By Richard Household
Wonderful Red Wines to Enjoy through Autumn and Winter
As we head into autumn it is time to change our wine diet away from light whites of Italy and summer rosés of Provence and move to rich, warm, satisfying and bold red wines. These are the sort of wines you can enjoy curled up by the fire in front of your favourite Netflix box set, or with friends and family sharing a rich, flavourful meal or out at your favourite restaurant. The best wines are remembered not because of some fancy tasting note (‘richly perfumed with lashings of pressed plum, sweet spice and finely textured tannins’) but rather where you were and who you were with when you enjoyed the wines. That is what makes them special.
I’m going to guide you through some of my favourite red wines and describe them as I remember them – where I was and the company I enjoyed. Sometimes these vinous memories are very simple and other times they were more elaborate, so sorry in advance for some of them.
Let’s start in Spain. I travel to Spain quite a bit. This year I’ve been back to Rioja having already spent quite a bit of time exploring the Basque Country as well as Andalucía, drinking sherry but that’s another story! One of the reasons I love Rioja so much is that it ticks a lot of boxes for me: wonderful fruit flavours of raspberries in syrup, bramble, soft and rich with layers of vanilla and cinnamon spice with ripe tannins.
A trip I have never forgotten was about 25 years ago – my first visit to Rioja and I went to a good but not famous winery in Alavesa (where some of the very best Tempranillo is grown). The views from high up on the hill over-looking the plains below and the Ebro River are magnificent and, after a very good morning tasting, we went to the only restaurant in the village. It looked like nothing. A small non-descript door opening up to reveal a very simple kitchen to the left with hanging meats and a simple charcoal grill. The seating area was upstairs and it was all very, very basic … almost spartan. I did not have high expectations because in those days I hadn’t got a clue. Now I know that often – less in more! It ended up being one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed. Simple cured meats with asparagus to start and then large sections of sizzling lamb, carved on the table. The smell was divine and married with the Rioja to perfection. Ever since then, whenever I enjoy Rioja (which is regularly!) I am taken back to that wonderful lunch that about 10 of us enjoyed for several hours, eating, drinking and putting the world to rights.
Rioja is a wonderful wine. These days the fruit is superb and takes the oak ageing really well. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of time some of these wines spend in oak (often American to give the wine some vanilla character). If the fruit is good enough then the wine can take it. You can buy superb Crianza or Reserva for under £15 per bottle. If you want to go mad and enjoy a real treat then search out Rioja Alta. I have other similar stories from Navarra and Pamplona – you should go!
Let’s jump to South Africa and the amazing Cape Winelands. What an extraordinary wine adventure this is every time I visit. These days I manage to travel there every 2 or 3 years, to visit winemaker friends and to spend time in one of the most beautiful places on earth. My first visit was almost comical in how excited I was at every vineyard visit. Each one I thought was the best place – with wonderful wines, immaculate vineyards and a backdrop of stunning mountain ranges. Then you would go to the next winery or wine farm and it would be even more spectacular. From Franschhoek to Stellenbosch and then to Paarl and Wellington or across to Elgin and Walker Bay. It is a wine trip that has to be done.
Anyway, I digress … we’re talking about red wines and South Africa produces some of the best. Talk about wines to curl up and enjoy with a loved one by the fire! My favourites are generally Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and some Pinotage. Pinotage is crossing between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir producing a wine that can be characterised by red and black fruit with leather, spice and often chocolate. The problem is that it has been responsible for many of South Africa’s cheapest, dullest and harshest wines. It can, however, be superb with delicious balance, richness and flavour. There is a big revolution in winemaking happening in Swartland with some stunning bush vine Pinotage – look out for David & Nadia Pinotage from Swartland (as well as their Chenin Blanc!).
For Cabernet Sauvignon then Mellasat Farm in Paarl is the place. Stephen Richardson (who also makes a wonderful White Pinotage!) has a block of vines on a terroir that produces magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve enjoyed many visits here, playing like a kid in a sweet shop in the barrel room tasting young wines and seeing what happens with different oak barrels. In his case he uses the finest French barriques which adds layers of spice and structure to intense blackcurrant/cassis of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Then back out into the bright South African sunlight to enjoy sundowners and a braai with more Cabernet Sauvignon!
From Spain then South Africa and now to Bordeaux, which many of you will know is a big favourite of mine. In fact after I finish writing this, I’m off to Bordeaux for a few days for tasting and maybe a meal or two. I try and champion Bordeaux because not only are the wines perfect for Autumn/Winter drinking but because this iconic region is not all about Cru Classé, expensive wines and grand chateaux. That accounts for a tiny part of the Bordeaux story. There are thousands of small growers all across the region making superb and affordable wines, from the muscular wines of the Médoc through to the sumptuous, velvety
wines of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol to the more everyday wines in Entre-Deux-Mers. With lesser known regions like Castillon, Blaye and Fronsac all producing magnificently structured wines that offer great value for money. It is an extraordinary part of the world and with a city, Bordeaux, that has gone through a miraculous transformation in recent years. It’s a great destination for a weekend away.
I’m going to focus on one wine – Chateau Veyry. This is a tiny estate in Castillon which is a stone’s throw from Saint-Emilion but on the same limestone ridge that is home to some of the greatest wines – Ausone, Pavie, Gaffelière and so on. A hundred years ago the wines of Castillon used to be as famous as its illustrious neighbour but they have been largely forgotten. Not by me! Christian is an artist, crafting a rich, full-bodied Merlot/Cabernet Franc that is also, somehow, elegant and refined. I love his wines and it is a visit I look forward to every time I go to Bordeaux. I’ll be there this week!
I helped to make the final blend of the 2017 sitting in Michel Rolland’s laboratory in Pomerol earlier this year. The result is a wine that is layered, complex with brooding dark fruit flavours, ripe juicy and very finely grained tannins. The wine has an extraordinary texture and ‘mouth-feel’ with a long sumptuous finish. Just wonderful! It is not expensive and is the perfect example to show that there is more to Bordeaux than Cru Classé wines that require a second mortgage to buy!
By the way, if you find yourself in Saint-Emilion looking for somewhere to enjoy lunch then drive a little way out to L’Atelier de Candale in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes. A magnificent restaurant right in the middle of the vineyards.
So there you have it. Some of my favourite reds, with stories to match, to help you enjoy your winter wine drinking. I managed to avoid telling you the story of a small private lunch for 4 of us in Chateau Palmer. Another time!
Be brave, explore and happy tasting!