This past week, Sonja was out of town, leaving me (Mark), who until our wedding a year ago in February was a bachelor at thirty-two, to fend for myself. Yikes! Now, don’t get me wrong, I can handle most household chores, but when it’s just me, I fall back on old habits (like not vacuuming) and I primarily eat what I consider to be “comfort foods,” – grub I appreciate for being both inexpensive and easy, but most of all delicious. From years of experience, I could manage this food with no problem at all. But I hadn’t thought much about pairing wines with these old favorites… until now.
When it comes to wine, much of the pleasure in my opinion is in sharing it with someone else. I can enjoy wine on my own, certainly, but most of our nicer bottles are those that Sonja and I picked out together on one of our trips, and I’m not about to pull the cork on one without her here to share with me. So, this past week was five meals of comfort food, which I then paired with budget wines, intended to nourish the soul and the bank account simultaneously in the absence of my mate. Bachelors everywhere, bon appetite!
The Comfort Food: Kraft Velveeta Shells n’ Cheese
The Paring: Berringer Chardonnay 2012 and working on a presentation I’m giving at the National WWI Museum next month
My Grandma Gudgel used to make macaroni using Velveeta, and though I never learned her secret, the Kraft prepackaged version became a favorite of mine in college, and is good enough to elicit a certain degree of nostalgia every time. As far as wine was concerned, I knew I wanted something with only moderate acid and light body to go with the creamy Velveeta cheese, so a Chardonnay sounded like a decent idea. Berringer’s 2012 runs $5.99 at Target, the same place I bought the shells n’ cheese. Sonja and I both generally prefer French-style Chardonnay, which is crisper and rarely if ever aged in oak, versus the tradition Napa-style which is buttery, oaky, and pretty in-your-face. For that reason, this was a good Chard for me; it’s not oaky, a little buttery maybe, yet still crisp with evident flavors of apple and citrus. I used Vivino to check out a couple different whites this night; Berringer ranked higher than almost any other Chardonnay at Target, including some of the more expensive ones. All things considered, it was a nice glass of wine to accompany my nostalgia-laden dinner, and at $5.99/bottle, my only regret about this meal was not having Sonja here to share it with.
The Comfort Food: Sriracha Chorizo!
The Pairing: Villa Cerina’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Eric Hutchison’s Pandora station
What do you need to offset the punch of rooster juice? An artful balance of fruit and tannin with only hints of acid is a good place to start. Available at Trader Joe’s for a meager $4.99, Villa Cerina (winery) Montepulciano (grape) d’Abruzzo (wine region in Italy) has been a winner in Sonja and my book since we first tried it at the home of our friends Gerald and Stas. Gerald lived in Italy for many years, so we trusted him, and we were right to do so. The wine has gorgeous color and a sweet-yet-not-too-sweet bouquet, and reminds me a little of a Pinot Noir. But while I wouldn’t drink most $5 Pinot Noirs with someone else’s mouth, this wine drinks way out of it’s price range. Best of all, it can stand alone without any problem, so I had a glass while I made the chorizo and another with dinner. As much as I’d have enjoyed sharing this meal with Sonja, she told me she went to Cooper’s Hawk for dinner tonight, so I think she’s just fine.
The Comfort Food: HyVee Chinese (Beef w/ Broccoli and lo mein noodles)
The Pairing: Bogle 2011 “Essential Red” and my Wednesday shows: Modern Family and Nashville
Still to this day one of my favorite meals, previously this could have been paired with anything, but tonight I wanted to get creative. Fortunately, HyVee has quite a selection! Bogle’s “Essential Red” blend is everything a California wine is supposed to be. It’s got some body (not too much – medium plus), it’s got some fruit, lots of tannins reminiscent of the usual Napa valley style, subtle acids, and a delightful, medium-length finish that lasts almost until your next wonderful sip. It’s a great wine, one you could easily drink on it’s own, but paired with a staple of my bachelor years, affectionately termed “HyChi” by my friend Jill, it really hit the spot tonight. The beef and broccoli needed a red wine with fruit to compliment the savory flavor, and on sale for $8.99/bottle, this Bogle blend more than did the trick.
The Comfort Food: Linguini with Mushroom Alfredo!
The Pairing: Viuex Papes Blanc de Blancs and reading Scripture
After a six-mile run in the abnormally kind March weather, the alfredo threatened to be a little on the heavy side, so a crisp white wine was just what I needed to offset the gut-bomb I was cooking up in the kitchen. I knew that Whole Foods boasts a great wine selection to fit all budgets, though I was still surprised to find this delightful French import for only $5.99. The blend is somewhat of a peculiar one, according to a little reading up I did: Ugni Blanc, Sauv Blanc, and Chardonnay, but it has nice citrus notes to the flavor and medium acid. It’s crisp and refreshing – good for the nice weather and the meal. I tried to learn more on the Vieux Papes web page, but couldn’t get very far as it’s only in French. C’est la vie.
The Comfort Food: Bar food!
The Pairing: Rock Bottom beers, some buddies, and the second round of the Big 10 Tournament
Yep, that’s right, beer. Now don’t stop reading just quite yet – there’s merit to this point. First, if you’re being totally honest, sometimes you’d just rather have a beer, or a bourbon, or maybe even just some water, and of course that’s just fine. I don’t drink every night, and I certainly don’t drink wine every night. But also important is the fact that your palate actually needs a little break from tasting wine sometimes. This became incredibly obvious to us on our last trip to California, when we marathon-tasted at as many as nine wineries in a single day. By the end, I “loved” stuff that was somewhat questionable. Even though we were spitting most of it, our taste buds were just burnt out on all that wine! With that in mind, even though it’s usually only a glass a night with a meal, I try to give myself a break every now and again with beer, bourbon, scotch, or some good old H2O. It makes coming back to great wines all that much more enjoyable. So today, some fellow NU alums and I met up at Rock Bottom in Omaha, had a few beers, and watched the Huskers blow an eighteen point lead against Ohio State. Ouch! Sometimes, you just really need a beer.
So, left to my own devices for a week all by my lonesome… I didn’t starve. In fact, I even made it a point to vacuum before Sonja got home. And factoring the beer in at about $4.00/mug (happy hour) I spent less than the cost of one nice bottle of wine all week, under $30.00, and there were still several half-bottles left for Sonja to try when she got home. Moreover, I had a chance to exercise a little freedom in my diet, which was good for the soul if not so good for my heart and waistline. And having to cook for myself every night certainly helped me to appreciate Sonja and the dinners she often makes a little more. It also got me to thinking.
Wine used to be just another alcoholic beverage on a long list of those to be chosen from, but now it’s something more. Now it means companionship, common interest, a shared hobby and shared time with my wife. From touring vineyards to writing this blog, wine, not unlike friends, church, theater and other shared interests we hold, brings Sonja and I closer together. My week of being a bachelor was fun, sure, but given the opportunity, I would much rather share my meals, my time, and my wine with my best friend.