The Right Wine to Pair with Your Favorite Comfort Foods
Whether you’re simply looking for a glass to complement a takeout pizza or choosing a bottle to impress guests as they enjoy your homemade beef bourguignon, choosing the right wine can be a daunting task. Good news – it doesn’t have to be that stressful. Picking the right bottle is more intuitive than you may think.
The key to matching food with the right wine is to achieve balance. The wine and the meal should be equal in terms of weight or richness, without either one overwhelming the other. For example, a heavy dish such as pot roast needs a heavier red wine, while a light salad would be overwhelmed by the same red wine; it matches a lighter-body white wine better.
But it’s not always black and white. All 16 comfort foods we address below are on the rich, heavy side (they’re comfort foods, after all), but not all of them pair with the same types of wine. Instead, we consider the other elements of each dish. Sure, they may all be rich, but some are earthy – think beef and mushrooms – while others are creamy like mac and cheese or a cream-based casserole. Each necessitates a different wine.
Meaty, spicy dishes such as chili need a bold and fruity wine to stand up to a strong flavor profile. A red wine with flavors of dark fruit such as cherries and plums, a bit of spice, and hints of chocolate pairs perfectly. Try to avoid anything high in alcohol or tannins, both of which can clash with the peppers in the chili. Malbec is always a safe bet, as is a Rioja or Tempranillo. A lower alcohol GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) or Pinot Noir will work too. The fruity notes in these wines match well with chilis, while the subtle tannins help to break up the meatiness and fat in the recipe.
• Recipe: Texas Beef Chili
• How to make the best: Instead of ground beef, choose boneless beef chuck cut into ½-inch cubes. If possible, make this a day ahead and let it sit for a few hours in the refrigerator to help the flavors develop.
2. Fried Chicken
Simple and classic, this salty, juicy, crispy chicken calls for a wine that’s equally simple, with a good balance of acidity and sweetness. The acidity and effervescence of Champagne cuts through the richness of the fried coating. If you’re not in the mood for bubbles, a nice Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling, or full-bodied Viognier works well, too.
• Recipe: The Ultimate Southern Fried Chicken
• How to make the best: The trick to perfect fried chicken is to keep it simple. There’s no extra sauce or brining, just a three-step dredge – seasoned flour, egg, seasoned flour – before frying.
3. Beef Stew
With bacon, beef, mushrooms, and potatoes, beef stews need an equally earthy and powerful wine. Pick a deep red – something heavy, peppery, and punchy such as a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, French Bordeaux, or Côtes du Rhône. The astringent character of tannins in red wine pair especially well with rich meaty dishes, because they help balance strong flavors.
• Recipe: Boeuf Bourguignon with Roasted Potatoes
• How to make the best: For the best beef stew, wine goes in the dish as well as alongside it. While cooking wines are easy to spot on grocery store shelves, it’s best not to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. Pick a bottle you like and buy two.
With a healthy dose of ketchup in this classic blue plate special, turn to a robust red wine with subtle tannins. A bold and fruity wine complements the salty-sweet notes of classic meatloaf without fading behind the strong flavors. We suggest a robust Zinfandel.
• Recipe: Good Eats Meatloaf
• How to make the best: Make the process a whole lot easier by eliminating all of the chopping. Instead, let the food processor do the work. Don’t skimp on the glaze – that’s the key to achieving a dark, tasty crust.
5. Mac and Cheese
This rich and creamy classic needs a more acidic, slightly sweet wine to complement it as well as to cut through the richness and cleanse the palate between bites. A Chenin Blanc from South Africa or the Loire region of France works well, thanks to its acidity and honey notes, as does a Pinot Gris. Chardonnay, with its slight acidity and creaminess from aging in oak barrels, also matches well with the cheesy dish. If you’ve got red on the brain, try a Cru Beaujolais, which is made from Gamay grapes that have a bit of acidity and a light to medium body.
• Recipe: Mac and Cheese
• How to make the best: For an updated, adult take on this classic favorite, start it on the stovetop with a creamy homemade cheese sauce before topping with fresh, juicy tomatoes and crunchy breadcrumbs.
6. Grilled Cheese
Such a simple sandwich deserves a special drink. Sparkling wines are perfect with salty, crispy, and buttery foods such as grilled cheese, thanks to their faint sweetness. Go for a cava or Champagne, or a rosé (still or sparkling). A note on rosé: Regardless of the type of cheese used in the sandwich, rosé will work well due to its mix of red- and white-wine characteristics – fruitiness and acidity, respectively.
• Recipe: The Perfect Grilled Cheese
• How to make the best: Using a high-quality butter makes all the difference. To avoid the burnt bread and not-yet-melted cheese dilemma, use shredded cheese and finish melting it in the oven once you have the perfect color on both sides of the sandwich.
7. Roasted Chicken
Few meals are more satisfying than a simple roast chicken. Select a wine that is equally simple to avoid overwhelming the food. Chicken always works well with white wine, while the rustic roasted flavors pair well with a light red wine. When you’re in the mood for red, try a Pinot Noir or fruity Cru Beaujolais. For white, opt for a Rhône-style. If the roasted chicken recipe is heavy on the fresh herbs, try a Grüner Veltliner; the citrus and clove flavors pair well with herbaceous notes.
8. Spaghetti Bolognese
A meaty tomato-based sauce like this classic Italian six-hour-simmer bolognese needs a strong Italian wine. Choose a bottle with juicy fruit flavors and slight acidity with soft tannins. It can be hard to find a suitable mate for tomatoes, but the sweetness in this slow-simmered sauce makes it a bit easier. Nero d’Avola complements the tomatoes well, while also cutting through the fat and meatiness. (Plus, it’s affordable.) Barbera d’Asti also works well, thanks to its juicy acidity, supple tannins, and notes of blackberry and sage.
• Recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Ragú Bolognese
• How to make the best: The secret to this recipe is time. Don’t rush it. Take the whole six hours to allow the flavors to concentrate and achieve the right flavor.
9. Tuna Casserole
Dishes containing canned ingredients can be tricky to pair with wine. If the wine is too tannic, the whole meal will begin to taste metallic. The creaminess of a tuna casserole calls for a wine with slight acidity and light, fruity notes, such as a rosé from the Côtes du Rhône region of France. If pink isn’t a favorite, the subtle acid notes of an unoaked Chardonnay would work perfectly, too.
• Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole
• How to make the best: Creamy is key. Instead of opting for the classic canned condensed mushroom soup, whip up a homemade cream sauce to bind everything together, and add fresh mushrooms for an earthy note.
An Italian classic like lasagna deserves a classic Italian wine to go with it. Pick something medium bodied, such as a Chianti or other Sangiovese-based Italian red. Both are heavy enough to match the meat and tomato-based sauce without overpowering the dish.
• Recipe: The Best Traditional Lasagna
• How to make the best: Don’t cut corners and substitute only beef when making the filling. The ¾ pound of pork sausage in the recipe makes a noticeable difference in the flavor of the sauce.
11. Shepherd’s Pie
A bold wine with a good dose of tannins and peppery flavor can stand up to a hearty dish, while helping to cut through some of its richness. Cabernet Sauvignon – with flavor notes of dark fruit, black pepper, and a bit of earthiness – is the perfect pairing for a hearty, buttery, meaty dish like shepherd’s pie.
• Recipe: Cheddar-Topped Shepherd’s Pie
• How to make the best: Don’t overcomplicate this dish. It’s just as delightfully simple as it seems, and doesn’t need anything else to make it better.
12. Chicken Pot Pie
With rich, tender crust and thick, creamy filling, chicken pot pie begs for a refreshing white wine. Try a full-bodied, floral Viognier, which tends to have a sweet nose but tastes quite dry. This recipe is lightened up with the addition of fennel bulb and cubed ham, which also go well with slightly acidic and dry white wines.
• Recipe: Chicken Pot Pies with Ham
• How to make the best: If time doesn’t permit making all ingredients from scratch, use store-bought rotisserie chicken and pie dough to get full flavor without spending hours in the kitchen.
13. Pot Roast
A humble dish like pot roast needs a humble, country wine. Try a Côtes du Rhône, made from a blend of red grapes from southern France, or a Cabernet Sauvignon, which has some body (and tannins) but works well with juicy meats.
• Recipe: Beef Pot Roast
• How to make the best: Searing the beef before slow cooking with the rest of the ingredients is key to developing flavor when making pot roast. Don’t skip that step.
Whether you’re working with a tomato- or pesto-based pizza, a light-bodied red wine with plenty of depth accompanies just about any pie perfectly. Pinot Noir is the perfect pick when it comes to earthy flavors such as tomatoes, herbs, roasted chicken, and mushrooms. Of course, an Italian classic such as Chianti would also work well.
15. Chocolate Chip Cookies
For the classic chocolate chip cookie, plain old wine just won’t do. Instead, opt for a tawny port. Inexpensive bottles are easy to find, and the rich, high-alcohol drink brings out the caramel and chocolate flavors in the cookies.
16. Apple Pie
The secret to pairing wine with dessert is to choose a wine that is a touch lighter in body and at least as sweet as the food. For classic apple pie, there are many good options. Moscato d’Asti – with its light fizz and apricot notes – will emphasize the fruit flavors in the pie. Late-harvest wines such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling (which are made from grapes left on the vine for longer than normal, allowing their sweetness and flavor to concentrate as they get riper) also work well with baked fruit desserts like this classic pie. Craving bubbles? A fruity, sweet, and slightly creamy extra dry, sec, demi-sec, or doux sparkling wine would work well.
• Recipe: Classic Double-Crust Apple Pie
• How to make the best: Pre-cook the apples to eliminate a gap between the top crust and the filling, making a denser, more structurally sound pie.