I don’t know about you, but this is my least favourite time of year. Dark evenings (and sometimes even afternoons), November to get through before Christmas, then dreary January and February stretching gloomily ahead. But this year we can’t even go out and party, if indeed we can see anyone at all. And if we do manage to get to a restaurant, you have to be turfed out by 10pm.
I’m loth to recommend alcohol in the circumstances, particularly if you’re living and therefore drinking on your own, but is it such a crime to have a nice glass of red in the evening? I’m not saying drink the whole bottle any more than I would advocate demolishing an entire box of chocolates or the contents of your cheese drawer. But, no doubt about it, it’s a relaxing way to end the day.
And while I like lighter reds earlier in the autumn, this is absolutely the moment for a full-bodied red, or “winter warmer”, as the supermarkets like to call them. Wines that will go with the bangers and chillies that are an integral part of Halloween and Bonfire Night celebrations, even if it’s only a few sparklers in the garden this year.
They needn’t be posh: in fact, it’s almost better if they aren’t. Just warming substantial reds made in countries where the sun shines reliably during harvest – I’m thinking of you, Australia, Chile and Argentina. If you’re drinking them on their own, you don’t (or at least I don’t) want too much tannin either: just soft, rich, supple fruit, like being enveloped in a velvety throw. Grape varieties to look for are merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz – remember shiraz, the grape we were all mad about before malbec? I’d say it’s better than ever now.
You can also make mulled wine for one – a sort of vinous hot toddy – by infusing it with a mulled wine spice bag (Sainsbury’s , among others, stocks them). Aldi has a well-priced Portuguese red blend, Animus (13%), for £3.99, which would do the job admirably, and is decent enough for a late-night glass on its own.
And if you don’t drink, can I recommend Jukes no 2 from wine writer Matthew Jukes, a convincing red wine substitute that is designed to be drunk chilled or at room temperature (diluted with still or sparkling water), but which I’ve discovered is rather delicious topped up from the kettle. Or, of course, there’s always Ribena …
Five big reds for autumn nights
Morrisons The Best Chilean Carmenere 2019 £6.50 (down from £7.75), 13.5%. Rich, velvety, Chilean red from a grape variety that was originally confused with merlot. Good with a lamb curry.
Cambalala Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, South Africa £4.99 Aldi, 13.5%. Gorgeously blackcurranty – I’m amazed to find a decent cabernet at this price.
Latis Reserve Malbec 2018 £9 Tesco, 14%. Made in the south of France by a French winemaker who worked in Argentina, this has the same polished tannins you’d expect from a New World red. Really classy. (The cabernet in the same range is also good.)
Trapiche Estacion 1883 Bonarda 2017 Argentina £10.50 Booths, £11.80 online from Vinum. Warm, rich and brambly. A great wine for a cold night. And with blue cheese.
Ebenezer & Seppetsfield Shiraz 2018 £14 Marks & Spencer, 14.5%. Remember the days, pre-malbec, when we were all in love with Aussie shiraz? Well, this is why. A superb, powerful, beautifully balanced red that would be great with anything beefy.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com