Southern Comfort

Every cuisine has its comfort foods – those dishes that satisfy the taste buds while soothing the soul – and Southern cuisine is no exception. From cornbread and hush puppies to shoofly and pecan pies, flavors from south of the Mason-Dixon Line have gained traction throughout the United States. Southerners love their country ham, chicken-fried steak, pit-barbecued pork, cooked greens, catfish, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, succotash, red rice, bread pudding and much more. But it is pimiento cheese, chicken, biscuits and cobbler that feel most like Southern comfort to me.

Gary: In keeping with the context of comfort food, look for wines that are round and enjoyable to drink on their own – think “quaffers,” not sippers. This food is meant to be enjoyed with family and friends in a casual setting, so choose wines that go along with that style of enjoyment.

Pimiento Cheese Spread

Pimiento (or Pimento) Cheese Spread is a Southern staple that is growing in popularity here in the North. Slathered on burgers and sandwiches, stuffed into celery or scooped up with veggies and crackers, Pimiento Cheese Spread is a delicious export from the South. For a change of pace, add hot peppers, chopped pickles, grated onion or minced scallions. You can also try a combination of cheeses such as equal parts cheddar and Monterey Jack. This is the basic recipe; use your imagination to improvise from here.

4 oz (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 TBS chopped pimiento, drained

Garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt to taste

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Stir in remaining ingredients until blended.

Gary: Remember that adding other ingredients can change the basic wine pairing, though this appetizer is flexible enough to enjoy with a variety of wines. Look for white wines without oak or that are lightly oaked, fresh and vibrant to cleanse the palate after each bite of the cheese. The wine can be softly dry or softly sweet, to your preference, as it will tend to be very pleasant alone or with the appetizer. Sparkling wines such as Crémant and Loire bubblies would be delightful, as would Argentina’s sparkling Torrontés and Italy’s Prosecco. Riesling (dry or sweet and sparkling), Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, dry Tokaji, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Albariño, Verdelho and the Labrusca varietals found in our Ohio and East Coast vineyards would all be very nice pairings. Even a soft red like a Côtes du Rhône/Grenache, Pinot Noir or a softly sweet Dornfelder will bring out the brightness of the flavors of the pimientos.

Buttermilk Biscuits

When stamping out the biscuits with a cutter, don’t twist the cutter which will pinch the dough and inhibit its ability to rise. Press down evenly with the cutter and pull it straight up out of the dough.

3 cups flour

1 TBS sugar

1 TBS baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

8 TBS (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 TBS cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces

1-1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In food processer, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in buttermilk until combined.

On a lightly floured cutting board, knead dough about 10 times until smooth. Pat dough into a circle, 3/4-inch thick. Dip a 3-inch biscuit cutter into flour. Cut out 8 biscuits and arrange on baking sheet. You may have to gather dough scraps and re-pat into a second 3/4-inch circle to make 8 biscuits. Be sure cutter is well-floured each time.

Bake biscuits 5 minutes, then reduce oven to 400°F. Bake until golden, about 12 to 15 minutes more.

Makes 8 biscuits.

Georgia Peach Cobbler

Cobblers were so-called because their topping resembled the uneven cobblestone streets of the 18th century. A popular dessert in the South, this cobbler can be made year-round with frozen peaches. Once sweet Georgia peaches come into season, use about 8-10, peeled and sliced.

2 (16 oz) bags frozen sliced peaches, thawed and patted dry

1/4 cup sugar plus 1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 cup flour

1-1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature plus butter for pan

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13 pan. Place peaches in pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add egg and vanilla, beating until blended. Stir in flour mixture until blended. Batter will be stiff.

Drop dollops of batter over peaches. Bake 45-50 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Gary: Just remember to make the wine as sweet as the dessert (or sweeter) and it will work. Wines with sweetness and fresher flavors would be best, as solera-aged and heavily oxidized dessert wine styles might overpower the fresher flavor of the fruit. Late Harvest Riesling, Chenin Blanc/Vouvray, Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon, Muscat/Moscato, a fresh style of Montilla, Tokaji 4 to 6 Puttonyos (sweetness level) or an ice wine will all make this dessert sing and bring out the peach flavors. 

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