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As the nights start to draw in, match some autumnal fare with spicy South African reds, classic claret, or a nutty glass of tawny port.
Now is the time to reach for extra layers of clothing, and wines with an extra layer of padding. This is more a season for red wines, so I’m proposing some spicy southern belles from South Africa based on the Syrah grape, and some sensibly priced red Bordeaux. If it gets extra chilly, then the restorative nature of tawny port provides the perfect welcome on nippy nights. Finally, to remind you of warmer climes, how about some Australian Semillon?
It’s not rocket science. If you have a Mediterranean-style climate, then it makes sense to focus on grapes that thrive in such conditions. Maybe South Africa’s wineries should have realised this sooner, but the penny’s _ nally dropped, and the Rhône-inspired wines now being produced in the Cape make it a very happy hunting ground.2012
The Liberator, Francophile, Syrah, Stellenbosch (corksout.com, sawinesonline.co.uk)
A joyful young wine, with a roasted/ spicy edge to its crunchy dark-berry and blackcurrant flavours. If you know your wines from the Rhône, think Crozes-Hermitage on steroids. Bring on the roast lamb!
2011 Badenhorst Family Wines, Secateurs Red Blend, Coastal Region (Harvey Nichols, swig.co.uk)
A fleshier wine than The Liberator, with other grapes joining Syrah in the blend, but again the hallmarks here are freshness and fruit. This is more herbal than spicy, with plusher plum, loganberry and mulberry flavours, and an earthy finish. Think hearty stews, particularly oxtail.
The top tiers of Bordeaux wine have now passed beyond the wallets of most mortals. But considering there are around 12,000 producers in the region, surely there should be some châteaux where both flavour and price are more userfriendly? Here’s what a couple of wine merchants suggested I try under the ‘mature but a affordable’ bracket.
2010 Château de Fonbel, St Emilion Grand Cru (Lay & Wheeler)
2010? Mature? Then I tasted it. Yes, it’s still a boisterous wine, and anyone who likes their wine a little more on the leathery side should hold off for a few more years. But there are no harsh tannins that need to soften, and the plummy blackcurrant and blackberry flavours, plus the note of graphite and a slightly briny character, are very appealing now. So why wait? Mature Cheddar, please.
2006 Château Patache d’Aux, Médoc (The Wine Society)
This would have been a bit savage at three years old. It’s now entering a more friendly middle age, and is showing its juicy blackcurrant, light mint/herb and tobacco flavours, plus a touch of savoury complexity. Cool, confident, and good for a few more years yet – a classic wine to pair with roast beef.
If you like your ports on the gutsy side, then drink young vintage ports and LBV (Late Bottled Vintage). But if you fancy something a bit more relaxed, then tawny port is the place to go. Thanks to the lengthy ageing in barrels, the wines have lost some of their youthful freshness, but they more than make up for it in their gentle nature. Serve them with cheese or puddings or just sip them on their own. Here are two of the best.
Niepoort, The Senior Tawny (Bottle Apostle, Lea & Sandeman)
Effortlessly appealing, this combines flavours of red berries and raisins with a lush, almost velvety texture and a soft, nutty finish. Drier (and classier) than many younger tawnies, there’s also a spicy note to add to the allure.
Taylor’s, 20 Year Old Tawny Port (Harrods, Selfridges)
Like a sprightly old gentleman, this is beautifully mature but still full of joie de vivre. Each sniff reveals another facet – candied orange peel, raisins, figs, walnuts, tea, spice, even a whiff of old furniture. It’s sweet but there’s plenty of citrus freshness to balance, while the mellow finish keeps you coming back for more.
While Semillon hails from Bordeaux, it’s the Australians who are doing their darnedest to bring it to a wider audience. And the styles vary markedly from region to region. Both wines below would be great with seafood platters, but they’re quite different.
2005 McWilliams, Mount Pleasant Elizabeth, Semillon, Hunter Valley (Tesco)
Try Hunter Valley Semillon when it’s young and it can be like drinking battery acid. But let it mature, and the citrus sharpness mellows, and notes of custard, beeswax, and tropical fruits appear alongside the greengage and lime flavours. The toasty character makes you swear it had been in a barrel – but it hasn’t. This is textbook Hunter Semillon, still with plenty of years ahead of it.
2011 Moss Wood, Semillon, Margaret River (Jeroboams)
As has been the custom in France, Semillon in Margaret River is often mixed in with Sauvignon for what has become known as the SSB blend. Here it’s performing solo, producing a wine that manages to be plump and honeyed, yet still with crisp lemon, lime and pear flavours.