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beppi crosariol

The thick of winter – ouch. But we resourceful Canadians have ways of coping: griping, sleeping in like grizzlies, resolving to buy jumper cables next year and packing a suitcase for Cancun. We also inhale mountains of comfort food.

There is such a thing as comfort wine, too. It's not a technical category, like Burgundy or Port. Generally, though, it encompasses full-bodied wines with heartwarming alcohol, a snow-shovel's load of fruit and – in the case of reds – a smooth chocolate character. A hint of smokiness or toasty oak can be welcome, too. A few styles that tend to qualify: Australian shiraz, southern French and southern Italian reds, California zinfandel and pretty much any barrel-aged New World chardonnay. Personally, I like southern French reds based on grenache, syrah and mourvèdre because, well, they transport my mind to sunny southern France.

Of late there has been a tendency capitalize on the warm appeal of comfort with suggestive brand names. How does Cherry Pie Cherry Tart Pinot Noir grab you? The vaguely sweet, jammy California red, at 14.3-per-cent alcohol, was launched in Ontario this week. So were Zonte's Footstep Chocolate Factory Shiraz, from Australia, and The Bean Coffee Pinotage, from South Africa. Yes, the latter two taste like chocolate and coffee, respectively. And Canada is getting in the comfort zone with such offerings as Bodacious Smooth Red from Niagara.

Another way to circumscribe the category is to consider what pairs well with classic rib-sticking comfort foods such as stews, pot pies, mac and cheese, pasta Bolognese and poutine. That's the approach I've taken with the wines (and one inspired beer, because it's Super Bowl weekend) below.

Vignobles de Balma Vénitia Cuvée Saint-Roch Vacqueyras 2011 (France)

SCORE: 91 PRICE: $24.95

I don't know what they call comfort food in France (nourriture de confort?), but they sure have plenty of it, from cassoulet and croque-monsieur (the original grilled cheese) to cheesy onion soup and pot-au-feu. They do comfort wine as well, though usually with more savoury character than is found in New World wines. Here's a red gem for serious warmth, full-bodied and intense. Imagine plums stewed in bitter chocolate with a topcoat of melted licorice and tarry asphalt. Introduce it to lamb shanks braised in red wine. Merveilleux. Available in Ontario.

Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah 2012 (Chile)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.95

Smooth plum jam, smoky bacon and cracked pepper – do I have your attention? Add a note of new-shoe leather and you've got a fine, full-bodied take on syrah that tastes nothing like the sweeter New World shirazes (same grape) out of Australia. Beef short ribs or pot pie would be grand. Various prices in Alta.

Tree Brewing Molto Bella Espresso IPA (British Columbia)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $6.50 in B.C.

Thank you, Tree Brewing of Kelowna, for combining two of life's most precious luxuries (or should I say "necessities"?): espresso coffee and bitter hops. This fine, robust beer pours an opaque amber-orange with lingering foam. Raise the glass and your nose transports you to Italy, with its uncanny espresso aroma. Then taste the chocolate character and, here we go, a strong pine-and-grapefruit hoppiness. Creamy and compelling, it also delivers a subtly sweet, peach-like core, which plays beautifully against the bitterness of the java and hops. Beef chili, will you take this beer to be your lawful-wedded spouse, at least for the next meal? Available in B.C.

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008 (Italy)

SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95

It's not exactly massive, but this Italian red from Umbria comes across with more heft than you'd expect from the region, in part because it's a concentrated "riserva" and in part because the sangiovese grape here is blended with fuller-bodied cabernet sauvignon and merlot as well as the local and heavily tannic sagrantino. Meaty and slightly smoky, it's mostly cherry-like but with hints of church pew, damp earth, tarry roof shingles and grilled herbs. Pass the tourtière. Available in Ontario.

Wakefield Chardonnay 2013 (Australia)

SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.95

Here's a smooth, luscious, full-bodied New World chardonnay that finds the right balance at the right price. Ripe, tropical fruit mingles with butter, vanilla and tangy acidity. A good match for macaroni and cheese, popcorn or just about anything swimming in butter or cream. Available in Ontario.

Paso Creek Zinfandel 2012 (California)

SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.94

Concentrated, jammy, succulent and well rounded, this is blueberry pie masquerading as a red wine – with dusty tannins and a hint of baking spices tossed into the pan. Match it with hot chicken wings, sticky pork ribs or nachos. $17.99 in B.C., various prices in Alta., $19.99 in Sask., $18.99 in Man.

Calliope Figure Eight 2013 (British Columbia)

SCORE: 88 PRICE: $17.95

Full-bodied yet light on its feet, Calliope's Figure Eight is a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and syrah. A sweet core of cassis and chocolate gets lift from juicy acidity and herbal-floral aromatics, finishing chewy and dry. Try it with grilled pork chops or roast chicken. Available in B.C. private stores at about $19, in Alberta at $20 to $22 and in Ontario at the above price. (www.calliopewines.com)

Macho Man Monastrell 2012 (Spain)

SCORE: 87 PRICE: $18.95

Macho, perhaps, but the beefy cartoon figure on the label looks like a gym-bunny modern hipster – with his handlebar mustache, goatee and arm tattoos. From the trendy Jumilla region of southeastern Spain, this monastrell (a sturdy grape better known as mourvèdre in France) is a mouthful of smooth, spicy plum-cherry juice enlivened by savoury spices, leather and licorice. Not the world's, or Spain's, greatest monastrell, but the name and the wine would pair well with beef chili and the New England Patriots' imminent victory in Sunday's Super Bowl. $19.99 in B.C.

Published by HarperCollins, The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.