Winter survival kit – Plan B: Bring a bottle

Winter survival kit - Plan B: Bring a bottle
As autumn slowly turns to winter and the credit crunch makes it trickier to escape for a few days in the sun, wine expert Mark Majzner weighs up the alternatives.

It is dark at 6.30pm again. How quickly autumn arrives in Sweden, and even before the clocks turn back on October 26th the outdoor furniture is as useful as the half bottle of sunscreen still languishing in my backpack.

Now is the time to start planning how to survive the following 6 months of cold and, even worse, darkness. Travels to the sun are one way to survive the northern winter but perhaps this year our budgets may be under pressure from the rising cost of living and financial insecurity.

If Thailand, the Canary Islands or perhaps that planned trip to a Southern Hemisphere summer have been cancelled, you are in need of Survival Plan B.

Before I get to Survival Plan B, just a few words on Survival Plan C. About 5 years ago, after listening to my complaints of lethargy and tiredness, my doctor told me that I was not suffering from severe case of flu or the dreaded C, but I had a typical case of light deprivation – to be expected from an Australian suffering through a Swedish winter.

Showing the true ANZAC fighting spirit I went out and ordered a UV desk lamp that replenishes the good UV rays during the winter, stocked up on vitamins, dusted off the tennis racket and made a stocktake of my private wine cellar and how it would be consumed during the months of hibernation. Which brings me to Survival Plan B.

A good bottle of wine shared with good friends or with your closest friend/partner over a tasty meal is, as the advertisements used to shout, like opening up a bottle of liquid sunshine.

Resorting to increased alcohol consumption is not an answer to the winter blues (or any other problems) but uncorking a special bottle can be an inexpensive and highly enjoyable way to while away a long dark Friday or Saturday night.

Remember though, that after the 2nd or 3rd glass of wine you are going to start to feel the effects of intoxication and your palette is going to be dulled, so know when to put in the cork and stop drinking.

Here are some winter wine appreciation ideas which can be fun, educational and of course full of the health benefits of drinking red wine in moderation.

1. Reserve a table at home: Many people will pay 400-500kr for a bottle of wine in a restaurant but would never pay that much for a bottle of wine from a retailer. Restaurants have a 3-4x margin on their wines so for 500kr you are getting a 120kr bottle of wine at retail price.

Make a reservation to dine at home. Buy a bottle of red wine for 250kr. This would be a 1,000kr wine in a restaurant and I can assure you that the difference between a 250kr bottle of wine and a 95kr bottle of wine is like listening to a Mozart concerto live compared to an old analog radio broadcast.

Then cook your simplest favourite meal (spaghetti bolognaise or meat balls perhaps), a plate of three cheeses for after and, for under 600kr for a dinner for 4 people, you will have an evening to remember.

If you can match the wine to the food served it will further enhance the meal but at the very least read up on the wine and describe to your guests where it comes from, the grapes and about the winemaker. Knowledge can enhance the experience.

2. Blind Tasting: The wine, not the participants should be blind in this fun evening’s entertainment. Invite a group of 6-8 friends for dinner. Instruct each couple to bring along two bottles of the same wine and wrap it in a paper bag and the host can number each wine 1-3 or 4.

The wine should be priced between 80-150kr and if you have an international group of friends you could add an extra level of curiosity that the wine should hail from their home country.

Cook up a tasty meal (but not too spicy and avoid heavily dressed vinaigrette salads) and open one of each bottle of wine. The guests should not be able to identify their own wine when you fill up the glasses.

Everyone should taste and rate each wine before the meal. Each guest needs only a few centilitres in their glass and you can find various wine rating scales to use on the internet. Serve the rest of the bottles of wine with the meal, spacing out the wine through the various courses.

With the cheese course, the host can present the winning wine of the evening – the bottle that scored the highest points from all the guests. The prize for the couple who brought along the winning wine is that they can take home the unopened other 3 or 4 bottles of wine.

Each couple can then present their wine and it is fun to talk about the wines and how they matched or did not match with the various courses.

3. Wine tasting party: this is a simpler version of the blind tasting above. Invite a group of friends to bring along one bottle of wine, perhaps create a theme for the type of wine – shiraz, pinot noir, southern France, sweet wines, aged white wines for example – and they should read up about the wines: region, grapes used, wine making methods used, vintage, about the winemaker and owners of the winery. has guidelines you can follow on how to conduct a wine tasting and how to appreciate wine. Each guest presents their wine and you all taste and talk about it. Cheese, bread and water can suffice to keep the tummies full (do this as an after dinner occasion if you prefer).

4. Sensual Saturday: The family meal could be fish fingers and spaghetti but once the kids are asleep on a Saturday night my wife and I will indulge ourselves in an equally simple repast.

With a bit of planning a bottle of wine has been pre-selected on the Friday and a visit made to our favourite cheese expert (Thomas at NK, Vincent at Androuet or Joakim at Mariannes Fisk) for 3 cheeses that match the wine and some plain olive oil based crackers.

If the budget stretches we add in a bottle of truffle honey or exotic marmalade. Sipping the wine, tasting the cheeses and talking about the week, life and anything else that comes to mind, we have an evening that is inexpensive and memorable.

Survival Plan B may not give you the sun tan of Plan A but it is longer lasting (can stretch over the whole winter), is easier on the wallet and can deeper your friendships, relationships and wine knowledge. Sounds like a plan.

Mark Majzner is an Australian and the founder of Antipodes Premium Wines, a partner of The Local, which operates wine clubs including Australian Wine Club and Fine Wine Society. He also maintains an even flow on the Wine Freedom Weblog.