Practical Pairings for Everyday Food

Brian Duncan, partner and wine director of Bin 36 in Chicago, brings restaurant-level wine-and-food matches home.


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Think wine-and-food pairings only exist in high-end restaurants with expensive wines and costly ingredients? Think again.

What if I told you that it is possible to make that same magic happen with your favorite home-cooked meals, ethnic dishes and carryout options? Here are some popular and delicious wine companions for your everyday food favorites.

Meatloaf, Burgers and Steaks: When you’re using tomato-based sauces like ketchup and barbecue sauce, best bets include California Zinfandel or South Australian Shiraz. The ripe flavors in both wines meld with the acidity in tomato-based sauces, and match the sweet and spicy elements in barbecue sauces.

Roasted Chicken: The answer here lies in how you season or sauce your chicken. Most roasted chicken recipes are savory, which gives more freedom in wine choices. Top pairings include fuller-bodied whites from warmer climates, like California Chardonnay and Viognier.

For reds, there are many options—Grenache or Pinot Noir (French or domestic), Tempranillo or a blend. I recommend Hahn Winery’s 2010 Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre from California’s Central Coast.

Pairing well with savory seasonings like rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic and onions, the above wines express earthy notes that echo, complement and enhance the dish’s flavors, creating an unforgettable match.

Buffalo Wings: The top factor to consider when pairing wines with wings is the amount of spicy heat in the sauce. It’s key to choose bottlings that ensure your palate recovers from the fire. For white selections, the bright fruit, low alcohol and acidity in Riesling does a good job of this. Reds with ripe flavors are your best friends here, too. Good choices include California Syrah and Zinfandel as well as Australian Shiraz, but stay clear of superhigh alcohol levels.

Italian: Go with the classics—whites from Alto Adige and Friuli, such as Pinot Grigio, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Friulano as well as Soave from the Veneto. The wines from these areas emphasize clarity of flavor due to the lack of or the restrained use of oak. Fresh acidity in these wines make them workhorses for Italian favorites: olive oil- or tomato-based dishes, cured meats, seafood, shellfish, poultry, veal and vegetables.

Pizza pairs best with Sangiovese-based wines because of their refreshing acidity. My preferred selections include Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Barbera—more specifically Vietti’s 2010 Tre Vigne Barbera d’Asti.

Mexican: Fruity whites with bright acidity like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and Torrontés, work best with Mexican foods. If you want red, go for ripe California Syrah, Australian Shiraz, Primitivo or Zindandel. I recommend Domaine Pichot’s 2011 Domaine le Peu de la Moriette Vouvray from Loire Valley, France.

Sushi: Sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and sparkling Vouvray pair perfectly with sushi for several reasons. The bubbles and high acidity in these wines freshen the palate better than any other wine, and the fruit and vivid minerality correct the brininess of the soy sauce, the heat from the wasabi and illuminate the exotic spiciness of the ginger. 

Among still wines, successful white choices include Chenin Blanc and Riesling. Medium-bodied reds also work well, including California Pinot Noir from Carneros or the Santa Lucia Highlands. I recommend our own 2010 Bin 36 Zinfandel from California. For a splurge, try Amarone with unagi. I champion these reds because they perform with the same components (soy, wasabi, hoisin and ginger), but provide an experience that complements the fish without overpowering it.

Indian: My personal favorite! The most successful white wine with the exotic range of spices in Indian food is Gewürztraminer. It works with the seafood, meat and poultry dishes. Riesling is versatile, while Viognier works beautifully with mild curry and vegetable dishes.

For reds, think Châteauneuf-du-Pape or South Australian Shiraz. Specific recommendations include Fitz-Ritter’s 2011 Gewürztraminer Spätlese from the Pfalz, Germany, or Domaine de Marcoux’s 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley, France.

Chinese: Rosé, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Zinfandel are all great options. These wines balance the sweet-and-sour flavors associated with popular Chinese takeout options. A top wine recommendation is Charles & Charles’s 2011 Syrah Rosé from Columbia Valley, Washington.

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