is mentioned. And why not?
It's customarily served at room temperature, which is a good start. It also has a fullness, depth and warming quality that's easy to recognise but difficult to describe, and its complexity of aroma and flavour can be awe-inspiring.
Australia naturally makes full-bodied reds, so we have a surfeit of cool-weather reds to choose from. Shiraz is the obvious choice, either straight or in a blend with Grenache and/or mourvedre. Its heartiest form can usually be found from those South Australians who make big wines with good balance, such as Teusner, Hewitson, SC Pannell, Spinifex and Peter Lehmann. This formula of ripe fruit flavours, a seasoning of sweet oak and a firm backbone of tannins sits well with meat dishes. Shiraz from cooler regions, including the Adelaide Hills, New South Wales / Central Highlands, southern Victoria and far-south Western Australia, is a different critter, offering medium body, refined fruit characters, subtler oak input and sometimes the bite of peppery spice. This kind of shiraz is still fantastic in winter, but perhaps with slightly less powerful dishes. Cabernet sauvignon can be equally at home at a fireside dinner, and just as satisfying. Go for generous, less austere cabernet types. McLaren Vale in South Australia is a good source, with Shingleback and D'Arenberg top producers.
There are those who think that "real" wine is always red and that white is a bit wimpy. More enlightened wine drinkers (like us) allow white wine to take equal status in the equation, even during the cooler months.
In choosing winter whites, think about the sorts of foods you enjoy at this time of the year. Substantial dishes require wine of similar build, and chardonnay fits the bill. Yes, it can be made as a summer white, but most of chardonnay's best examples capture its affinity with elaborate winemaking techniques and oak barrels. These wines are often rich and full flavoured with the sort of depth and smoothness that lends itself to hearty fare. Even lighter examples have more complexity than most unoaked whites. Good winter-weight chardonnays include Hay Shed Hill and Stella Bella from Margaret River, Bridgewater Mill from the Adelaide Hills, and Punt Road and Sticks from the Yarra Valley.
Pinot gris also has the sort of filling qualities required in colder months, and sometimes a thread of sweetness adds even more depth and richness. However, these traits are usually only found when this wine is labelled "pinot gris"; when it's called "pinot grigio" (the same grape variety), it's usually made in a lighter, more neutral style that's better suited to warmer days. New Zealand is a happy
hunting ground for good pinot gris with labels like Escarpment, Morna, Mud House and Whitehaven to tempt us. On the local front look for Victoria's Domaine Chandon, and Climbing from Orange. Viognier is another option, often with some alcoholic warmth and a dab of oak thrown in. Look out for Victoria's Terra Felix, Yalumba Y Series from South Australia and Ishtar from the Barossa.
All these winter-weight whites are best served only lightly chilled -less cold than their summer cousins.
HOLD THE FORT
One of the surest ways to warm a winter's night of Australia's often overlooked fortified wines. Modern drinkers pass these wines by in favour of more fashionable wines, so prices remain fair for the quality, and the average age is surprisingly high. These can be world-class wines, especially the liqueur muscats and tokays from Rutherglen in north-east Victoria. Turkish delight, floral, raisin and toffee notes give muscats delicious appeal, and tokay's tea leaf, malt and caramel characters makes it an excellent dessert wine. Paired with coffee and chocolate on a bleak night, these drops are just sublime. Great examples are made by Morris, Chambers, All Saints, Campbells and Stanton & Killeen.
Do seek out the most underrated of these great wines port and sherry. These European wine names are now vestiges of the past, since an Australian-European Union trade agreement ruled that the titles are geographically specific, so expect to see new names phased in, including "tawny", "ruby", or "vintage" for port, "apera" for sherry styles, and "topaque" for tokay. In traditional Australian "port" styles, seek out the wines from the big hitters of Barossa, including Seppeltsfield, Penfolds and Grant Burge.
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