At this time of year, we turn to more comforting warming dishes such as braises, stews and casseroles that seem just right for the colder weather. Virtually every wine region of Europe has a substantial stew of some kind, be it cocido from Spain, a daube, pot-au-feu or beef bourguignon from France, or brasato and coda alla vaccinara from Italy. Not surprisingly, they often go really well with the more full-bodied red wines from the same regions.
All of these dishes are delicious but would hardly be considered haute cuisine or fine dining. To drink alongside them, I generally reach for something a little rustic, something with a bit of oomph to match those bigger flavours. Like me, you may have been avoiding those big 14-15 per cent wines over the summer months. Now is the time to open them up. You could also serve them a little warmer than those cool red summer wines, although please don’t put them beside the fire. I save my more elegant reds for plain roasts of beef or lamb or steak. These include Bordeaux, Burgundy and Riojas, as well as New World Pinots and lighter Cabernets.
I always think of Nebbiolo in autumn and winter. Barbaresco or Barolo if you are feeling flush; otherwise, a Langhe Nebbiolo from a good house such as Massolino, G.D. Viajra or Produttori del Barbaresco can be very good too. These are solid, structured wines built to go with robust dishes. But Piemonte is not the only robust red wine from Italy. Sicily, Puglia and most of the south produce warming big reds, sometimes at bargain prices. If you enjoy appassimento-style wines, now is the time to bring them out.
From France, I gravitate towards the southern Rhône for warming reds, as well as the Languedoc. Spain has no shortage of options, with plenty of richer Garnacha, Monastrell and Tempranillo. Throwing the net wider for richer reds, a Shiraz or GSM from Australia, a Malbec from Argentina, a Pinotage from South Africa, a Carmenere from Chile or a Zinfandel from California would all do nicely.
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With vegetarian recipes, as with meat dishes, match the wine to the food you are cooking. More intensely flavoured tomato dishes, Mediterranean tray bakes, and rich bean and tomato casseroles will provide the perfect partner to full-bodied red wines. Remember that mushrooms (cultivated and wild) love red wine, so a risotto, ragout or roast mushrooms will go with most reds including full-bodied wines.
When it comes to white wine, I start looking for something with a little more power and body. This is not the time for those light, crisp, refreshing white wines. Instead consider buying Chenin Blanc from South Africa, or a richer oak-aged Chardonnay. Now is also a great time to try out a few white wines from the southern Rhône. Many have a richness and texture that seem perfect at this time of year.
Don’t serve them too cold either. These wines are better cool rather than chilled, and often taste better decanted too. I put mine outside the back door for a few hours, provided it’s not raining, of course. Drink alongside substantial seafood dishes such as fish pie, as well as pork, chicken and turkey. They also go really well with vegetarian gratins (including cauliflower cheese) and roast root vegetables and gourds such as butternut squash. Mild creamy curries with cauliflower, squash, chickpeas and potatoes are also best with a textured white wine.
It doesn’t have to be wine though. A beef casserole cooked in stout requires a bottle of the same alongside. I have enjoyed many Belgian brews with winter stews but, keeping it Irish, the Mescan Tripel featured here would be ideal with all sorts of substantial fare. I feature the Porterhouse stout here, but there are plenty of others - Lineman Astral Grains, Dungarvan Black Rock and Kinnegar Yannaroddy are three personal favourites.
Laurent Miquel Solas Viognier 2020, IGP d’OC
This is a medium-bodied wine with textured peaches and pears balanced nicely by a refreshing acidity. Perfect with vegetarian gratins, roast root vegetables and creamy fish pie.
From: Dunnes Stores
Specially Selected Pézenas 2019, Limited Edition, Languedoc
Quite a mouthful! Swarthy ripe dark fruits and dark pepper with a well-integrated tannic structure. This has the power to match with venison, rib of beef or a substantial stew.
Château Maucru 2018, Bordeaux
Lighter than most of the wines today, but the smooth sweet ripe red fruits and light earthiness would make a great partner for roast red meats or roast Mediterranean vegetables.
The Second Fleet Clare Valley Shiraz 2020, Australia
A big, powerful wine packed with ripe damson fruits overlaid with spice and firm tannins on the finish. Save this for full-bodied red meats and casseroles.
Evodia Garnacha 2020, Spain
Concentrated and full-bodied with svelte sweet ripe fruits, roasted coffee and chewy tannins on the finish. Perfect with a cocida, or a bean and tomato stew.
From: DrinkStore, Stoneybatter; Lotts & Co.;Thomas’s of Foxrock; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Blackrock Cellar; 1601, Kinsale; Dicey’s, Ballyshannon.
Ademán Carabizal Toro Roble 2020, Spain
Floral aromas with plenty of ripe red cherries overlaid with coffee and vanilla spice. A full-bodied, smooth wine to partner with roast game, red meats, and grilled peppers with olives.
From: Mitchell & Son
Ch. Pesquié Les Terrasses 2020, Ventoux, Organic
14%, €18.50 – €19.95
A very superior wine bursting with supple spicy dark fruits, well-integrated tannins and a long finish. Try it with roast game or venison casserole.
From: JNWine.com, Sweeneys D3.
Fondrèche Il Etait Une Fois Rouge 2019, Ventoux
A wonderful balance of power and elegance. Fresh wild herb aromas, intense, powerful red fruit, notes of black pepper and a refreshing minerality.
Mescan Red Tripel
8.5%, €4.20-4.50 for a 33cl bottle
A rich full-bodied beer with a heart-warming maltiness and a savoury frutiness. Perfect with roasts, Irish stew, carbonnade or any other rich casserole.
From: Direct online or good off-licences.
Porterhouse Irish Stout
Porterhouse made the original craft stout, and all of their iterations are worth trying. This is an ultra-reliable medium-bodied stout with roasted coffee and a dry finish. Drink it with Irish stew and other casseroles.
From: Widely available in off-licences.