PETER HOMER Powerful wines will lift your spirits in the depths of winter

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A phoney psychological lift is often given by the arrival of the shortest day of the year on December 21.

The initial feeling is that from then on, days will be getting longer and things will start to look up.

But the fact slowly sinks in that there are still the two least-favoured months of the year for us to get through first.

The dark and chilly weeks of January and February seem to drag on, and little wonder many of us feel the need for a convivial drink with friends and families now and then, even though the party seasons of Christmas and New Year are over.

Value for money, as well as decent quality, is even more imperative if you’re dishing the wine out in greater quantities than those normally dispensed at the family dining table.

I gave good marks on both counts to some new offerings from the French producers Paul Mas, who have been in the business for more than a century.

They have four family estates with 250 acres of vineyards in France’s Languedoc, a region known for a long time more for the production of vast amounts of wine on an epic scale than for high quality.

How dramatically things have moved on, with modern production techniques, new capital investment, and sheer expertise.

Mas de Mas Corbieres 2009 (14.5 per cent, £9.99, but £7.99 at Majestic until the end of January, if you buy two bottles).

At the usual full price, this elegant, intense, and powerful red wine is good value, and with a couple of pounds off it’s well worth snapping up.

It has smooth flavours of blackberries, plums and chocolate, and would grace any dinner party or more informal gathering.

The blend is 45 per cent syrah, 35 per cent grenache and 20 per cent carignan.

Although young, the wine has a mature taste I guess has to be put down to the expertise referred to above. Recommended.

Still in the south of France, and still looking for value as well as a bit of class, there is Paul Mas Grenache Syrah 2009 (13.5 per cent, £6.99, Waitrose). This is a ripe, dark, soft wine, whose easy drinking character should suit almost any palate. There are black cherries, with hints of spice and cedarwood, and the wine would go well with nicely grilled steaks or game dishes.

Moving on from rich reds to a crisp lively white, and Paul Mas Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (12 per cent, £6.99, Waitrose).

This has a grassy, gooseberry and tropical fruit character, with grapefruit in the background. Ideal as an aperitif, and for serving up with canapes, party titbits or fishy cuisine.

A final suggestion for brightening up the two misery months is from Chile – Anakena Merlot 2009 (13 per cent, £5.99, Co-op), which displays the classic silky merlot tastes of damsons and plums, with a whiff of cocoa.

One to keep the partygoers happy, and fine to accompany winter roasts and casseroles.

It comes from the foothills of the Andes mountains, in Chile’s Rapel Valley. If only the Chileans could bottle some of their sunshine and sell that to us as well.