Are you drinking comfortably?
At this time of year it’s easy to seek comfort by getting back down under the duvet rather than getting up and facing the world and the weather, staying in and trawling Netflix rather than taking whatever opportunity you can to get out and meet friends or family. Food gives comfort too. Dishes that are warming, filling and familiar. Recipes that don’t need hours of preparation or endless ingredients but deliver flavour and, perhaps, nostalgia in spades.
Wine can give comfort too. Let’s be frank and admit at the outset that “just one more glass” can be very tempting but comfort drinking is a very different and potentially destructive thing. Less but better is our mantra. A truly interesting, enjoyable and complex wine gives more satisfaction than something confected and industrial in the same way that good food sustains you longer and gives greater pleasure than that carb-sugar-fat-guilt-laden-instant-hit-o-matic-tub-o’joy does.
Fond memories play a big part in comfort food, from clichés like Grandma’s Apple Pie to the pasta bake your other half always cooks when it’s his or her turn on a Friday night. Similarly with wine, memory plays a huge part in triggering happy feelings. Perhaps it’s a wine you enjoyed on a wonderful holiday or one you remember drinking with someone special to you. Or maybe you met the winemaker, visited the vineyard and so you have developed a special connection with the people and place behind the label.
With regard to matching wine to comfort food, again the red with meat, white with fish “rules” need to be regarded with a healthy dose of scepticism. Go with what is going to give you pleasure. There are a few guidelines which might be helpful though. Comfort food tends to be richer and heavier (in my case probably cheesier - so much cheese…) so it will probably pay to have a wine that will stand up for itself and not be totally blown away or hidden by the flavours, textures (or cheesiness) of what you are eating. Go for something from warmer climates, where the grapes are likely to have been riper and higher in sugar when harvested, the wines will be more generous, softer and rounder. Avoid wines that are heavy on tannin or encumbered with too much oak.
This is probably no time for a wine that is an intellectual exercise either, no place for a finely chiselled, rather austere white from a vineyard that’s at the very edge of the viticultural envelope. Unless that’s your thing of course. It’s a time for indulgence. And maybe that does mean pushing the boat out financially. Why wait to have the bottle of extravagant, beautiful Chianti you bought in that enoteca in Siena last year when you could have it tonight with macaroni cheese and relive the memories? Champagne with fish and chips is great. Try it!
You are looking for something that is going to wrap you in its arms, that’s familiar, not overly challenging, that has bold flavours but nothing jarring, that’s going to complement what you are eating, not fight with it. That doesn’t mean you have to stay mainstream though. There’s masses to explore from less well known regions or grape varieties that will do the job. Languedoc-Roussillon, that stretch of France reaching from Provence to the Pyrenees, is a fantastic source of suitable wines, very many of which are great value for money too. From Spain, less well known grapes such as Monastrell, Mencia or Bobal produce red wines that would be perfect. And Sicily produces wines that are made for sinking into.
Comfort comes in many guises but you always need space to enjoy it. Pick a bottle that’s right for you this evening, turn off the phone and settle back, take time to revel in the aromas, flavours and textures of the wine and enjoy the memories.
Two to try:
Red - Mas d’Agalis, Au Mas, Languedoc, France - Bottled sunshine. Lionel Maurel farms small plots of traditional Languedoc varieties near Nébian in the hills inland, west of Montpellier. The vineyards are farmed organically and Lionel uses various natural composts, manures, tisanes and oils to increase microbial life and diversity in the soil. In the winery he uses a very light touch to coax wonderful flavours from the grapes and produce wines of remarkable delicacy and elegance despite the very dry, hot climate.
White - La Dernière Goutte, Boire Desir, Bourgogne Blanc, France - La Dernière Goutte is a small scale producer in Beaujolais, run by Cyrille Vuillod who, while working as a ski instructor in the Hautes Alpes during winters, spent 20 vintages picking grapes before moving to Beaujolais full time and starting his own Domaine in 2012. The vineyards are farmed organically and Cyrille aims to use no sulphur in the cellar when he can. Which is most of the time. Boire Desir is 100% Chardonnay fermented and matured in wood barrels made in Burgundy but which are steamed rather than charred to avoid overtly toasty flavours. Rich but finely balanced, it's a beautifully generous white Burgundy. And it won't break the bank like those big names from further north. Win win!