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Rustic Red Wines

If November revolves around turkey and trimmings, and December is marked by feasts and party fare, January and February should be proclaimed comfort food months! Early winter signals a time to slow down and recover from the hustle and bustle the previous months brought to our lives. Who, even when embarking on the obligatory New Year’s resolution of eating lighter, healthier fare, can resist the rustic allure of a hearty casserole, pot roast, or savory stew? While the ingredients in these items can run the gamut of protein choices (fish to beef, vegetables to dairy), all benefit when paired with what we call the Rustic Reds.

Rustic Reds are made all over the world and from a variety of grapes. What they share is an idea that simple yet hearty foods demand a similar style of wine. The marriage is beneficial to both; the wine brings the food to new levels and the ingredients in the food intensify the flavors of the wines. Some of our favorite Rustic Reds come from Rhone and Tuscany – where comfort food is a way of life.

The Rhone is most famous for Chateauneuf du Pape, the magical blend of 13 grapes that is rightfully one of the most famous in the world. Its little sibling, Cotes-du-Rhone, is a scaled back version that has long been known as a great little wine that goes perfectly with more rustic fare and is available in a price range to match. Grapes used to make Cotes-du-Rhone include some of those found in Chateauneuf du Pape, but are for the most part based on Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. These two wines offer juicy ripe fruits with a touch of spice, and some light tannins. They are a perfect choice for Beef or Vegetable Stew, The Fresh Market Chicken Pot Pie, or our Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese. Our favorite French producers are Guigal and Louis Bernard. Goats Do Roam (South Africa), Joseph Phelps Pastiche (California), and most reds from Bonny Doon (California) are made in a similar style and at a similar price.

If the Rhone has a soul-mate, it is Tuscany. It is here that comfort foods share a similar status but are paired with variations of the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is found in wines as varied as Brunello (a serious wine with a hefty price tag), Chianti (the age-old stand-by) and Montepulciano. For rustic foods, Chianti and Montepulciano (and simply named Sangiovese) are perfect fits with their strawberry scents and flavors, a bit of spice, a medium body, and, most importantly for pairing with foods, a nice acidity. This acidity means that these wines play off the tomatoes, peppers and cheeses found in many rustic dishes. Some of our favorites here are DaVinci, Palladio and Gabbiano Chiantis, for both their value and flavor. We also recommend Masciarelli and Zaccagnini Montepulcianos, Del Palio and Di Majo Sangiovese.