Top 12 Wines for Winter Drinking
When the colder months roll around, enjoying a glass of wine by the fire is suddenly at the top of many peoples’ to-do lists.
And despite what many think, it’s not always the red that is best to reach for, with many white varieties now increasingly recognised for the warming delight they can bring to the dreariest of days.
To help you find your own cool-weather favourites, Panel Member and Wine Educator Adam Walls has put together his list of 12 top winter-friendly wines, covering Australian classics like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (of course!) to more sprightly varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Roussanne and Montepulciano.
It really is a delicious list! Let’s start with one that we’ve noticed trending for a little while now…
Viognier, a white French grape rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1960s thanks to Yalumba and a handful of Californian wineries, has enjoyed something of a resurgence as more people discover its seductive nature and versatility when it comes to matching food.
It’s also quite easy to recognise, typically full of ripe apricot and peach fruit with notes of musk and ginger. Its heady aromas continue with an intense flavour core. Creamy and soft, can have a relatively high alcohol level of above 13%, which adds to the slippery, seductive texture of the wine.
Although it can be added to Shiraz in small amounts to give that varietal additional fragrance and texture, Viognier very much deserves to be enjoyed on its own terms.
Great example: Mistletoe Viognier 2017
Perfect with: Pad Thai noodles, roast chicken, tagines and pumpkin dishes.
Adam says: “Heady, intense and full-bodied, Viognier is a wine for those who love flavour in their whites. Savour it by itself, or serve with rich and creamy foods.”
Grüner is hailed as the white grape of Austria and is full of citrus fruit flavours including lime, grapefruit and lemon, as well as a signature peppery, herbaceous note.
These characteristics have led to comparisons with both Riesling (lime fruits) and Sauvignon Blanc (herbaceous), but Grüner’s electric backbone of acidity gives it an energy and vibrancy that sets it apart.
Although easily enjoyed in warmer weather, Grüner expresses itself in quite diverse ways, ranging from light, energetic and fresh to creamy, full-bodied and intense. A simply wonderful wine to enjoy in the winter sun.
Great example: Tomich Grüner Veltliner 2017
Perfect with: Dumplings and yum cha, while richer styles match with deep fried pork or chicken schnitzel.
Adam says: “Grüner is set to flourish in Australia’s café culture because it is so deliciously versatile. It’s easy to enjoy, and fits a wide scope of food and occasions.”
Roussanne might not be the best-known variety, but it’s one that every wine lover should seek out! With its origins in France’s Rhône Valley – the same historical birthplace of Shiraz and Viognier – and while loved for its flavour, it is both revered and despised by the grape growers of the Rhône for being an extremely hard wine to get right, but an utterly superb one when they do.
Stone fruits such as peach and apricot are the variety’s signature characters, along with notes of herbal tea leaves. Roussanne wines can be oily in texture and show typically intense flavours, but the best ones showcase an elegance and purity that belies the fruit intensity – a balance that ensures you get enough flavour to ward off any winter chills.
Great example: Dandelion Vineyards Honeypot of the Barossa Roussanne 2018
Perfect with: Roussanne works fabulously with shellfish, salmon, turkey or roast chicken. Also very good with polenta and other corn-based dishes.
Adam says: “You may not be familiar with Roussanne, but tracking some down will be worth your while. Its perfume, fruit intensity and elegance will have you immediately smitten.”
It’s hard to mistake a glass of Gewürztraminer for anything else. Its powerful aromatic presence is dominated by notes of lychee, musk and Turkish delight, while its signature spices of ginger and cinnamon give it its name (Gerwürz means ‘spice’ or ‘herb’ in German).
Lychee and rose water dominates with hints of stone fruit there also, in a rich, full-bodied wine that is generally high in alcohol. The alcohol content gives the wine something of an oily texture and a perceptible sweetness, its typically lower acidity matched with a powerful combination of flavours to make Gewürztraminer as much a mouthful to savour as it is to pronounce.
In fact, so distinctive is this intriguing variety, you could almost spend many an hour getting lost in the wine itself without the need for food.
Great example: Delatite Deadman’s Hill Gewürztraminer 2017
Perfect with: Washed rind or stinky cheese for that classic Alsace experience. For an Asian twist, match spicy noodles like Pad Thai, or try a laksa. Sweet and sour dishes are also a hit.
Adam says: “It’s a shame that more Gewürztraminer is not enjoyed as it is such a delicious wine. Treat yourself this winter to a bowl of spicy laksa and a big glass of Gewürztraminer. You will thank me for it.”
Time to jump in the darker end of the winter wine drinking pool, with Durif. Known as Petite Sirah in both North and South America – not to be confused with the Syrah clone, Petite Syrah, grown in the Rhône - the petite refers to the small, deeply coloured berries whose extraordinary fruit intensity make Durif such a distinctive variety.
Now relatively non-existent in France, California and Australia have become the world’s leading producers of Durif, with the two key regions of Rutherglen and Riverina producing fabulous examples. The wines produced from Durif’s small, dark grapes are rich in colour and aroma, and absolutely full of fruit power.
In fact, it can resemble Shiraz on steroids – fruit and tannins dialled up to 11! It has the muscle to match deeply flavoured dishes, including anything with a barbeque flame and smoke lick. If ever a variety was created with winter warmth in mind then it would be Durif.
Great example: A Growers Touch Durif 2018
Perfect with: Sausages with caramelised onions and mash.
Adam says: Durif is unashamedly a rich and intense wine; saturated with pure black and purple fruit flavour, it’s the perfect wine when you need comfort against the elements.”
Malbec has been planted in Australia for many years now, and is French in origin – southwest France, to be more precise – but has built a world-class reputation as being the red grape of Argentina, where it was introduced during the mid 19th century.
Even if you haven’t enjoyed Malbec as a standalone drop, you’ve likely consumed it unknowingly as it is most often blended into Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. Interestingly, the success of the Argentine Malbec has inspired Australian winemakers to explore the variety’s potential locally, with glorious results.
Malbec displays a deeper colour, and is known for its intense aroma and rich fruit palate. These characters make it naturally appealing to any lover of richer reds like Shiraz and/or Cabernet wines. And, as the Argentines know too well, Malbec is just perfect with red meat.
Great example: Vinaceous Wines Vinaceous Voodoo Moon 2016
Perfect with: Beef or lamb are the classic matches, but try with any dish that has roasted root vegetables or olives.
Adam says: “Malbec wines are so easy to enjoy. Their great colour, perfumed aromas and intense flavours leave you wanting for nothing!”
No longer flabby, over-oaked and unfashionable, Chardonnay has evolved from the classic ‘big white’ into an elegant and flavoursome variety which can be fresh, crispy and fruity – or rich, full-bodied and warming, with a smooth palate and plenty of character.
First arriving in Australia in the James Busby collection in 1832, Chardonnay started to take off here in the 1970s and drove the massive wine boom of the 1980s and 1990s, when it became our most planted grape – before the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) backlash began, and people turned away from what was perceived as its unsophisticated nature.
That’s all changed now, as Chardonnay has been redefined. With citrus, stonefruit and melon notes and well-judged oak, it can be textured and lush and at the same time be lively and energetic. What’s more, more people are finding it to be the ideal winter white, where such richer styles provide a great match to soups or meat-based winter dishes.
The trick to enjoying Chardonnay in winter is in your choice of style and how it’s handled. Don’t just take it out of the fridge – let it wake up a little and decant when possible to really savour its possibilities.
Great example: Rockcliffe Peaceful Bay Chardonnay 2017
Perfect with: Tagliatelle with burnt butter and sage; fish, chicken or pork (roasted, braised or poached) in a creamy sauce.
Adam says: “Chardonnay’s allure lies in the fact that it can mix both elegance and fruit power, with its generosity being key to its brilliance when sipping in colder weather.”
Proclaimed by many as the most ‘regal’ of red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon’s blackcurrant fruit flavour and mouth-hugging tannins guarantee warmth and satisfaction to winter wine drinkers. Its signature characteristics are concentrated black, purple and red fruits supported by a backbone of strong tannins, adding extra weight and muscle.
Despite its global popularity, it’s actually a relatively recent variety – the result of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century – and is Australia’s second most planted variety. It might be easy to cultivate and even easier to drink, but it’s not always the easiest variety to get right. Cooler climates bring out a hint of green pepper, while wines produced in the Coonawarra region can have distinctive minty, menthol or eucalyptus notes.
Drinking a glass of good Cabernet Sauvignon on a winter’s night is the wine equivalent of pulling on a comfortable, warm woollen vest to ward off the cold and fall into unsurpassed cosiness.
Great example: Peter Lehmann Portrait Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Perfect with: A classic match is lamb; roasted, barbequed or slow-cooked, it’s all great. Also worth trying with vegetable caponata or lentils.
Adam says: “Use Cabernet as your weapon of choice when it comes to winter warmth. Its fruit intensity and lick of tannin will ensure you forget the cold outside.”
Without doubt, Australia’s favourite variety. We love its colour, we love the spice and weight – let’s face it, we just love Shiraz. For many Australians, it’s the go-to wine throughout the entire year, but it really comes into its own over the cooler months where its fruit weight keeps us warm, and its spice provides comfort.
Plus, its vast array of styles means you can enjoy a medium bodied Shiraz with your lunch, then open up a richer style with your dinner. Or, simply snuggle up on the lounge to savour your favourite glass of Shiraz while you wind down with some Netflix and chill.
Great example: Mr Riggs The Ring In Shiraz 2016
Perfect with: The versatility of Shiraz make it a great match for barbeque foods, sure, but don’t stop there – beetroot, mushrooms, lightly-spiced curries all work, as does dark chocolate.
Adam says: “Shiraz and cool weather are the perfect fusion; Shiraz’s body and fruity intensity help buffer the elements, guaranteeing comfort and enjoyment.”
This style of wine is one of only two Australian fortified wines that no one else in the world can replicate - sweet, rich and luxurious. The extra weight of this wine and its gentle warmth make this a no brainer when it comes to battling the cooler elements.
Full of dried fruits, sweet spice, caramel and grilled nut notes, this is the perfect wine to kick-back with to enjoy some relaxation. As one of the most delicious and unique styles of wines you’ll find anywhere in the world, enjoy it with your phone off, your feet up, and the winter cold kept at bay outside your window.
Great example: Campbell’s Rutherglen Muscat NV
Perfect with: It is perfection itself! But do try it with chocolate, caramel or fudge. Blue cheese also works a treat.
Adam says: “As life continues to get more hectic and rushed, it’s important to take some time out for yourself. This wine provides the perfect accompaniment to your ‘me’ time.”
If you haven’t tried Monte – or Montepulciano, to give it its full name – you need to fix that immediately. After just a few sips it may well become your favourite new red variety.
The grape hails from Abruzzo, in the central part of Italy, producing a wine that is full of colour and vibrant fruit flavours. One sip in the winter chill is almost enough to make you feel you’re sitting in the piazza of an Italian villa, lunching on pasta in the Tuscan sun.
It all helps make Monte one of the perfect winter wines, ideal for opening when takeaway pizza is the best option, or for pouring alongside a simple antipasto platter to give your night-in a shine.
Great example: F. Calabria Founder’s Series Montepulciano 2018
Perfect with: Anything Italian!
Adam says: “For lovers of Shiraz, Monte is a must try. Its joy lies in the fact that it’s so easy to drink. Fleshy and full of flavour, it’s a wine you don’t have to think about.”
Touriga hails from Portugal, where it is used in that country’s fortified wines (ports) and is considered the number one red variety. Australia has followed the lead of our Iberian friends, not only using it in our fortified wines, but commonly making it as a dry table wine – with very impressive results!
Touriga is characterised by its heady, violet-heavy bouquet, its deep colour in the glass and its body and intensity. Shiraz and Cabernet lovers in particular have been known to light up in response to the charms of Touriga. It’s a vigorous, aromatic wine that is high in grippy tannins, and a winter-warmer par excellence.
Great example: Drayton’s Oakey Creek Vineyard Touriga 2018
Perfect with: Charcuterie, pickles and sourdough; most meat dishes.
Adam says: “It’s so easy to see why we are falling for Touriga in this country. Amazing colour, fragrance and fruit all in one glass.”