AS THE TV campaign ads keep reminding us, "There's nothing like Australia’’.
While we labour through the dullest month of the year, the sun's shining brightly Down Under and fireworks will be lighting up the sky on January 26 to celebrate Australia Day.
One of the most important dates in the Aussie calendar, it also marks the beginning of the wine harvest. Wineries across the country open up their cellar doors and organise grape throwing, and foodie and music festivals to toast their bottled sunshine.
As the largest importer of Australian wine, most of us are familiar with its biggest strengths - chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and dry riesling.
So if you're not jetting off to sun, surf and party with one of the winemakers, there's nothing like picking a bonza wine to wave away those January blues.
If the closest thing to catch of the day and king size prawns is a Chinese takeaway on the sofa, try a fresh, crisp riesling which is spot on with Asian food.
The Clare Valley is famous for its bonedry riesling, and Tim Adams is one of the best producers in the area.
Try Tim Adams Protege Riesling 2008 (£6.75, or £40.50 from £54.00, online at Tesco Wine By The Case) which is fragrant and concentrated with lemon and lime citrus notes, and a zingy, mineral streak to complement the spiciness and sweetness of Oriental flavours.
Modern, Aussie chardonnay is far more restrained than the oaky, heady, tropical fruit baskets of the 80s, and Croftwood Estate Chardonnay 2010, SE Australia (£5.99, http://www.laithwaites.co.uk) is a good entry level chard for a mid-week drinker, and unbeatable value. With just a subtle hint of oak, it's very fresh with peach and melon flavours, and a hint of lemon curd sweetness - ideal with any type of seafood.
The trend for unwooded chardonnay (fermented and aged in stainless steel) without the oak influence produces a leaner style, more akin to a sauvignon blanc, and can be disappointing if you're used to a buttery creaminess.
However, the winemakers behind House Of Certain Views Unwooded Chardonnay 2010, Hunter Valley (£8.95, http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk), Andrew and Lisa Margan, manage to produce a fresh, elegant chard with plenty of tropical fruit, good acidity and a pleasing finish that will appeal to drinkers on both sides of the fence.
But for lovers of an "in your face’’ chardonnay, I highly recommend Heggies Eden Valley Chardonnay 2010, South Australia (£12.75, http://www.thewinesociety.com). Aged in French oak for 11 months, this sumptuous straw yellow white is rich and fleshy with complex pineapple and stone fruit flavours and a long, creamy finish.
A respectable 12.8% abv, you'll be surprised how easily the bottle empties...
bring on the salmon.
Famous for their bold and beautiful reds, Australian shiraz and cab savs are hard to beat if you're looking for an intense glass to get your nose into.
If you're heading to the local Co-op, check out their range of Wombarra wines from south east Australia which pass the tipple test, but best of all is the Wombarra Shiraz 2010 (£5.99, The Co-op). Red berry flavours mix with rich black cherry and vanilla top notes to make this slightly sweet, smooth, easy drinker perfect to imbibe with sticky BBQ ribs.
If you're a member of the Wine Society, current Wine Merchant of the Year, try their Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz 2010, Barossa ( £ 6 . 7 5 , http://www.thewinesociety.com).
One of their best selling reds, the Barossa Valley wine region is celebrated for its top-notch shiraz, and this is a good example of what the region does best. Bursting with brambly fruit, it's full-bodied and delicious. Another pukka wine for shiraz/cab sav fans, try Finest Block 19 Shiraz Cabernet 2009 (£7.99, Tesco). A dark inky purple, the blend of grapes marries sweet, raspberry fruit flavours with good structure, fine tannins and a soft, succulent finish with a spicy edge.
Renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, cool climate Coonawarra in southern Australia produces beauties like Sunnycliff Cabernet Sauvignon, Victoria 2008 (£7.95, http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk).
Soft and ripe with blackberry aromas, juicy, fleshy fruit and a lovely warmth on the finish.
And for the finest sundowner, try Daisy And The Tambourine Man, Cabernet Sauvignon.
En Primeur! We've all heard of buying Bordeaux and Burgundy En Primeur (wine sold prior to being bottled, at the lowest possible price), but From Vineyards Direct (http://www.fromvineyardsdirect.c om) are releasing the 2011 vintage of Chateau Pontet Bagatelle Rose at the tempting price of £45 for a case of 12 bottles in bond.
Described as the best rose from Provence, Chateau Pontet Bagatelle Rose is £33 a case less than the price of the 2010 vintage, and is available in magnums, double magnums and imperials for delivery late April/May - just in time for the wedding season. For more info, visit http://www.fromvineyardsdirect.com
IF you're raising a glass to the Year of the Dragon and ordering a takeaway to celebrate Chinese New Year on January 23, try matching Waipara West Riesling Medium 2008, Waipara, NZ (£9.50, http://www.waterloowine.
co.uk) with dishes that symbolise good luck.
Jiaozi dumplings, spring rolls, chicken lettuce cups, steamed fish and noodles will all pair well with the floral, limey nose and crisp, dry and refreshing taste of this award-winning riesling.