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Cozy retreat 

Wines that calm a busy day

Sometimes the boss, the spouse or yet another Hallmark holiday backs you into the shit-day corner and you crave a Calgon moment. You can seek refuge by gorging on Netflix, pints of creamy Ben & Jerry's or fresh pizza from the neighborhood joint. Or you can sink into a comfortable glass (or bottle) of wine.

Comfort wines can soothe your weary soul just as much as those famed comfort foods of childhood such as mashed potatoes, roast chicken or chocolate cake. These foods deliver a reassuring predictability and unpretentious deliciousness at a no-worries price. But wine, of course, also bears the blessings of a buzz.

So what defines a comfort wine? There shouldn't be any restrictive rules since that kind of defeats the purpose, so white, red, dessert and sparkling are all in. It should be something so simple and tasty that you don't have to think about its complexity, and it doesn't stress the wallet. Hopefully it stirs up a few pleasant memories. What better company when humans annoy the piss out of you?

I have a few comfort wines that soothe my soul when the day stomps all over me with its big, muddy combat boots. Ridge Vineyards, one of my all-time favorite wineries, gives me solace, but it isn't exactly cheap, so opening one might hurt a little (until that first sip, of course). Ridge's specialty is red zinfandel, a zesty, super-fruity grape that gushes personality. This is what I want as my comforting wine friend, but admittedly, I have some lowbrow pals who also assuage stress: California's Cellar #8, Cline Cellars or Hayman Hill.

Or maybe you want something white and zesty? Sauvignon blanc delivers a bracing acidity that awakens the senses, reversing a frenzied day. Inexpensive brands are Washington state's Hogue Cellars, Chile's Veramonte and New Zealand's Four Emus and Kim Crawford.

For a fruit-bomb experience, a wine that bursts in your mouth as you settle into an evening, try a shiraz (aka syrah). It delivers jolts of cherry, raspberry or blackberry into your tired body to prepare for the long haul back to a good mood. Always reliable and relatively inexpensive (less than $15) Chateau Ste. Michelle comes to mind, as does Australia's Lindeman's. There are also a few fruity, comforting cabs out there today under the labels Beaulieu Vineyards Coastal and Gallo of Sonoma.

Or maybe your idea of relaxing is a sensual bubble bath accompanied by some tingly bubbles on your tongue. Remember: Sparkling wines aren't just for celebrations and seductions. With prices plummeting, some now fall in the comfort category: Spain's Segura Viudas Cava, Argyle Brut from Oregon and Italy's Mionetto Prosecco.

Like the perfect friend, some wines can deliver the perfect words to whisk you away to your happy place. For me, happiness lies in homemade tomato soup, mac 'n' cheese and a grilled slab of still-kickin' meat. Washed down with some zin, of course.

Recommended Wines

Turner Road 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles. SW = 2. $10. The cab that drinks like merlot. Fabulous cherry aroma with soft, silky raspberry and cherry taste. Finishes with a hint of spicy black pepper. 3.5 stars

Bianchi 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County. SW = 1. $14. Light and refreshing. If this were summer, I'd say it's a pool wine. Laced with grapefruit, pear and smooth acids. 3 stars

Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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