I’ve never been to Denmark, but after recently being enlightened about the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hue-gah), I have moved the country to the top of my “plan to visit” list. Here’s a formal definition.
Hygge (noun): “The art of creating warmth, comfort and well-being through connection-treasuring the moment and surrounding yourself with things you love.”
Hygge is a feeling or a mood that comes from taking pleasure in making everyday moments meaningful and special. If this sounds touchy-feely, I guess it is, and I don’t care. As I get older, I have fewer and fewer grandiose happenings in my life and more and more quiet times with friends and family — ordinary evenings of sharing a meal with my wife and adult son or taking our daughter out to lunch or for ice cream during a quick college visit. Why not, I thought, bring some hygge to these and other events in my life?
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Hygge is commonly believed to have five dimensions: feeling, sight, smell, sound and taste. I can’t think of anything in my life that fulfills these dimensions more on a regular basis than good food and good wine.
I’m not taking about those “special” meals that you roll out for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and dinner parties. And I’m not referring to those “precious” bottles of wine reserved for those occasions. No, I’m talking about homemade pizza on a Tuesday night, pan-seared swordfish with asparagus and a baked potato on a “stay home” Saturday, or fried chicken with red-skin mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts on a dreary Monday.
I went through my wine the other day and pulled some bottles I thought would add some hygge to my life. Who knows, maybe buying and popping open these or other wines will have the same effect on you.
I love Italian wines, and I love Tuscan wines perhaps more than any other wines from Italy. Frescobaldi has long been one of my favorite producers, and the Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva is a great example of why my passion for their wines runs so deeply.
Made primarily with Sangiovese grapes, with small amounts of other supporting native Tuscan varietals, this Chianti is a little on the “rustic” side of the taste spectrum, and that’s just fine with me. Try the Nipozzano with a hearty beef stew or a slow-cooker chuck steak on one of these chilly nights and see if it doesn’t elevate the moment and the meal!
Next, head to neighboring Greece, where the wines are improving with each passing vintage. Greek Agiorgitiko from Nemea is a ruby red wine chock full of flower and red fruit character. Pick up some snapper fillets and bake them in the oven with cherry tomatoes and herbs and watch what this wine has to say. I’d say hygge and leave it at that.
You could do a lot worse than the Cultivate, a lovely California Pinot Noir. Young and vibrant, the Cultivate buzzes the palate with high toned fruit and refreshes it with uncharacteristic acidity for a California Pinot. It’s very versatile with food; I might opt for something on the appetizer front like a mushroom bruschetta or maybe some pecorino, salumi and hearty Italian bread.
I also pulled a bottle of the Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Made from Montepulciano grapes and aged 14 months in French oak, this is not your grandfather’s Montepulciano. The wine is bigger, fuller and richer than nearly every Montepulciano I’ve tasted, and the food match warrants the same. How about splurging on a couple of steaks that you can grill or cook in a cast-iron skillet? Serve with the Masciarelli and some garlic mushrooms. I can almost guarantee an instant outbreak of hygge.
Try these wines. Try others. Why not try putting a little hygge in your life? Gosh knows, we all could use it.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.