The comforts of wine

Danny co-owns Innovative Beverages, is an importer of fine wines and is a CAPSAC-certified sommelier. Photo: Tammy Fancy

Burgers, pizza, meatloaf, chicken soup and lasagna all have one thing in common. They don’t make demands on your mind or your palate. When you have had a tough day at work and just want to forget your troubles, comfort foods are like a warm blanket. You don’t eat comfort food to feel smarter or more sophisticated, but to nourish the soul.
So when did classic comfort foods go so mainstream? Recently, at The Stubborn Goat gastropub on Grafton Street, I found six varieties of mac and cheese on the menu. We have witnessed a Halifax restaurant resurgence of grilled-cheese, stews and meatloaf. That’s okay with me, because this type of food goes great with the wines we discuss here: tasty, unpretentious and easy to drink. Affordable and unfussy too. Why spend $50 on something to drink with takeout pizza when there are plenty of great options for under $25.
The following are some comfort food and wine pairings but remember, if you like Gewurtzraminer with burgers and also with chicken soup, good for you. It’s about personal choice, with some simple guidelines to make pairing more tasty and fun.
Burgers. Whether it’s off the home grill, from a gourmet burger place or takeout from the golden arches, every burger deserves a good glass of red. As with most dishes, the condiments on your burger can have a great influence on what wine works. You generally can’t go wrong with a good zinfandel or shiraz. Both of these wines have juicy berry fruit, spices like white pepper, and can also stand up to the bacon if you are cheating on the diet again.
Lasagna. Lasagna is the ultimate pasta comfort food, but others would argue in favour of other dishes such as manicotti, ravioli, or even a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti and meat sauce. All of these dishes have a tomato base, which requires a wine with a medium body and some acidity to balance tomato. My favourite is a Rhone blend, especially one with juicy Grenache, but most go straight for the Chianti. Almost any of the affordable Italian wines from Central Italy work so don’t be afraid to experiment with a Rosso di Montalcino or a Montepulcino di Abruzzo, or anything with Sangiovese—the grape of Italy.
Chicken Soup. So you think only the homemade chicken soup cures that cold? I say a nice glass of Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy (try Friuli) with the soup will cure what ails you. If you’d prefer a red, try a lighter style Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Ontario, especially if you soup has fresh herbs.
Macaroni and Cheese. Since the flavour and weight of mac and cheese comes mostly from butter and cheese, you need a wine with either a lot of weight, like a nice California Chardonnay, or a Chenin Blanc from South Africa that has a bit of weight but some cleansing acidity for the palate.
Seafood Chowder. The classic Nova Scotia comfort food requires a great Nova Scotian white. Any L’Acadie Blanc works and several of the Tidal Bay Wines have the stuff to stand up to a creamy bowl of chowder.
Chocolate. Every time I have good chocolate, I open a bottle of Port LBV (late bottled vintage), which can be found at the NSLC for under $25. Pour a couple of ounces, have with the chocolate and thank me when you see me. A match made in heaven. And the best part is that Port can keep for several weeks so you can repeat over and over with the same bottle.
Potato Chips/French Fries. You think I’m kidding right? Buy yourself a nice bottle of Champagne (they are all good). Open up a bag of chips or make some homemade French fries. Chill that Champagne to just above freezing, pop the cork and think about how good we have it here in Nova Scotia.

The under-$25 wine review

Leitz 2012 Rheingau Riesling Trocken, Germany, $22.50, Bishop’s Cellar

Dry German Reislings are uncommon here, so this one intrigued me. There are tons of citrus and pear notes in this and a hit of tongue tingling acidity that makes this a good match for spicy tuna maki sushi. The finish is nice and long with some minerality and citrus. Tastes more New World than German. A great spring wine. 89/100

Juan Gil Petit Verdot 2012, Jumilla, Spain, $18.75, Bishop’s Cellar

Rich and briary fruit fills the nose. There is smoke and pepper and velvety tannins. Gobs of juicy dark berries. What a fantastic and approachable version of this grape. I keep hoping Spain will be the next big thing and a wine like this feeds that hope. I loved the dark chocolate finish and easy drinkability that will pair with many foods. I had mine with pulled pork tacos and the bottle didn’t last long. Fantastic value. 92/100
80–84: A great sipper, good value. 85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic. 95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.

Recent reviews

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa, $13.99, NSLC

Delicious ripe pink grapefruit characters. The mouth feel is juicy and citrusy—a good balance between acidity and weight. 88/100

La Bascula, Turret Fields Monastrell and Syrah 2011, Spain, NSLC, $16.99

Plummy notes and ripe Bing cherries are complemented with a touch of Anise. Lovely richness but still feels balanced. 91/100

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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