MAYBE it’s the cold nights and log fires that do it but for some reason, I've noticed that people tend to ask me more questions about big Italian reds in December than any other time of the year. So this year, I thought I’d get in first with a pre-emptive strike. Big Italians evoke images of Barolo and Amarone, and for good reason, but there are plenty of others, especially from the hotter south of the country.

Barolo really is the big, bad boy of Italian wine though and while there are many on the shelves these days, lots of them are as false as vows made under the influence. Unless it’s an exceptional vintage and an exceptional winemaker, you need 10 years or more of age on a Barolo before their punch softens. It’s a curious wine because it has the appearance in the glass of being a lightweight with its often weak red colour but the nose should be pungent with aromas of high alcohol mixed with anything from chocolate to mulberries and figs.

Amarone, on the other hand, is like a big alcoholic cuddle with rich autumn fruits, tobacco, spice and peppers among the myriad of flavour possibilities. I wasn’t understating the alcoholic cuddle by the way, as the minimum level allowed is 14% and they are typically 15 or above so these are whopping big wines with the fruit to match the punch. Lately, however, I've also found one or two real delights from the southern regions of the country so it’s well worth straying off the beaten track in search of that Christmas knee-trembler.

Italian wines love to be paired with food, so don't go thinking that the chaps I've mentioned above are aperitifs or good with a packet of crisps because they ain’t. When pairing with food, by the way, keep it simple and always imagine a dish, be it cheese or a steak, that’s just a touch more powerful than the wine it’s getting into bed with and you will be fine.

Anyway, here’s a couple of crackers to pull this Christmas.

Barolo La Tartufaia Giulia Negri

A mature, slightly earthy nose with a fantastic warming palate of cherries, dark chocolate and spice. I tried this one with an aged Reggiano cheese and my palate was tingling. A corker

Corney & Barrow £35.95

Scola Sarmenti Cubardi

Virgin describes this as an absolute mammoth of a red wine and they aren’t wrong. Dense, dark fruit turning on the palate with a touch of coffee on the finish.

Virgin Wines £14.99