Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris suggests some red wines to go with winter recipes.
Take comfort with a glass of red
Half the pleasure of cooking a casserole or stew is the chef's perk - namely, that glug of red wine you sip while adding to the cooking.
As a general rule, concentrated, full-bodied reds with generous fruit flavours will intensify meat, and the thickness of the sauce is a good indication of the weight of the wine you need.
Spicy reds and rich tomato sauces are the perfect match, and award-winning McGuigan wines are synonymous with well-crafted, easy drinking styles. For a casual meal of meatballs and pasta try McGuigan Classic Shiraz 2012, Australia (£7.99, Tesco) which is nicely rounded and full-bodied without being too overpowering. Delicious from beginning to end, it also suits sausage and lentil stew with roasted red peppers.
Regional Italian food is easy to re-create at home and comforting reds such as Tenuta Giustini Vecchio Sogno Negroamaro, Salento 2012, Italy (£9.95 per bottle in a mixed case of 12, or £119.40 for a case of 12, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com) from Salento in Puglia is an exciting match with a simple pepperonata stew of onion, garlic, red peppers and tomatoes. Dark, yet refined, with ripe plum and raspberry notes and some light spiciness on the firm finish, a plate of salami will increase the pleasure and balance the solid tannin structure.
A red Bordeaux is widely considered the perfect complement with lamb, but Chile's equally brilliant answer can be found in Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2009, Chile (£9.99, www.viginwines.co.uk). A real trailblazer, there's heady cassis and spice on the nose with concentrated red fruits and an element of exotic spice with dried fruit and vanilla on the opulent finish. Beautiful on its own, it'll also turn a Lancashire Hotpot into a beggars banquet.
Branded as a French classic and bistro staple, a drop of Burgundy is the obvious choice in a casserole of boeuf bourguignon - but a full-bodied southern French such as Ortas Rasteau Cotes du Rhone Villages Rouge, France (£9.95, www.herculeswines.co.uk) will beef it up even more. With plenty of rustic charm, this grenache dominant ruby red is robust and fruity with wild flavours and notes of cracked black pepper on the long, lingering finish for the ultimate cosy winter drinking.
In neighbouring Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where top-flight wines bear the papal crown and crossed keys embossed on the bottle, Ogier Clos de l'Oratoire des Papes Red 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France (£29, Majestic) is just coming into its drinking window. The perfumed bouquet and glorious dark berry fruits, plums and cassis with herbs and spice on the structured finish make this a kingly and highly recommended sip.
Rich reds are a forte of Minervois in the Languedoc region and the best versions are made from widely planted syrah (shiraz), grenache and old vine carignan. Try Chateau Portal Cuvee Jerome Minervois 2012, France (£10.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) which was awarded four gold medals and one silver (Decanter World Wine Awards) in 2013. With plenty of gusto and complex flavours punctuated with oak, it's utterly delicious - and far too good to pass around the table if you're catering for more than two.
:: Best buy
Calorie conscious Cointreau... Aware that some of us will be trying to shed a few pounds to get into that little black dress for Valentine's, French liqueur brand Cointreau (£19.99, 70cl, major supermarkets nationwide) have created a skinny cocktail with only 75 calories.
Here's the recipe to try at home:
:: Skinny french fizz
25ml Cointreau, 10ml fresh lime juice, 100ml soda water
Half-fill a highball glass with ice. Add the Cointreau, juice of half a lime and top with soda water. Garnish with wedges of lime.
:: Liquid news
Heat, fire and red... To celebrate Chinese New Year (starting on Friday, January 31) and the Year of the Horse, Riedel crystal glass company have released a Horse decanter (£495, available from February, www.riedel.co.uk) with a concave profile of a horse.
Not only will the tall, elegant decanter aerate your favourite red to improve the aromas and flavours before serving, but when filled to the optimum point (75ml) it appears as if the horse is drinking.
Destined to be a hit at the races on special occasions, this showstopper is also the perfect present for wine buffs born in the year of the Horse.
For more info visit www.riedel.co.uk