Warm up for spring with these lush red wines…

Olympian Louis Smith


Although spring is (just) here in a meteorological sense, the days nonetheless are still fairly short and invariably chilly. So what to drink with substantial winter fare? Winter’s a season that demands big and bold wines that have the wherewithal to manage nourishing, meaty stovetop stews, oven-baked casseroles and roasted red meats.

Grab a tumbler and comfort yourself with these stellar, full-bodied, end-of-winter vinous warmers. The three reds are ideal for umami-drenched dishes, slow braises, robust stews and fireside sipping.

Meanwhile, a judiciously oaked, top-tier Kiwi Chardonnay – the chameleon supreme white grape – is just the ticket for roasted white meats, seafood and a creamy sweetcorn, chicken and bacon chowder. Cheers to these cold comforts…


1) Juicy red from Port country
2017 Vila Real Rabelo, Douro, Portugal; Co-op, £6 (13.5%)

Stylish, floral table red wines from the Douro Valley of north-eastern Portugal, the planet’s first demarcated and controlled wine region (1756), high up the eponymous waterway – and the home of Port – make wonderful matches for long-braised beef, lamb and pork dishes.

This supple and svelte midweek example is a well-priced blend of 40% Touriga Nacional (the most celebrated, top Port grape variety) and 30% each of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and widely-planted Touriga Franca.

A welcome addition to the late winter table, it has masses of red and forest fruit richness with floral/herbal ballast, spice and a juicy, bramble finish; venison and juniper casserole, rustic red meat stews (hello daube de boeuf), goulash and roast duck will love it.

Cleverly, the cork for this bottle does not require a corkscrew to remove. It’s extremely gluggable and great value.


2) An intensely flavoured, detailed rendition of Carmenère, arguably Chile’s signature red grape
2019 Viña Errázuriz, Max Carmenère, Aconcagua, Chile; Tesco, £12 (13.5%)

Requiring warm, hot sites, late-ripening Carmenère is an old Bordeaux red/black grape variety that now (finally, and latterly picked at just the right time, some 4-5 weeks after Merlot) makes deeply-coloured, rich reds in Chile.

Founded in 1870 some 100km north of the capital, Viña Errazuriz is situated in the picturesque Aconcagua Valley, which runs from The Andes – the region is named after the latter’s highest peak at around 7000m/23,000 ft – to the Pacific Ocean and has a Mediterranean climate.

The 2019 season was dry and warm with low rainfall at the start, producing superb quality fruit. This outstanding Carmenère is vegan-approved and an absolute blinder. Its chocolatey oak, herbal, coffee bean, roasted red bell pepper, cherry and black fruit packs a delectable punch. The relatively modest alcohol has contributed swimmingly. It all runs appetisingly along the tongue; pure, glossy, vinous indulgence. It’s perfect with long-braised beef.


3) Bring me sunshine! Outstanding, super-elegant South Australian red blend with a famous Austrian wine connection 
2016 Salomon Estate, Dark Pearl Cabernet SFM, Finniss River, Southern Fleurieu, Australia; Lea & Sandeman, £20.95 in a case of 12 (14.5%)

This Aussie red is a magnificent, skilful, ripe and smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), Cabernet Franc (5%) and Merlot (5%) that broods over a core of molten dark black and red fruits – cassis, cherry and plum – all pinned to varietal mint and herb, plus a touch of leafiness and a suggestion of earthy fungi.

Matured for 18 months in French barriques (mostly used), it’s long, supple, detailed and very persistent, proving the versatility of the blend.

Bring on the slow-roasted lamb, venison and juniper casserole, classic roast leg of lamb with rosemary and anchovies or thyme and juniper rabbit. Downright delicious, brimming with flavour, fresh and bright with tannins and oak deftly balanced, it heartily suggests a second glass should be relished pronto. 


4) A top-tier, oak-aged Chardonnay made by New Zealand’s first Master of Wine
2020 Kumeu River, Estate Chardonnay, Auckland, New Zealand; The Wine Society, £20 (13.5%)

Don’t pour skinny white wines in the throes of late winter and think they’ll pass muster with big fare. Try bottles with well-judged oak, like versatile Chardonnay, instead.

A satisfying, complex example from one of New Zealand’s best wine producers, this still-youthful, benchmark Chardonnay is made by Michael Brajkovich – New Zealand’s first Master of Wine (in 1989) – and has layers of apple, grapefruit, spice, peach and nectarine, as well as toasted nuts and smoke. Tastes like a bargain fine wine to me. A Kiwi classic. Treat yourself.

Bring on the roast guinea fowl/chicken, creamy sweetcorn, chicken and bacon chowder, monkfish, scallops and seafood risotto/ pasta. One to seek out and another candidate for your busy decanter. Incredible quality. Bottle development will be fascinating.


5) Finally, say cheers to the finale of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight with this vivid bargain South African Sauvignon Blanc
2021 The Weather Man Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa; Co-op, £6.50 down to £5.50 until 15 March (12.5%)

Fairtrade Fortnight 2022 is the yearly drive to promote high quality, ethically produced and exchanged goods and ends tomorrow (Sunday March 6). 

Survive the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc shortage with crisp, aromatic versions from South Africa (SA), a country with first-rate sustainability credentials. Claiming an industry first as part of its commitment to Fairtrade – it’s already the world’s largest retailer for Fairtrade wines (and the very first supermarket to list Fairtrade wine, in 2005, now selling about 14.5 million litres of it annually) with 57 lines, 45 of which hail from SA – the Co-op has moved to 100% Fairtrade SA wine for the entire own-label and branded wine range.

This discounted bottle is a particularly good-value, vibrant, ripe-but-zingy Sauvignon Blanc with trademark passionfruit, gooseberry fool, sugar snap, lime and blackcurrant leaf, plus hints of yellow apples. One for tomato salads, sushi and seafood.

A simple wine but drinking it (with a clear conscience) is pure pleasure. Buy it on the offer.

You can find more information about Fairtrade Fortnight at fairtrade.org.uk

Follow James on Twitter: @QuixoticWine



A ‘Rabelo’ is a traditional, narrow, shallow-bottomed Portuguese cargo vessel historically used to transport barrels of port from the upper reaches of the Douro Valley to the wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia (linked to Porto, on the other side of the river, by six bridges), where most of the port lodges are located. Currently, the boats (‘barcos’) are used as sightseeing cruises that sail down the Douro River.


Photos: Couple © Chernetskaya, Sunflower © Irochka, Daffodils © Anatoliy Mandrichenko, apples © Steveheap, Fields © Jakub Gojda/dreamstime.com; Rabelo © Thomas Istvan Seibel/wikimedia.org

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