For some, soup is what you eat on a blustery winter night when you’re chilled to the bone. On such nights, a steaming tureen will warm the body and salve the soul.
But soup is also a summer thing. When the garden and the farmer’s market are overflowing with gorgeous produce, your homemade soup will come out of the pot bursting with flavors you just can’t replicate any other time of year. And on sultry nights when it’s too hot to think about solid food, soup—eaten either chilled or hot—is the perfect tonic.
Still, once the concept of summer soup is embraced there’s another hurdle to overcome. Traditionalists hold that soup, whether in summer or winter, does not go with wine, as it dulls the palate to the charms of the grape. But tradition is giving way to a more relaxed and enlightened view of soup and wine.
“There’s a bit of a stigma out there about pairing soup and wine,” says Chef Michael Allemeier, winery chef at Mission Hill Family Estate in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. “The older sommeliers just cringe when they hear this, but we want to debunk that myth.”
“Traditionally, one wouldn’t serve alcohol with soup,” says Chef Annie Wayte, of Nicole’s and 202 in New York and London. “In the past the alcohol was in the soup.” But in her restaurants today, she reports, “the majority do drink wine with soup.”
Pairing modern-day soups
But can soup and wine work when the soup has characteristics of the so-called “emerging” flavor profiles—Latin and Asian—that are so popular today?
Yes, says Chef Richard Sandoval, who has won acclaim for his “modern Mexican” cuisine at Maya in New York and some six other restaurants in San Francisco, Denver and Las Vegas (with new ones opening soon in Mexico City and Dubai). “Latin soups—some of our soups—are a little bit heartier. You could go into a nice Pinot Noir and it will stand up to the heartier soup. Asian, Indian and Mexican are similar in that they are very bold cuisines. They have a lot of flavor. These cuisines can even stand up to Zinfandels and Cabs.”
When it comes to actual pairings, however, the virtue of summertime soups—all that fabulous summer produce—can, paradoxically, make the pairings a little tricky.
Take tomatoes, a highlight of summer. Their acidity has earned them a reputation as being tough to match with wine. Gazpacho, the chilled vegetable soup of Spain that traditionally features raw tomatoes, is a summertime staple. What to do? Allemeier suggests Sauvignon Blanc, particularly one made in the New World style. “The little bit of acidity on the palate from the tomato and the little bit of acidity from the wine kind of neutralizes both of them,” he says. And the herbaceous notes of the wine work well with any herbal ingredients or garnishes. He serves Mission Hill’s Sauvignon Blanc with both a tomato gazpacho and a chilled tomato consommé (the latter includes a goat cheese dumpling, and is garnished with fresh lovage).
And he’d pair the same wine, or perhaps a Pinot Blanc, with another notoriously difficult character from the farm: asparagus. “Any trace of bitterness in vegetables is a real challenge [when it comes to wine pairings],” says Allmeier. “Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc are my favorite picks to deal with troublesome vegetables. You want to avoid oak and creaminess in the wine and turn to that natural fruit and acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc.”
Sandoval is also a fan of pairing Sauvignon Blanc with any number of hard-to-match vegetable-based soups. He pairs it with his avocado-cucumber gazpacho. The soup has a little bit of spice from Serrano chilies. Chilies go well with acidity—you get the nice crispness of the wine.”
But Sauvignon Blanc is not the only wine for summer soups. “I think rosé is often forgotten about and that’s sad. It goes very well with summer soups,” says Wayte. She also likes Sherry, noting, “A lot of people think of it as a blue hair-rinse brigade choice, but it’s not. There are so many varieties.” For her chilled white gazpacho, made with grapes, almonds, garlic and bread, she might choose a fino Sherry.
Sandoval agrees, saying, “A nice Riesling or Chard would complement the summer vegetables.” In fact, he says, his avocado-cucumber soup would also work well with a full-bodied Chardonnay, preferably an oaky one. “It’s a more complex wine than Sauvignon Blanc,” he says.
If the soup has a bit of spice, as many Mexican soups do, he offers two more possibilities. “Pinot Noir has a little bit of spice, so it complements chilies, or Sauvignon Blanc, because it has fruit and acidity to contrast the spice,” he says. If the soup has both spice and acidity, from chilies and tomatoes or tomatillos, “you want a wine that has some acidity.”
And what of cream-based soups—the bane of wine pairings, because they are thought to coat the palate and mask the wine?
“We do fortify our soups sometimes with a little bit of cream,” says Allemeier. “Then we [pair them with wines that have] a little bit of oak. We pair with lightly oaked Chard or lightly oaked Pinot Gris.”
Wayte takes a different tack: she likes cream soups with “a crisp, aromatic white, something with a touch more alcohol and a little bit of sweetness.” She likes to pair her creamy soup of summer squash, basil and Parmesan cheese with a Puligny-Montrachet or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
When summer soup contains animal protein, the pairing requires more emphasis on the “weight” of the ingredients in addition to their flavor profiles. If, says Allemeier, the ingredients are lighter and milder—say scallops, sole, halibut or chicken—the wine will be white, but he avoids oak. Soups with heavier poultry or meat can handle heavier wines, he says, but there’s a wide range of possibilities: “Is it something rich and fatty like lamb, or is it something leaner, like pheasant?” For leaner meats, he goes with milder red wines—aged wines whose tannins have mellowed some. Heavier wines can handle richer ingredients.
If the soup is a main course on a hot, muggy night, Allemeier has been known to drink Pinot Noir served at cellar temperature, which is 55 degrees. It’s great with ingredients such as duck, mushrooms and eggplant, he says. But if your soup is light and cold, “you want something bright, fruit-forward and chilled. In summer, I can’t get enough Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier,” he says.
More soup for summer
Much talked about when the subject of summer soup comes up—but still something of a novelty for American diners—is chilled fruit soup. Add wine, and it’s even more of a novelty, but not an impossible pairing.
“Summer fruit soup can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. Fruit soup is sweet. The sugar on the palate can make the wine a bit droopy,” says Allemeier. He pairs Riesling or Gewürztraminer: “The effervescence breaks up the sugar on the palate. The Riesling has great acidity. That also breaks up the sugar a bit.” He also notes that a sparkling would be a great match.
Wayte agrees that bubbly wines are a good bet for fruit soups, as well as for Asian-style soups. Wines such as Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante are good pairings for her sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb soup. Still wines such as chilled Beaujolais work as well. For her chilled ginger-melon soup, which contains jalapeño chilies and is actually savory rather than sweet, she’d go with a Pinot Gris.
That begs the question: if the chilled soup is a savory one, based on vegetables and perhaps an animal protein or hearty spices, what then? Is there a key to pairing? Allemeier says yes: “You need to be more aware of the seasoning of the soup. Cold soups require more seasoning because the flavors are more suppressed. An acid-based soup will taste not as acidic, as if it had been heated. You can always turn a hot soup into a cold soup [by seasoning it more heavily] but you can’t turn a cold soup into a hot soup. It will be too seasoned, too salty.” A good wine match should take that into consideration.
In the end, the key is not to get too serious—or you’ll wind up like the folks who wouldn’t pair soup and wine in the first place. “I tell my customers to taste and experiment,” says Sandoval. “The main thing is to relax and go with the flow,” says Wayte.
Chilled Cucumber Water with Minted Crab Salad
Chef Michael Allemeier of Mission Hill Family Estate says this soup is best when made with fresh, peak-season cucumbers from the farmers’ market or the garden. Start it the night before to allow enough time for the cucumbers to render their liquid.
4 large cucumbers
1 head fennel, trimmed and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 ounces cooked fresh Dungeness crabmeat
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chiffonade*
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
*To chiffonade, roll the mint and slice into thin ribbons
The day before you plan to make this soup, wash cucumbers well and cut in half lengthwise. (Don’t peel them.) Using a spoon, scrape out all the seeds. Dice the cucumber and scoop into a food processor.
Cut the green leaves off the leek and, holding the root end, slice it lengthwise almost to the root. Wash well to remove all sand. Cut off the root, remove any remaining green leaves and dice the white part. Add the diced leek, fennel, dill and salt to the food processor. Purée until smooth.
Place a large piece of cheesecloth in a bowl so that the corners hang over the side. Pour the cucumber mixture onto the cheesecloth. Collect all the ends of the cloth and tie them together to form a bag. Tie the ends to a shelf in the refrigerator and place a bowl under the bag so that the liquids from the vegetable can drain through the cheesecloth. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, gently squeeze the bag to release any remaining liquid; then, discard the bag and its contents. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Taste and season the liquid with salt if necessary. Chill until ready to use.
When you are ready to serve, combine the crab, mayonnaise, mint and ginger in a bowl, mix well, taste and season with salt if necessary.
Pour the chilled cucumber water into four chilled soup bowls. Using two tablespoons, form the crab salad into four quenelles: With one spoon in each hand, scoop about 1 tablespoon crab salad onto one spoon, cover with the other spoon and shape into an oval quenelle. Gently place a quenelle into the center of each bowl of cucumber water. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Wine recommendation: Mission Hill 2003 Five Vineyards Dry Riesling from British Columbia. “It has great acidity and is quite dry, with refreshing notes of citrus fruits, apples and melons,” says Allemeier. A Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes would also fit the bill.
Pozole de Pato (Corn and Chile Stew with Duck and Shredded Cabbage)
This recipe is adapted from Chef Richard Sandoval’s book, Modern Mexican Flavors (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2002). The original calls for the traditional hominy, but for summer, he says, fresh corn, grilled right on the cob, makes a delightful substitution.
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into Â½-inch dice
3 shallots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and sauté for about 12 minutes, until the squash is lightly colored. Then add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes.
Add the stock to the zucchini and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
Transfer about two-thirds of the soup to a blender or food processor and purée. Return it to the remaining soup in the pan and set it over low heat. Add the cream and reheat the soup, stirring continually to prevent the soup from burning. Stir in the basil, mint and Parmesan until well combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
Pour the soup into 4 individual bowls and finish with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Wine recommendation: A Chardonnay, particularly a Puligny-Montrachet. “The steeliness and creaminess will go well with the creaminess of the soup,” says Wayte.