Often I hear people saying "it's winter, so we need to drink warming winter reds", or "it's summer and we need to drink crisp summery whites", with of course pinks fitting into the summer category as well.
However I'm of the opinion that wines are not seasonal. It is the food that is seasonal and it is the food that dictates the wines we drink.
Thus we drink more of the crisp whites and pinks in the summer because they can be chilled and they suit the summery styles of food,
and we drink more full-bodied reds in winter because the colour looks warming and the wines suit stews and roasts. (I particularly like cooking stews and roasts in winter because they are slow cooked in the oven, and the extra warmth from the oven adds another layer of heat to the house.)
But, quite honestly, I'm prepared to drink most types of wine any time of the year. Take Champagne, for example. Crisp and cold - even it's the middle of winter I won't say 'no'.
Crisp Sauvignon Blanc with that plate of fish - yum - had some last week.
A sweetish Riesling with a spicy pumpkin soup.
Even a glass of Rosť with a warming plate of Cajun-spice chicken - nothing better to cut through the spices no matter the time of year - and let's face it, pinks are getting better and no longer have to be drunk by Christmas in the vintage they were made. They even work for a winter luncheon in the conservatory.
And what about your 'soft, generous warming winter reds' with the BBQ'ed steak in the middle of summer?
Yes it's definitely the food that dictates the wine.
But there are two drinks I like in winter.
One is mulled wine - consumed like a hot drink - fantastic when coming off the ski slopes or after clearing up in the paddocks, like after last week's mid-winter storm.
The other is a robust fortified red because there's nothing like that like that extra hit of alcohol to quickly warm the blood stream on a freezing winter's night. Curled up in front of the fire with a decadent chocolate dessert or a plate of creamy blue cheese, I can't think of anything better.
And I found the perfect wine last week. It's the Hinchco Dessert Merlot 2005 from Matakana.
When Michael and Andrea Hinchco planted their Matakana vineyard in 1999, they decided to only plant Merlot. Then they decided they needed some variety in the wines they produced, rather than just one red. Their winemaker, Darryl Soljan, from Ascension Wines, had some ideas and now there are five renditions of Merlot in their line-up.
They've a sparkling Merlot Rosť, a still Merlot Rosť, a soft easy drinking red Merlot and a rather tasty 'Reserve' bottling they call 'The Hinch'. And last but not least is this fortified wine. Darryl suggested this because he had made a dessert Cabernet at de Redcliffe in the days before Ascension was born. He thought a dessert style Merlot could be a unique addition to the Hinchco range of Merlots. And it is!
The first was made in 2003 but Hinchco Dessert Merlot 2005 is the current release.
It's deep garnet red, like an almandine garnet which has deep red black inclusions and a ruby glow emanating from its depth. It's fragrant with scents of brandy macerated raisins and liquorice on the nose and it is warm, mellow and spicy in the velvety textured palate with liquorice, allspice, macerated cherries, spiced plum jam, brandy liqueur, fruitcake, chocolate and marzipan. Sweet but not sickly sweet, there's a balanced dryness to the subtle cedary finish and a deliciously warm after-glow. It reminds me a little of a late bottled vintage port. Fortification with 40 year old Australian brandy, rather than grape spirit or ethanol, makes it soft and round and you don't get a big hit of alcohol when you drink it.
This is very much a food wine, and foodie, Andrea Hinchco says the perfect match is chocolate! Chocolate desserts like Tiramisu or Chocolate Mousse as well as pancakes with a fruit compote or winter fruit puddings.
Michael's favourite match is Stilton.
We took these recommendations on board and tried the wine with chocolate brownies and blue cheeses.
The iced chocolate brownie seemed to enhance the alcohol but it also enhanced the cherry fruitiness of the wine while the chocolate icing made the finish deliciously creamy.
A creamy blue cheese seemed to bring out even more of a richness to the wine and also added a creaminess to the mouthfeel experience.
Stilton brought out a nuttiness to the wine - the sharp cheese a delicious contrast to the vinous sweetness, but the best thing about this wine and cheese combo is that the cheese seems to simply dissolve in the heady alcoholic liquid. A great taste and mouthfeel experience.
Once you've opened the wine, how long will it keep? Well, if you don't drink it all in one go, just bang the T-top cork back in the bottle and store it in the refrigerator. The Brandy fortification acts as a preservative as well, so it's not going to deteriorate just perhaps get a bit more obviously raisiny and cedary, as was the case as we drink the wine over five days.
Hinchco Dessert Merlot 2005 has 18% alcohol by volume and costs approx. $25 (full retail) for the 500ml bottle. You can buy from the Hinchco's retail outlet, which is 'Taste' at 24 Neville Street in the township of Warkworth, or email Mike and Andrea - email@example.com - for mail list preferences.
Alternatively you can buy online through the Matakana Winemakers online store.
© Sue Courtney
15 Jul 2007