Well, I don’t know about you but my central heating has already been on twice in September and although I don’t need much of an excuse to delve into the big heavy reds, two heating days is my current one.

This is the time of the year when I look for big, bold smooth reds to accompany a log fire, an episode of NCIS and my seasonal treat of cream crackers smothered with rum butter, the food of smugglers and wine columnists alike.

In the run-up to the fat man’s descent down the chimney, I plan to take a look at the various wine regions and explore the best they have to offer, or at least the best that mere mortals like us can afford, and we’re starting with an old favourite – California.

The sunny state produces superb Pinot Noirs (yes I did say that but even I like the grape when it’s made right), and many of the finest Merlots in the world but it’s their Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet Francs that steal the show at this time of the year with the occasional Petit Syrah thrown in for good measure. Zinfandel is a strange one, to be honest, capable of producing some of the most awful wines known to man (Blush Zinfandel, anyone?) but at the other end of the spectrum they can be stunning. Big broody, spicy wines with mulberry fruits and soft juicy tannins.; if it reads like the words of a man drooling then it reads well!

Cabernet Sauvignon, however, long ago became my true love, especially after I discovered the Californian styles and realised that the world wasn’t flat outside of Bordeaux. California winemakers have this almost Zen-like ability to extract soft, almost rampant cassis flavours from the grape and wrap them up in lush, velvety tannins and while decent Cabernets are produced all over the state, the Napa is still the king for me. It’s the delights of Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah next week folks as we continue our look at the sunshine state’s winter delights.


  • The Carnivor Zinfandel: Does well with a hearty steak or leg of lamb but to be honest it’s equally gorgeous on its own. Lush aromas of dark cherries and blackcurrants with a juicy jam palate and a hint of toasty vanilla on the finish. Sainsbury’s, £10.
  • Hands of Time red, Stags Leap wine cellars: I’ve tasted the finest wines in the world and despite the relatively low price, this stands up against them all. It’s a mainly Cabernet dominated kitchen sink blend with the creamiest palate of red fruits this side of Chateau Lafite in a good vintage yet it’s barely a tenth of the price. Richardson’s of Whitehaven, £34.95.