With the January damp comes the ideal winter food: Stew. But which wine to pick?

Gulf Station Pinot 2008

Gulf Station Pinot 2008 is layered with strawberry and savoury character

Stews are perfect for this time of year. These slow-cooking one-pot bonanzas with richness, layers of flavour and plenty of colour are the ultimate insulation against the damp.

But no two stews are alike. They range from bespoke masterpieces to fridge leftovers bundled together like the greatest hits of a compost heap. When considering which vino to match with yours, I'm tackling the four main types of stew: meaty, creamy, spicy and earthy.

With meaty stews, your ideal choice is a drop of powerful red.

Wine can be powerful in a number of ways, but for the kind of oomph required to match a hearty stew you'll want something with hefty flavour and a bit of body to stand up to the texture of your dish.

The cuts of meat you find in stews, such as braising steak or game birds in winter, are generally there because they're on the tough side and demand slow cooking to soften them up a bit. And that same slow cooking is what brings out oodles of rich flavour.

Grapes that have similar richness and body include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc from Argentina (look out for Pulenta Estate), smoky Pinotage from South Africa and Italian Nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo may be more familiar to you as the grape variety behind Italian Barolo, but although the wines it produces can be pale in colour, their structure and richness can be intense.

An alternative if you're a fan of Barolo is Greek Xinomavro, which you may need to hunt around for - try having a look on wine-searcher.com. Alpha Estate is well worth tracking down, producing Xinomavro on its own and as part of a blend. And Chile is a good place to find great-value Cabernet Sauvignon, from producers such as Errázuriz.

Those enjoying a creamy stew, meanwhile, would do well to consider a rich white wine fleshed out with a touch of oak. Oak is less of a dirty word in wine than you might think. Like seasoning in a stew, oak can support a wine's structure and enhance the flavours. Grapes such as Chardonnay, Marsanne and Chenin Blanc take well to oak, which often adds complexity to the final wine. 

If the label talks about 'new' oak barrels and the wine has been in there for 12 months, you're likely to notice a sweet, vanilla flavour when you taste it. But sometimes a wine might be aged for the same length of time in barrels that have already been used once or twice, known as 'second fill' and 'third fill' oak. These wines tend to feature a more subtle character.

I urge you not to shun wines just because they have oak in them, new or otherwise. Some of the finest wines in the world are oaked, such as Corton-Charlemagne and Puligny-Montrachet, and it's all a question of balance.

Some wine is fruity enough and bold enough to cope with a lot of oak, and it's the winemaker's call as to how much to deploy to achieve the right balance. If the oak is balanced, it should enhance the wine and help it pair with the texture of your creamy stew.

Moving on to spicy stews, these are a gateway to a wine-lover's paradise.

You can tame the heat of the spice with a fruity wine - enhance the aromatics of the dish with a fragrant wine, emphasise the spice with a bold red or refresh your palate with a glass of fizz.

It all depends on the headline element of spice. My general advice would be to pick a red wine from a warmer climate with plenty of fruity flavour to take on the intensity of the spice. Think Spain, Australia, South Africa.

Lastly, earthy stews are wondrous for their complexity, and whether the leading components are funky mushrooms, sweet parsnips, earthy beetroot or pungent celeriac, a wine with a bit of age is called for to ensure a perfect pairing.

If you feel like splashing out you could sample a red from Bordeaux or, if you fancy a lighter-bodied red, try a classy Pinot Noir.

Alternatively, for an affordable style of aged red that works with a wide range of stews, Spanish Gran Reserva Rioja can be an absolute winner. And with a hearty mutton-and-veg stew, it's positively sublime.

Chateau la Dournie Saint-Chinian 2008

Les Vins de Vienne 2009 Saint-Peray, Rhone

Paul Sauer Kanonkop 2007

Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2008

Kunstler Hochheimer Holle Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2009

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