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Wine for hearty winter fare

by:  - New England Clam Chowder

It’s that time again. No, I’m not referring to the holiday season; I’m referring to the season of soups and stews. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when my mother called me. She had just poured a glass of wine to go with her turkey noodle soup when my father told her that wine didn’t go with soup. My mom is really determined, and she really wanted that glass of wine. So, of course, she decided to call me in to referee.
   Sorry, Dad, but Mom wins this one.
   In fact, soups and stews generally pair beautifully with wine. Well, they pair nicely if you’ve chosen the “right” wine. Because many of you, like me, with the onset of cold weather may now be eating these hearty dishes, I decided to dedicate this month’s column to providing some advice about matching common soups and stews with some of the many reasonably-priced wines that are currently on our local store shelves. For the most part, the wines recommended below are chosen for their ability to pair with the food; they are not intended to be the stars of the show. For that reason, I’m able to recommend very affordable wines that might not taste as lovely if drunk by themselves. But pair them with the food indicated below, and prepare to be impressed.
   Chicken or Turkey Noodle (or Rice) Soup: One the great things about this All-American comfort food is that it pairs equally well with red wine and white wine. My favorite matches are pinot noir and chardonnay. The pinot, which is fairly light for a red wine, brings earthy flavors with a good dose of acidity. Chardonnay, on the other hand, is fairly heavy for a white wine. It offers fruit flavors (can be citrus or apple or pear) balanced by oaky or cedary notes. A few to look for include Erath Pinot Noir (Oregon; about $15) and Turning Leaf Chardonnay (California; about $7).
   Tomato Soup: Because of the beautiful, rich color of tomato soup, it’s tempting to think about red wine. But don’t. Many red wines have a lot of tannin in them, which won’t do this soup any favors. But you have to be careful with white wine too, because you don’t want the intense acidity of the tomatoes to overwhelm a delicate, little wine. So what’s the answer? I think it’s a white wine that used to be a red wine — pinot gris. You see, pinot gris is a white grape that developed as mutation of pinot noir. It still has the high acidity and complex flavors of a pinot noir, but it also has the lovely refreshing quality that we so often expect from a chilled white wine. The acid in the wine complements the acid in the soup and assures that the wine isn’t overwhelmed by the assertive flavors of the tomatoes. Look for A to Z Oregon Pinot Gris (Oregon; about $14) or Cloudline Pinot Gris (Oregon; about $12).
   Beef Stew: With its intense, rich meatiness, beef stew cries out for cabernet sauvignon. The herbal, sometimes vegetal notes in cabernet complement the herbs and vegetables in the stew, while the tannins in the wine (the component in the wine that makes your tongue feel leathery) mellow considerably in the presence of red meat. In other words, a cabernet that might taste a little harsh on its own may be fantastic when drunk with a rich beef stew. This may be one of my very favorite food and wine pairings. A few cabs to look for include 337 Cabernet Sauvignon (California; about $13) and Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington; about $8).
   Beef Chili: In pairing wine with chili, the biggest worry is making sure that the wine is sturdy enough to stand up to the assertive flavors and weight of the food. My favorite pairings are zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon blends. Both of those wines generally have enough weight in your mouth and intensity of flavors to stand up to the chili. But neither is so aggressive as to overwhelm the chili. Zinfandel offers pepper and dark berry flavors, while cabernet tends to display herbal notes and dark fruit flavors. If you choose a zinfandel, I recommend Bogle Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel (California; about $9). If you choose a cabernet blend, look for Covey Run Red Blend (Washington; about $8). The Covey Run in particular is a steal at that price!
   Clam Chowder: Assuming that you’re having a cream-based New England style clam chowder (as opposed to the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder), Sauvignon blanc is a great choice to cut through the creaminess. Sauvignon blanc is a crisp white wine that typically has quite a bit of citrus and/or herbal notes. Cream-based soups tend to coat your palate, meaning that each bite makes it more difficult for you to actually taste the next bite. The intense acidity in sauvignon blanc cuts the cream, making each bite of the soup nearly as fresh and delicious as the first. Choose a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or California. Some of my favorites right now include Geyser Peak (California, about $10) and Dashwood (New Zealand, about $11). And if you prefer Manhattan clam chowder, look for a Riesling, such as the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (Washington; about $10).
   If you can’t find one of the specific wines I recommend above, don’t sweat it. Just look for another wine made from the same grape varietal and the same region. It’s not the label of the wine that’s important. And Mom and Dad, when you read this, just remember: Everything goes with wine; you just have to find the right pairing!
   Laura Craska Cooper is a Bend attorney who lives and loves wine in Prineville. Initially self-taught by prowling the wineries of Sonoma and Napa and reading extensively, she has enhanced her knowledge with travel to many of the world’s wine regions. More recently she graduated from the prestigious Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London, England, where she received an intermediate certificate-a sought-after international credential held by professional sommeliers and wine merchants around the world. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.