A winter wine list should be a reflection of something trendy, something new, something well-loved—and lots of reds
or those hospitality industry professionals not lucky enough to be in control of a tropical destination venue, winter can be a slow and frugal time. With low rates of foot traffic and cold nights more suited to board games than bar tabs, your till can find itself sitting disturbingly idle. Some operators try and ride it out, but it’s better for morale to look to winter’s positives. And there’s one thing that a cold winter night suits better than any tropical beach—a solid bottle of red wine.
Indeed a good short list of winter wines and an emphasis on the sorts of foodstuff best suited to them can give you an edge over other operations, which can be handy when there are fewer migratory customers about. What wines are trendy, what’s new, and yet also what’s well-loved—these are the wines you need to switch on to over the following three months.
Bold, in-your-face flavours
Unmissable Australian red wines—mostly built on the bedrock that is shiraz—are increasingly held up to a posh sort of scorn by the ever-revolving door of local wine sophisticates. Too jammy, too heady, too oaky do all the pinot sniffers scream. Yet to a lot of occasional wine drinkers, who like red wine that fights back a little, such bolder beverages are just the ticket, particularly when it is 10 degrees centigrade outside.
Makers of such wines have also had a keen weather eye on trends. They’ve in many cases adapted accordingly. Oak isn’t as dominating as it used to be. And shiraz from regions like the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Rutherglen are demonstrating this new approach. There are plenty of winemakers that have always looked to more balanced flavours anyway, and shiraz and other Rhone varieties and blends from Mr. Riggs in McLaren Vale, Hewitson in the Barossa, or either Stanton & Killeen or Campbell’s in Victoria’s North-East quickly find a happy home on your wine list. I don’t think I’ve even met a customer who hasn’t liked Campbell’s Bobbie Burns Shiraz, for instance (2009, $16.50LUC). Or you could amp up the volume even more with some Rutherglen durif, which is a red grape variety that makes shiraz look like a hairdresser. Stanton & Killeen Durif 2008 ($20LUC) or neighbouring All Saints Durif 2008 ($15LUC) would do the trick. Great with dark, rich stews or pies.
Speaking of durif, alternative grape varieties from the olde worlde are more trendy than Deconstructed Wagyu Hamburgers at the moment. Such red varieties from southern Italy, like nero d’avola, sagrantino, and aglianico are not only impressing drinkers with their savoury and earthy flavours, but they are also starting to impress Australian grape growers, thanks to the fact that most of these alternative varieties hang on to more natural acid in warm wine regions than our more conventional grape varieties do. Such red varieties need hand selling and some advertising via the wine list, with brief descriptions.
Importers such as Trembath & Taylor or Arquilla both offer a small but good range of these red varieties, but don’t overlook some locally made interpretations. Chalmers in the Murray Darling region run both a vine nursery and their own wine brand, featuring many of these alternative varieties. LUCs are between $11 and $16.
Spain’s tempranillo is certainly a winter must-have, particularly as it is now breaching that gap between a weirdo wine-nerd’s red and a gastro-bore architect’s essential accessory. There are good examples of this wine at varying price points from Australia’s leading importer, The Spanish Acquisition. Locally made examples are also impressing, such as Pondalowie’s MT Tempranillo 2008 ($18LUC) or West Cape Howe Tempranillo 2009 ($13LUC). And tempranillo is tapas country, too, so you can also clean up on the food margins.
Winter is also a time to remind drinkers of the delights of this red, either straight up or in a blend with merlot. Coonawarra and Margaret River combine both the cachet and the wine quality, and there are more affordable examples about. From Margaret River try Fraser Gallup Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($14LUC), or Hay Shed Hill Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($13LUC). Both have fantastic QPR (quality price rapport). From Coonawarra look out for Balnaves The Blend 2009 ($13LUC), which contains a few Bordeaux standards, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. Or you could go a little off piste and list Hollick ‘Hollaia’ 2006 ($14LUC), which is a cheeky play on the super Tuscan blends of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. The good thing about all of these wines is that they have structure and are yet approachable. I’d still decant them at table, however, to increase the restaurant-as-theatre routine.
And don’t forget the whites
Continue to push the new-look Australian chardonnays. With their leaner and more subtle flavour profiles they suit winter seafood superbly well—think freshly shucked oysters, with different fusion dressings. Finally, winter is also a good time for the more viscous textures of pinot gris. New Zealand styles of this variety excel; producers such as Kumeu River, Mt Difficulty, Seresin Estate or Quartz Reef make high quality wines that drink more quickly than pinot gris really ought, but LUCs—hovering around the $20 mark—might slow that consumption speed down…