Dark wines for long dark nights

Round & About

red wine

Our wine expert Giles Luckett shares his red wine recommendations to raise your mojo levels!

Hello. Since I became a wine lover autumn has become my favourite season. Without the harshness of winter, yet with long evenings populated with hearty food, it’s a red wine drinker’s ideal. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of this situation and I’ve been doing some ‘research’ for this column. Several trade tastings and somewhat less formal sessions in my sitting room later, I’ve picked up my super six for the autumn. These are food-friendly, warming, and mellow wines, which I hope will bring a smile to your lips as they have mine.

First up is a wine from the South of France, the Domaine Saint Rose La Garrigue 2018 (Majestic £5.99 on offer, down from £8.99). The Domaine Saint Rose was established by a couple of British corporate high flyers Charles and Ruth Simpson, who have brought modernity to a traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre to great effect. Plum-coloured, the nose offers mulberry, raspberry, and blueberry tones with a twist of herbs and raspberries. These are reflected on the ripe, soft, plump palate, which is spiced by hints of white pepper and earth.

Next, a new wine (to me at least) from one of my favourite wineries, Vina Zorzal. I’ve had several Vina Zorzal wines; the Garacha (The Wine Society around £9) is likely to be one of my wines of the year (again), and the Viña Zorzal Cuatro del Cuatro Graciano (The Wine Society £16), is about as good a red as you’ll find for under £20.

My recommendation this time, however, is the Vina Zorzal Graciano (The Wine Society £8.95). Graciano isn’t a grape you see adorning a label that often. It’s a problematic vine as it’s easily affected by rot and doesn’t give great yields, which is not exactly a recipe for commercial success. It is, however, capable of brilliance, as this shows. Inky in colour, this lip-staining beauty is powerful, concentrated, and glorious. Packed to the gunnels with flavours of cooked blackberries, redcurrants, and spices, its bright acidity stops it from becoming overwhelming or cloying. At this price, it’s a wine to buy by the case and partner with hearty, mid-week suppers.

Sticking with Spain, and another new wine from an old friend, we have Cune’s Asua Crianza 2018 (£12.99 – The Surrey Wine Cellar (or Harvey Nichols if you’re passing). Rioja is one of my favourite regions, and let’s face it, no one does it better than Cune. The Asua is made exclusively from Tempranillo (so no Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, etc.) and offers an intense, pure, and delightfully different take on Rioja. Endowed with plenty of black cherries, blackcurrant, and mulberry fruit, shot through with vanilla, dried herbs, and citrus peel, this is already delivering the delightful goods, but has the capacity to age and develop for another 3-5 years.

South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years, but many remain outstanding value for money. A great example is the Journey’s End ‘Sir Lowry’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (Waitrose £14.99). Journey’s End Honeycomb Chardonnay (Ocado £9), then do. It’s got more vanilla than Madagascar and is fruitier than the man from Del Monte’s dinner party conversation.

The Sir Lowry shows the refined side of their wines. Deep purple, the nose is a complex mix of raw blackcurrants, black cherries, woodsmoke, and mint. On the palate, this medium-bodied offering gives layers of black fruits, chocolate, plum, cherries, creamy vanilla, and a crack of black pepper on the end. Food-friendly (we had it with lasagne), it also showed well as an evening solo sipper.

“South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years”

Another new-world winery that never fails to impress is Catena. Catena is my favourite Argentinean producer, and the Wine Society’s Exhibition Malbec (The Wine Society £12.50) is worth the membership on its own. The wine I’m recommending is the Catena Malbec 2019 (Majestic £9.99). This high-altitude, cool climate Malbec shows this grape’s impressive range and depth. Almost opaque, the nose if full of dark notes of blackberries, charcoal, and prunes that are lifted by scents of rose petals and raspberries. The palate reveals an. equally delicate balancing act, with hefty quantities of super-ripe, black-skinned fruits, coffee, cocoa, and earth given life by a refreshing splash of raspberry and redcurrant acidity. One for steak night, decant it or give it some time open before drinking.

I’ll finish with yet another new wine, one that hails from one of the greatest producers on the planet, Gaja. The Gaja family made their name in northern Italy in and around Barbaresco. Today, they’re acknowledged as Italian winemaking royalty, and their wines sell for serious money – the sensational 2019 Barbaresco, for example, will set you back £200 a bottle.

The Idda (London End Wines or Fareham Wines, £29.50) is the result of a joint venture with Sicily’s Etna pioneer, Graci. This is a terrific wine, one that combines power with elegance, purity with complexity. The bouquet offers floral herb notes backed by vibrant black and red fruits. The palate is dominated by tones of raspberry and strawberry, with touches of coffee, mint, and liquorice adding a savoury dimension. This is a serious and seriously good wine that will develop for another few years. Try it with mushroom risotto or lamb shanks.

Well, that’s it for autumn wines and almost for autumn. With the festive season on the way, next time, I’ll look at festive fizz and suggest a couple of wines that will make even the driest of turkeys taste like manna from heaven.

More soon…

Giles