Wine Club: More punch than Lemsip

Australian Cabernet - perfect toe-warming wine
Australian Cabernet - perfect toe-warming wine
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Christine Austin puts downs the Kleenex and sniffs out the best wines to help ward off winter chills.

As well as a stylish hat, a commemorative photo from crossing the Andes and a very nice bottle of wine, I came back from South America with a stinker of a cold. I wouldn’t normally involve you in my health matters but a week of feeling distinctly under the weather had a dire effect on my taste buds. For a while I couldn’t taste the difference between Limoux and a Lemsip, but as the symptoms subsided I discovered the benefits of a warming glass or two of red wine.

Not only did my recovery proceed apace, but the wines lifted my spirits and the flavours in the beef casserole I found at the back of the freezer.

When choosing a wine to cope with a cold, the sunshine quotient must be high. That means any wine made from grapes that have ripened in abundant sunshine have far more flavour than those that have struggled in cool climate conditions. I am convinced that these reds are not just curative against colds, they could be preventative too.

Here are the wines that might just keep winter chills at bay.

• Estiba 1 Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina, Tesco, £5.99: There is nothing better than Malbec for big sturdy, toe-warming flavours and this one has fruit to the fore with soft, plush tannins in the background. It comes from Mendoza in the foothills of the Andes where the sun shines all day long, but higher altitudes add a chill to overnight temperatures. The result is that the dark, bramble and plum fruit flavours shine out of the wine with a touch of freshness on the palate. This is a terrific mid-week supper wine to team with pasta, pork loin roast or shepherd’s pie.

• Taste the Difference Fairtrade Pinotage 2013, Western Cape, South Africa, Sainsbury’s, £8: There was a time when Pinotage reeked of tar and creosote but those days have gone. This Pinotage shows the generous, ripe, mulberry, bramble fruit and touch of pencil shavings typical of the variety. It comes from old, dry farmed vines and money from the purchase of this wine goes directly back to the farm to help the workers.

• Tercius Touriga Nacional 2011, Portugal, Marks & Spencer, £8: Touriga Nacional is the grape that normally goes into port, but here it produces a chunky, powerful, damson and chocolate, deep-flavoured wine. If you like a spicy Shiraz then you will probably like this Touriga. It is slightly more structured and, although it has been aged in oak for nine months, the fruit stands well clear of the wood. Team this with garlic-studded roast lamb or grilled duck breast.

• Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Franc 2013, Central Valley, Chile, Majestic, £8.99 down to £5.99 on multi-buy: The story is that 120 patriots hid in the cellars of Santa Rita during Chile’s fight for independence from Spain, hence the name of the wine. If they did they probably drank their way through considerable quantities of this company’s rather good wines. Cabernet Franc is more usually mixed in a blend, but this single-variety version has a lovely lifted herbal edge leading into a mix of 
red cherry and raspberry fruit. The tannins are soft and rounded with just a touch of freshness on the finish. Try it with lamb, roast chicken or a cheesy vegetable bake.

• Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile, Field & Fawcett, York, £9.60: It is 20 years since Chile’s own signature grape was rediscovered, masquerading as Merlot. Now Chile’s winemakers have learnt how to make the most of its dark, mulberry, spice-
sprinkled flavours and Casa Silva is one of the best. Based in the warm Colchagua Valley, where grapes generally have to be hidden under the leaves of the vine to avoid sunburn, they ripen to perfection. Team this smooth, silky, savoury wine with rich-flavoured meats such as venison, herb-crusted lamb and hard cheeses.

• Torres Gran Sangre de Toro 2010, Catalunya, Spain, Penistone Wine Cellars, £10.79: A lot more difficult to find than the regular Sangre de Toro (Asda and Waitrose around £8.49) but a distinct notch up in quality. The family firm of Torres may be one of Spain’s largest producers but they hit precise quality markers across the range. Gran Sangre de Toro is made from local grapes Garnacha and Cariñena with just a splash of Syrah in the blend. The result is a spice-sprinkled, raspberry and redcurrant style of wine, with warmth and character. It is packed with Mediterranean style and goes perfectly with grilled lamb, kebabs and spiced chicken.

• Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia, The Wright Wine Co, £11: Named after the Wakefield River in Clare Valley, this brand goes by the name of Taylor’s in its homeland but has to change its name for export, apparently to avoid confusion with the eponymous port brand. Clare Valley is comparatively cool with a distinct breeze blowing through the hills in the afternoon, but the sun is intense and ripens Cabernet grapes to perfection, while keeping some underlying freshness in the flavour. With deep cassis and cherry fruit with a touch of herbal notes and pepper, this is a wine to cope with meaty dishes, including a rich-tasting lasagne.

• Evans and Tate Breathing Space Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia, Majestic, £11.99, down to £8.99 on multi-buy: No apologies for another Aussie Cabernet in this selection. They certainly have the power to warm the toes and ward off the sniffles. This one comes from the beautiful west coast of Australia where sea breezes take the edge off the warm sunshine, giving a wine with deep red fruits and smooth, supple tannins. This wine has spent 10 months in French oak, developing complexity and depth. On multi-buy this is particularly good value.

• Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Australia, Waitrose, £15.99: Wynn’s is the largest and oldest single vineyard holder in Coonawarra where the Terra Rossa soil gives extra depth and complexity to the wines. Made from the top 20 per cent of all grapes grown on the estate, this is a wine full of cassis, eucalyptus and mint with oak adding structure and body. As well as a winter casserole, this will go well with roast beef, steak or even roast pheasant.