It’s damp and cold, the nights are drawing in, you fancy a soothing cuppa, warming wine or seasonal tipple. What do you reach for?
If you fancy ringing the seasonal changes with your cup of tea, why not try Lapsang Souchong or ‘barbecue in a mug’ as my husband describes it. I’m definitely a fragrant tea girl, preferring Earl Grey or Darjeeling over stronger, tannic teas, but when I start feeling a bit shivery, Lapsang Souchong – smoked black Chinese tea – takes over. It always reminds me of atmospheric, wintery walks with a whiff of wood smoke.
The southern Rhône in France is classic hunting ground for gently spicy, warming wines from vineyards dating back to Roman times. Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe is the most famous, but look away from this g litzy appellation and other great Grenache dominated wines are produced in the named ‘villages’ such as neighbouring Lirac, Rasteau, Gigondas and Cairanne or look out for Côtes du Rhône Villages with good examples like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference (£7) (from Chapoutier, one of the region’s top producers) and Côtes du Rhône Villages Chusclan 2014 (£5.99) from Lidl’s carefully selected new range. The Wine Society currently has a tempting selection from the sunny 2011 vintage including Côtes du Rhône les Deux Albions from Saint-Cosme (£12.95). As for Châteauneuf itself, their own label Society’s Exhibition bottling is keenly priced at £17.50, whereas Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe will set you back £36.
The region also produces some full flavoured characterful whites from grapes like Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. Lidl currently has a bargain white Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe for £12.99: rich and savoury with complex spicy peachy fruit. A delicious and unusual choice for roast chicken.
No longer the preserve of the Harvey’s Bristol Cream brigade, due to the popularity of tapas, sherry is making a real comeback and my favourite tipple on cool evenings is dry Amontillado. Its wonderful rich amber-mahogany colour paves the way for complex, mellow nutty aromas, but with a tangy freshness making it great for food. I love it with little pieces of Serrano ham, shards of hard cheese or just salted almonds. Do try it. Sherry is one of the treasures of the wine world and it also makes an amazing ingredient in cooking. Use it to deglaze a pan to intensify gravy or sauce. It’s also amazing in mushroom risotto. Taste the Difference 12 Year Old Dry Amontillado consistently wins trade awards and is a steal at about £8 for 50cl. Alternatively when you’re next out for tapas, give it a go (I particularly like Bar Esteban in Crouch End and Bar Pepito in Kings Cross).
Finally, if you need further fortification nothing beats a smoky, peaty malt whisky. We’re not mucking around here so go for something special with bags of character like Compass Box’s The Peat Monster, Talisker from Skye or Lagavulin from Islay.