Finding Comfort in a Bottle of Familiar Wine

In times of fear and anxiety, we find solace in foods that conjure up memories and emotions. Why not wines?

By Eric Asimov

Like so many others, my wife and I have been self-isolating in our apartment, doing our best to stay close to our loved ones from afar, and cooking the foods that we find most comforting: split-pea soup, various bean dishes, spaghetti and meatballs, just for starters.

The other night, with the soup, I opened one of my favorite wines from the Northern Rhône Valley, Domaine de Pergaud St. Julien-en-St. Alban Vieille Sérine from Éric Texier.

It’s a mouthful of a name for a Côtes-du-Rhône that, unusually, is made entirely from syrah, or more accurately, sérine, a form of syrah that is often said to be the precursor of modern syrah clones.

This was a 2011, and, like many Texier wines that evolve for years, it was just rounding into form. It was savory, both salty and peppery, without the overt olive notes of an easier-going syrah, but more complicated, floral and meaty and, for me, an utter joy to drink, intriguing yet comforting.

It’s not just this particular wine that makes me feel that way, but many syrahs from the Northern Rhône.

They are rarely exalted bottles from Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie. Usually they are more accessible wines from St.-Joseph, Cornas or Crozes-Hermitage, and even the rare Côtes-du-Rhône that, like the Texier, is from the north and made of syrah rather than the typical grenache-based example from the Southern Rhône.

In moments of anxiety or need, I am often drawn to syrah. Not always from the Northern Rhône, either. I’ve had wonderful, satisfying examples from California, Washington, Australia and South Africa. And somehow, when I find a good one, I’m happy, the way split-pea soup makes me happy, or memories of my mother’s flanken, which I have not sullied by trying to make myself.

We take for granted the ability of food to affect us emotionally. Often that sense of comfort is felt through nerves and sinews tied directly to childhood. Wine generally works on another level, liberating knots of feelings derived from more adult experiences.

I’m not sure how I became enmeshed in syrah. I cherish many wines that manage to touch my soul, but they carry different messages, of romance or exaltation, fascination or calm togetherness. Comfort and reassurance is entirely different, and I find that in syrah.

The emotional component of wine is rarely considered. We tend to think of wine intellectually, often as a problem of methodology. This is how you taste a wine. This is how you serve it correctly. Memorize your geography, your soil types, your nomenclature.

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