February is the month above all others that can turn fingers deep-frozen and noses into blueberries. The perfect time to roar in praise of wine’s hidden power – sunlight. Via fruit, certain rich reds offer the ultimate insulation against the very darkest day and give a glow that’s as comforting and cheering as a portable fireside.
The first place to start is in places that enjoy plenty of summer sunshine – South Africa, for instance, with its powerful trademark Pinotage, or the USA with a hairy-chested bottle of Zinfandel. Chile, too, with spicy Carménère, is a good bet, but it’s hard to beat a mighty dose of Argentinean Malbec for a riot of colossal black fruit wreathed in ripening warmth.
Australia has its iconic Shiraz, but check out blends such as Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre (also known as GSM) to feel like you’ve invented the full-body version of the electric blanket.
Closer to home, Portugal has some of the most gorgeous reds with blends based on hearty and fragrant Touriga Nacional such as Animus 2015 (13%), in Aldi for just £4.99.
But at this time of year my go-to European winter warming reds tend to be from the south of France. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a hugely popular wine and it commands hefty price tags too, though The Food Warehouse by Iceland has got its youthful and fruity Duc de Mont Gerald 2015 (13.5%), which feels a fair price for £13.59.
The year 2015 was a decent one for Rhône wines, especially in the north, and 2016 is mind-blowingly good in the south – stock up on Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages for the best ratio of value to quality. But don’t forget about Languedoc and appellations such as good old Minervois. Château Villerambert, Les Truffiers, AOC Minervois 2015 (14%) is £12.99 at Laithwaites (currently on offer at £8.99, until Feb 3), an irresistibly fulsome red with a gorgeous plummy and spicy scent. Deploy any of these winter warmers to ignite your personal thaw against February’s ruthless frosts.