For this month’s edition of Wine Pairing Problems, we explore “Wine with Chili”. Read on to hear what we found worked, and leave a comment with your suggestions! Be sure to also check out our video on Wine with Chili.
Sure, many people might lean toward beer with chili. But for those of us who prefer to drink wine with our dinner, there is a quest to fine wine that pairs well with chili.
That quest brings us to the February edition of “Wine Pairing Problems” where we explore wine with chili. Wine Pairing Problems is a new monthly series that will include a video on our YouTube channel along with a related blog post. Here is this month’s video on Wine with Chili.
I invited Martin from ENOFYLZ and Jill and her husband Jason from L’occasion to share their thoughts with me on the video. We ran into some technical difficulties, and had to settle for getting their thoughts via Twitter — some highlights here on this Twitter Moments
Challenges of Wine with Chili
The primary challenge pairing wine with chili is the spice level. Many wines will not work well with spicy food. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon might typically be a good pairing for a beef dish, but the tannins in a Cab are likely to clash with the spice of chili.
Of course, chili comes in a range of spices and ingredients. A wine perfect for a meaty chili con carne might not be the optimal choice for a white chicken chili.
Most chili recipes have tomatoes, adding acidity which also needs to be factored in with the pairings.
Lately, my go to chili recipe has been the Easy Black Bean Turkey Chili shown above. This chili has medium level spiciness. Although it is made with turkey, our black bean turkey chili is a tomato based recipe similar to a beef chili in many respects.
The last time I tested some pairing for our turkey chili, we compared a Riesling with a Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace ($20, 12.5% ABV), and the Crémant came out the winner. The Riesling we opened had more residual sugar than needed for our moderately spiced chili. Those two bottle are shown in the banner at the top of the article.
During this cold winter season, I’d been especially interested in finding a red wine pairing for chili. I tried a Grenache from California that seemed too high in alcohol to be a good pairing. A French blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc worked a bit better, but still had me looking for better red wine with chili.
Wine with Chili: Options that Worked
Jill and Jason really went all out for the live chili and wine tasting last week! They tried a Rioja, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel in the red wine department. The couple also tried a rosé and a sparkling wine. Their verdict: they liked the Zin the best!
As Jill shared their results on Twitter, Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog chimed in that she often has wine with chili, particularly Zin, Tempranillo and Syrah. Linda Whipple added that she likes Pinot Noir and Nero d’Avola with chili.
Martin threw out an interesting idea: White Chili with a Sweet Bordeaux from Loupiac. Now that’s mixing it up!
I decided to test a rosé along with a Zinfandel for this Wine Pairing Problems discussion. Martin’s article on Best Wines to Pair with Chili first gave me the idea of trying a rosé, and it worked pretty well when I first tried it.
The 2017 Pure Loire Rosé de Loire ($12, 12.5% ABV) rosé has a light floral nose and pleasant melon fruit. This is a blend of Cab Franc, Gamay and Grolleau. This rosé definitely does refresh the palate between bites.
The 2015 Lone Madrone Bailey Ranch Zinfandel ($45, 15% ABV) was sent to me as part of a complimentary sample package of Paso Robles wines. This Paso Zinfandel has cedar and menthol on the nose. Blackberry fruit on the palate with notes of vanilla and oak. We really enjoyed this Paso Zin. Despite the 15% alcohol content, it definitely works with the chili. The fruitiness of it without a lot of tannins helps it play nicely with chili.
With our Easy Black Bean Turkey Chili, I might give a slight edge to the rosé in terms of matching the chili. But if we were pairing with a beef chili, I could see where the Zin would be preferred. However, if you are in the mood for a red, the Paso Zinfandel is definitely a bottle that works can work with our chili. And if you are simply looking for a very good Zinfandel, I again would say the Bailey Ranch Zin is a nice choice. More on the vineyard can be found here.
I’m going to throw in one more interesting wine pairing for chili that we tried recently. As part of our Pairings with Sweet Bordeaux event, we decided to try out turkey chili with one of the Sweet Bordeaux wines, as shown above. So keep that in mind as another option!
Wine with Chili Conclusions
The spice of chili does pose some wine pairing problems. However, a range of options will work, depending on the chili recipe you are using and your own palate. A few general ideas to keep in mind:
- Fruit forward red wines with lower tannins will tend to work better, particularly if you are keen to open a red.
- Lower alcohol wines tend to be more food friendly, especially when dealing with a challenge like chili. However, a well made wine with higher alcohol, such as the Zinfandel we tried, can work if it is fruit forward.
- Try rosé and sparkling wines as an alternative to red. This strategy can work especially well for a chili that doesn’t use beef, such as our black bean turkey chili.
- Moderate the spice if enjoying a glass of wine with your chili is a goal. If you have your heart set on a five alarm chili, you might want to go for a good IPA craft beer!
- Experiment! There are no hard and fast rules. Experiment with your own pairings, and let us know what you find.
Stay tuned for the March edition of Wine Pairing Problems, where we will talk about wine with corned beef and cabbage. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be sure to catch it!