“For really ‘tis so fine,” wrote the English poet, John Keats, praising
wine’s comforts: “it fills one’s mouth
with a gushing freshness—then goes down cool and feverless.” He declared wine less aggressive than
spirits, because “you do not feel it quarrelling. . .no, it is rather a
peacemaker.” That comforting quality is
precisely what makes wine such a fine companion for comfort foods. To Keats in 1819, those included “the breast
of a partridge [or] the back of a hare.”
But for Americans nearly two centuries later, nothing is more of a
comfort food than meatloaf. So, we
wondered—which wines prove most “fine” with it?
We made our meatloaf with equal parts ground beef and pork. Using about a pound of each of the meats, we blended
in about ½ cup of Pepperidge Farm bread stuffing, which we find a satisfying alternative
to more traditional breadcrumbs. Our
favorite meatloaf spices include rosemary, oregano, cumin and garlic, along
with a splash of Worcestershire or A1 Sauce. We like to cook meatloaf in a commercial
baking bag, not only because of the convenience, but more importantly because
they keep the meatloaf—as well as the potatoes and carrots we added to the bag—exceptionally
moist and flavorful (these foil or heat resistant plastic bags are made by
McCormick or Reynolds, and are available in most supermarkets).
Our loaf did, indeed, turn out moist and tasty—in a word,
comforting. To make the experience even
more so, we served an equally comforting side dish, and a simple green
salad. With the meal, we sampled
thirteen different wines. All were red,
and given the soft texture of meatloaf, we tried matching the dish with older wines as an experiment.
* * *
To our surprise, none of the wines was a poor match. The lighter reds, including a couple of Pinot
Noirs and a Chianti, proved sufficiently hearty, while the more robust ones did
not seem overpowering. The very best
matches, though, were those with wines characterized by fresh (rather than
dried) fruit flavors, and subtle rather than overt secondary characteristics. That was because the satisfying juiciness of
the dish emphasized the fruit in the wines.
It didn’t really matter whether that flavor resembled cherries or plums,
red or black berries; all that counted was its vitality, a quality accentuated
by the sweet taste of the tomato catsup that one of us used as a condiment; the
other—a purist—eschewed this traditional accompaniment. So, at the end of supper, we concluded that
Keats was right. At least with this
particular comfort food, “gushing freshness” is exactly what you want in a
Grant Burge, Barossa
(Australia) Shiraz “Barossa Vines” 2004
by Wilson Daniels)
who comes from a long line of Australian winemakers, has crafted an intense,
lush Shiraz bursting with plums and berries, spice and oak.
accentuated the sweetness of the tomato catsup.
The catsup naysayer felt that the wine’s ripe fruitiness was itself a
kind of condiment.
Haras, Maipo Valley
(Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon “Character” 2002
by Remy Amerique)
upper Maipo Valley comes this ruby red Cab whose enticing aromatics, rich
flavors and supple tannins are a good fit with the herbs, spices and chunky texture
of the meatloaf.
Morgan, Santa Lucia
Highlands (California) Pinot Noir “Twelve Clones” 2004
cool temperatures and low rainfall of California’s Santa Lucia Highlands seem
to be well suited to Pinot Noir cultivation--at least in the hands of the
winemaking team at Morgan. With
delicious black cherry flavors and barrel spice, the wine’s silky texture finds
a winning counterpart in the soft, moist, fragrant meatloaf.
Quara, Cafayate Valley
(Argentina) Tannat 2004 (Imported by A. V. Imports)
located 5000 feet above sea level in Argentina’s beautiful Cafayate Valley,
this Tannat (an obscure grape native to Southwestern France) yields a wine with
spiciness and bursts of blackberry fruit. Its uncomplicated character and affordable
price tag are as comforting as the meatloaf itself.
Two Angels, Lake County
(California) Petite Sirah “Shannon Ridge Vineyard” 2004
The taste buds
are flooded with the essence of blueberry jam and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate,
then equilibrium is restored with the satisfying swoosh of acidity so typical
of Petite Sirah. The grapes come from
vines growing on steep slopes in rough volcanic soils.