In 2019, VinePair staff writer and former professional chef Tim McKirdy wrote a piece called “Raising a Glass to Beef Bourguignon, ‘One of the Most Delicious Beef Dishes Concocted by Man.'” In it, he waxes on and off about a dish that can seem quite intimidating — almost requiring you to plan your weekend around the recipe, rather than the other way around. By the time I finished reading the article, I was ready to do just that. I haven’t yet. Real talk: The very good odds of missing a step or utter failure has kept this stubborn Capricorn from taking the plunge.
But during the cold months, Tim’s article often pops into my mind. Will this be the winter I attempt the recipe? I want to reap the reward of supping that demi-glace broth as the soaked, seared, and softened meat and vegetables melt into my palate. With it, I’d sip on a glass of the Pinot Noir I used to make this hearty dish. The idea just feels so cozy.
That’s the idea, right? Cozy. In the cold regions of the U.S., we hunker down, settle in, and think about the denser side of eating. Not only do hearty meals warm us up, but back in the day, the winter solstice was often a time of reaping and slaughter — storing up produce from the fall harvest, as well as meat from animals that may not survive the winter. So it’s only natural to crave heavy dishes when it’s snowing.
Of course it’s a bit different in modern society, with everything available all of the time. But still, the idea of making a stick-to-your-ribs meal when it’s 20 degrees outside just hits right. One day, on the other side of this pandemic, I may have to bring Tim in for some counseling as I attempt “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.” But for now, I’ll stick to what I know: casseroles, pastas with meat sauce, and other very easy-to-put-together winter dishes, like meatloaf and baked ziti.
Big, meaty dishes — or even dense veggie meals like mushroom lasagna — deserve somewhat heavy-ish, red dense wines. They don’t have to be huge, but they should definitely be structured. Prominent tannins to match the protein of the meat and balanced acidity to elevate the core of hefty fruit will add a perception of weight and complement the heaviness of a winter dish.
So which wines will warm the soul with a comforting meal? Here are some to get you started.
Fox Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2018
Nice and juicy with rounded richness, this wine smells like blackberries, olives, and bell peppers. The balanced acidity lifts the weight of the wine just enough for a homemade meatloaf or savory potato pie perfumed with nutmeg and thyme.
Poliziano ‘Asinone’ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2017
Italian wine and big meals naturally go together. This wine is still aging, but drinking it’s like a cozy red now. The tannins are still a bit grippy, and the fruit is earthy and rich. It smells like cranberries, cherries, and a whiff of autumn. It is soft enough to pair with chicken cacciatore or even a creamy, crunchy mac and cheese.
Dogwood & Thistle Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018
I asked Tim what red wine he would pair with his beef bourguignon, and he laid it down like this: “When mastering a classic BB, I’d say there’s a strong case for using something like an American Pinot.” I second that emphatically, and suggest this awesome Northern Cali Pinot Noir. It’s just right for this dish. It has bright berry fruit and a comfy depth emanating from the core of the fruit. The acidity is just right, lighting the wine on the palate, and it’s earthy enough to hold up to meat and broth.
Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2018
This is an example of structure more than depth. The fruit is focused, the acidity is lean, and tannins form the frame of the wine. It’s nice and earthy, broad on the palate, and could easily tuck in with an involtini or pork chops, breaded and drowned in red sauce.
Chateau Greysac 2015
For leaner proteins, a powerful yet elegant red is in order. This Bordeaux is just that. The fruit almost hangs in suspension on the palate, showcasing the depth of the wine without overwhelming the palate. It wafts with blackberries and soil, and would sing with braised chicken legs or lamb shanks cooked with cinnamon and cardamom.
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2015
Amarone is one of the biggest wines out there. And when it is balanced, it’s magical how something so full and sweet can be so spicy and balanced. This is an excellent example. It has very good acidity, keeping the nuances of the wine front and center. It smells like dark chocolate and cherries flecked with cracked black pepper. It can hold up to something as simple as sausages with stewed cabbage or as complicated as a coq au vin.