Top 10 Australian winter red wines

With the first glistening of frost on the front lawn, it is traditional at this time of year to a) grow a new layer of body fat, b) give over your bed to the dog, c) locate the casserole cookbook and d) change the colour of your wine.

Who am I to disappoint? Of course it's red wine weather.

It's now OK to bring out that 14 per cent alcohol Central Otago pinot noir with grunt. It was never a summer wine, not even close. The 16 per cent-er from the Barossa Valley, too, if you dare.

High alcohol and the warm fuzzies it creates is one kind of winter red, the stereotypical sort, and judging by the number of them out there, still thriving. But there is another kind of winter red, the one that relies on more than rising cheek colour to convey warmth.

A little modulation can be a good thing.

Top 10 Aussie Winter Reds

1. Billy Button 2014 The Rustic Sangiovese, $30

Jo Marsh is kicking goals with her new solo gig, Billy Button, showing knowledge and a thoughtful understanding of Alpine Valleys fruit. Her '14 sangiovese throws out the usual dry red-style sangiovese recipe, aiming for heightened spice alongside succulent, bouncy black cherry fruit wrapped in a sleek body. It's quite the personality.

2. Bird on a Wire 2013 Syrah, $40

If I remember correctly, the 2013 vintage in Victoria was fast and mostly pain-free, if not a tad on the warm side. Clearly, at Healesville in the Yarra Valley, winemaker Caroline Mooney had an enjoyable time of it. Just look at that dazzling purple sheen on her 2013 syrah (aka shiraz). Beautiful. The experienced Ms Mooney shows her class here with a soft, lingering wine of some finesse that flows like satin over the tongue. Love the pink peppercorn finish.


3. Holm Oak 2013 Pinot Noir, $32

It was a ripe year, 2013, in Tasmania's Tamar Valley. The fruit is round, sweet, delicious: cherry, cranberry, wild strawberry – not black fruits, despite the warmer conditions, nor alcoholic – with background spice and a savoury tannic edge. Husband-and-wife team Tim and Rebecca Duffy are producing some of the Tamar's most exciting, consistent, value-for-money wines. The '13 pinot adds to their growing lustre.

4. Inkwell 2013 Primitivo, $30

From McLaren Vale winemaker Dudley Brown comes a primitivo (from a mixed source of clones, some Italian primitivo, some Californian zinfandel) that glides instead of assaulting your palate the way some rough-trade zins do. Hence, he prefers to identify it by its Italian name. The heightened savouriness orbited by generous blackcurrant pastille, bitter chocolate flavours and fresh herbs is charming.

5. Logan 2014 Orange Pinot Noir, $30

Orange and pinot noir are starting to look like a bit of an item. The high, cool altitude is one reason and a deft touch, as winemakers come to an understanding, is the other. No screaming vanilla oak or alcohol here, just lovely, all-fruit sappy deliciousness – red cherry, cranberry, rhubarb – tied up in smoky cinnamon. A little air before serving will be advantageous.

6. Longview 2012 Devil's Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon ($27)

Is cabernet sauvignon the next Adelaide Hills grape variety to go big? Those high, cool hills are certainly doing a nice job with this cabernet off the Longview vineyard at Macclesfield. It's solid, this one, so assuredly cabernet in that blackberry, black-olive way with a whisper of Aussie eucalypt. Let it open up and it loses its shyness, becomes as friendly as the grape will allow: clove, cinnamon, licorice, blackberry, dried herbs, with textural smoothness.

7. Sevenhill 2012 St Ignatius Cabernet Sauvignon, $45

A marvellous wine from a stunning vintage – the best in a decade in the Clare Valley – this is my "spoil yourself" wine for winter. A blend of cabernet with the usual accomplices (merlot, malbec, cabernet franc), it backs tannic structure with generosity of fruit: lifted spice, white pepper, mint, chocolate, black berries. So very complex, and the best is yet to come.

8. Travis Earth 2013 Unwooded Mataro, $30

It's tempting to say that Travis, son of Robert "Rocky" O'Callaghan​ of Rockford fame, is growing into his father's shoes as a red winemaker of some distinction but this would be short-changing him, his label (Travis Earth) and this beauty of a red wine. This is seamless winemaking, an achievement all the more impressive because no oak has been employed. That means the fruit to start with has to be good, which it undoubtedly is, in an arresting, light, savoury kind of way with telltale mataro (aka mourvedre) cherry-plum-spiciness. Also in the running for best label of the year.

9. Vinea Marson 2010 Nebbiolo, $40

It seems a hundred light years since Mario Marson was a winemaker at Mount Mary. These days he reveals his Italian heritage with subtle, age-worthy wines. Nebbiolo is the flagship, an epic in the making, speaking softly at the moment in pretty florals, cherry and raspberry fruits and a little rose-influenced potpourri. So young and fresh but looks can be deceiving. It's almost criminal to drink now. Go for it.

10. Yalumba Galway 2012 Barossa Valley Malbec, $19

Yalumba is getting its old Galway label out of the closet, giving it a shine and delivering some attractive, old-school Barossa malbec. This is not a slick wine, make no mistake, this is down-to-the-ground, dusty, earthy, into leather and licorice with a nice line in dried herbs.