Winter Warmers: Our ultimate Survival Kit

As the nights draw in and we say goodbye to the last vestiges of our summer tans drinking priorities take a turn to deep, luscious, warming winter reds. Thankfully this needn’t signal the advent of teeth stained smiles and unremovable stains as more and more winemakers pull back on alcohol and extraction without compromising inherent drinking pleasure. 

In New Zealand, winter means textured Cabernet blends, Syrah’s (Shiraz for our Aussie neighbors) and fruit-rich Pinots from Central Otago and Martinborough. For those who have long since sworn allegiance to white wines, many of our friends are crafting textural and complex skin contact wines which need not be drunk straight from the ice bucket.  


The richer style of winter reds tends to come from a mixture of varietal character, growing conditions, and winemaking. There’s no escaping the fact that Australia is a sunny and warm country, and although New Zealand has some of the coldest vineyards in the world, a unique combination of high sunlight hours and altitude helps to produce luscious reds with ripe fruit and fresh acidity. More full-bodied varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache thrive in these warmer climates and produce wines with body and power which pair so well with richer winter dishes. Think stews and sauces that ask for one glass of wine, leaving the rest of the bottle for you and your loved ones! 

Winemakers tend to treat these varieties a little differently to lighter varieties such as Pinot Noir or Gamay. Fermentations are warmer, extraction is higher and any maturation tends to be in oak with a higher toast. All these factors combine with the ripeness of fruit to produce intensely flavored, lusciously textured wines perfect for those cold nights on the lounge with family and friends.


Main Divide Cabernet Merlot 2014, Waipara Valley, Canterbury

This is a real pleasure to drink. It shows all the structure you expect from these noble varieties alongside moreish cassis, blackcurrant, and red plum fruit. The value is crazy, take this to impress the in-laws, or serve it blind to your wine snob mate and watch them swoon. Otherwise, visit your local butcher (or greengrocer), purchase a rib-eye (or protein-rich meat-alternative), and you’re laughing.

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Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2016, Hawke’s Bay

For what is a huge company, Villa Maria keep kicking goals, particularly when we move away from their iconic Marlborough Sauv.. Hawke’s Bay is home to a very specific soil, the Gimblett Gravels, free-draining soils perfectly suited to Bordeaux natives. Beautifully sun-ripened, plush and generous – just add cheese. 

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Craggy Range Te Kahu Red Blend 2015, Hawke’s Bay

At the risk of repeating ourselves…..Gimblett Gravels and Bordeaux varieties + Craggy Range = Win. Proportions of this blend change each year to reflect the season, here we see some Malbec and Cabernet Franc added to the mix. Super complex, yet appealing to all, this is the perfect winter dinner party wine, think roast dinner and rich stews. Will cellar too, if you can keep your hands off them.

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Vignerons Schmelzer & Brown Pret a Rouge 2017, Beechworth, Victoria. A beautiful red blend from one of the true alpine regions of Australia (it actually snows here!). Jeremy and Tessa are crafting ethereal reds from their beautiful vineyard in Central Victoria. This is a blend of Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese that has been gently fermented and raised in old oak casks to emphasize fruit purity and vibrancy. Goes with cheese, or by itself, either way, you’ll need two bottles.

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S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia

The McLaren Vale has always been a region of diversity but a serial award winner. Steve Pannell is taking it to new extremes, championing Iberian varieties. It’s a stunning region, hugging the coast south of Adelaide and benefiting from the warm Australian sun, moderated by proximity to the ocean. A punchy and fruit forward red, with a decidedly old-world herb and spice backbone, we’re smashing this with pizza and/or bbq, 7 days a week.

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Dandelion Vineyards Shiraz Riesling 2017, McLaren Vale, South Australia

A southern hemisphere takes on the classic blends originating from the Rhone Valley. It’s truly absurd the impact of as little as 5% of a white grape when added to a red ferment. Here we see a beautifully fresh acidity carving through the ripe sweet and sour fruit profile, Christmas cake, and dried spice. This style pairs amazingly well with Indian and Chinese cuisine, the sweetness of fruit cuts through spice with aplomb – straight to Tayaabs. 

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All of November down at POP we will be serving house-brewed Mulled Wine. This spicy elixir, created by the Romans in the 2nd Century to warm the troops, will keep us all warm under the roof at POP Brixton. We’re somewhat isolated at the bottom of the world, so Mulled Wine is something of a recent phenomenon in NZ and Aus, but my god, aren’t we making up for a lost time. A couple of Orange slices is great for Vitamin C intake and warding off any cold too! We’d be drinking this with rich cheeses, fondue or mince pies.


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Specialist Cellars has paused its virtual doors for now. We’re still open and operating at our Pop Brixton store this Summer. You can also visit us 7 days a week at The Laundry Restaurant for sublime food, wine and coffee @brixtonlaundry.

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