From time to time, I realise that I’ve been neglecting the red wine lovers among you. Those who frankly don’t give a damn if it’s high summer and would rather drink whopping, big reds than lightly chilled ones (which they regard as weedy). And who love a good, dense, rich chocolate cake, and therefore sweeter wines than I do. So this week’s column is to make amends.
What makes a wine full-bodied? Hot sun. Low-yielding vineyards. Late picking – in other words, leaving the grapes to hang on the vine. Concentrating the juice by leaving it in contact with the skins. Bolstering the wine with oak – especially new oak. OK, there are some grape varieties and wine-growing regions you’ll rarely get a full-bodied wine out of – Alsace and England, to name just two – but even they can deliver in a good vintage such as 2018. Global heating is on your side.
There are obvious suspects – Australian shiraz. Argentinian malbec, most Chilean reds, Spanish garnacha (but not, for the most part, rioja) and general exceptions. Inexpensive red bordeaux is usually medium- rather than full-bodied, but Saint-Emilion regularly tops 14% these days. You wouldn’t normally expect pinot noir to be a belter, either, but just try those from New Zealand’s Central Otago region. (Aldi recently had an impressive one called Pinot Vigilante, which I would snap up if it ever comes back into stock.)
In general, you can rely on anything over 14.5% falling into the full-bodied category, though, that said, I tasted the Wine Society’s elegant Exhibition Langhe Nebbiolo 2018 the other day, which is 15%, and you’d never have known it. (Even so, it’s a great buy if you’re looking for an affordable barolo drinkalike.)
There are some other clues. Wines that are made to appeal to the US or Chinese market, and generally from Argentina, Chile, Washington State and, of course, California, tend to be rich and ripe, as do wines that have manly names and macho labels such as Beefsteak Club. Spot a heavy bottle with a deep punt? It’s almost certainly a heavyweight wine.
Supermarkets reds, especially those under £10, generally deliver a big dollop of fruit, whereas more expensive, artisanal wines from independents are likely to be more restrained; natural wines and wines with quirky, arty labels also rarely hit 14%. We wine writers may identify lower-alcohol wines as a trend, but the fact is, most red wine lovers like them to pack a punch. Here are five to tick just that box.
Five lush reds for red wine lovers
Tesco Finest Stellenbosch Pinotage 2019 £7.50, 14%. A big, boisterous red that’s made to go with a braai (AKA South African barbecue). Spends 12 months in oak, which is astonishing for a wine at this modest price.
Calabria Orford Durif 2018 £8.99 Waitrose Cellar, 14%. This lesser-known Australian grape variety (also known as petite sirah) produces gorgeous, dark, damsony reds. Another good BBQ wine.
Fitou 2019 £7 Marks & Spencer, 14%. Remember fitou? It’s still out there, and still terrific value. Perfect for a hearty stew or steak pie.
Emiliana Coyam 2018 £18.95 ND John, or £104.94 a case (£17.49 a bottle) allaboutwine.co.uk, 14%. There’s a real cornucopia of grapes – all eight of them – in this gloriously ripe, organic Chilean red that would be great with any kind of red meat. Pure pleasure.
Susana Balbo Tradicion Malbec 2019 £12 Marks & Spencer (in store only, and on offer in August at £10), 14%. You may not normally spend this much on a malbec, but this smooth, elegant example from the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina’s top Uco Valley is worth it. An obvious pairing for steak.