There’s nothing quite as romantic as a crisp winter evening spent cosied up by the fire with the warmth of a winter red wine. Even the food we start to cook – the richer sauces, slower braises and hearty winter warmers – lend themselves so gracefully to red varietals. With the cooler weather upon us, we sat down with wine expert, sommelier and Director of Crown Cellar & Co., Matt Brooke, to discuss winter reds and mulled wines.
What are your favourite winter reds and why?
I think you can’t go past a good Shiraz! For me, I like them medium bodied, youthful and juicy with loads of lifted aroma and spice. That being said, a favourite winter dish for me is a good slow cooked ragù, and that just leads me to think of something like an Italian Chianti Classico or Sangiovese in general.
Best tips to create the perfect mulled wine? Any secret ingredients you care to share?
Mulled wine is fun to make, I think historically it was made with old leftover wine, a bit like sangria, but nowadays people are making it with purpose because they want that alternative to a hot toddy or want the warmth and cuddly nature of a sweet spiced wine drink in the cold winter months. So I prefer to use a nice young juicy medium bodied red, like a Shiraz, Merlot or Grenache - something not too tannic and bitter as we’re going to add those elements in the spices you use such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.
Simmer the spices in some water and sugar with the citrus rinds for about 10 minutes first before adding the wine and simmer for another 5 minutes. My tip is to be careful not to boil the wine - just gently warm and let the spices infuse over gentle heat. Then, strain and serve in a ceramic cup (not a wine glass!) as it will keep the drink warm longer.
What to look out for when buying winter reds to cellar?
To choose wines successfully your best bet is to find out what regions grow those grape varieties best to put in your cellar. Whether that’s Cabernet for Margaret River for example or Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley, you should choose the strong suit for the area. Shiraz from South Australia is a strong bet, you can safely choose from McLaren Vale, Clare Valley or the Eden and Barossa Valleys – the successful growth of these varieties can be attributed to their ideal cooler climates.
What producers should you keep your eye out for?
An up and coming winery that has particularly excited me is Ox Hardy wines. The winemaker Andrew Hardy (also known as ‘Ox’) was once the head wine maker for Petaluma for many years but his family had wineries at Upper Tintara in McLaren Vale. In 2001, he returned to his roots where he has had this new and incredible access to fruit from his family. You can find their Grenache in Crown Cellar & Co., this is a particularly great winter red because it pairs wonderfully with slow cooked, hearty dishes and this is precisely what we love about winter from a culinary perspective. Try it with a pork shoulder or a butter bean cassoulet.
Penley Estate from Coonawarra are also making some really delicious wines at the moment. They haven’t been on the scene for as long as some other wineries, yet their lead winemaker is making some really interesting upgrades to the wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a really beautiful wine – a uniquely contemporary expression of a Cabernet from this region that is quite complex in flavour. Perfect for comforting winter meals like lamb or cellaring for up to five years if you’re patient!
An old favourite of mine is the Heathcote Estate Shiraz – a long supported wine at Crown. The winemaker is linked to Yabby Lake in the Mornington Peninsula. A legend wine maker, this is a quintessential example of a Victorian Shiraz that always makes it in the top 5.