The challenge of pairing food and wine can seem especially difficult in regard to soup and stew – how do you pair liquid with liquid? In this post, we’ll discuss a few basic guidelines for pairing wine with soup before getting into some specific recommendations.
The Basic Approach
- Base: most soups use aromatics and stock for their base. Sometimes these are obvious, but they can also be surprising. Many vegetable soups, for example, use chicken stock even though they don’t otherwise contain meat. Your wine should complement the underlying flavor and character of the food – not just the more obvious ingredients.
- Sweetness and spice: both of these elements call for a little sweetness in the wine, which helps to narrow the options and get you closer to a good pairing.
- Seasoning and garnishes: sometimes a strongly flavored herb or cheese can be the final determining factor in pairing with a soup or stew. Are you finishing your soup with chopped basil, for example? If so, think back on the wines you’ve tried and see if you can remember basil as a tasting note.
Gazpacho – Beaujolais
Gazpacho is a chilled soup with many variations. It’s most commonly served with a tomato base in the United States. Beaujolais is a versatile red wine from France made from the Gamay grape that features a light body and refreshing finish. Soups and red wine are not normally chilled, but these are both exceptions. Beaujolais can benefit from a slight chill and when paired with cool gazpacho, will provide a great meal on a warm day.
Classic Tomato Soup – Chanti
The charm of tomato soup lies in its unpretentious simplicity. When you have ingredients as delicious as good tomatoes and stock with a few aromatic vegetables, what else do you need? Chianti is a medium-bodied red wine from Tuscany with bright acidity and red fruit flavors. Tomatoes are naturally tart, so a zesty wine is necessary. Otherwise, the wine will come across as flat and boring. I taste a little tomato in Chianti, along with an earthiness that will tie in beautifully with the soup.
Chicken Soup – Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Nourishing, comforting chicken soup is wonderful with a glass of soft, buttery Chardonnay. The texture of the wine matches that of the soup, and the toasty, hearty flavors of the wine act like seasoning to complement the food. Try a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, where you can find great values for some of the best Chardonnay in California.
Clam Chowder – Pinot Grigio
The rich, slightly briny character of clam chowder might threaten to overpower many wine pairings. Pinot Grigio will act to cut through the density of the food and refresh the palate between bites. Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy tends to be dry and light bodied, with flavors of citrus and orchard fruits, like apple and pear.
Note: white wines are safer with seafood than reds in many cases. Some of the compounds in seafood clash with the tannins found in red wine.
French Onion Soup – White Côtes du Rhône
Similar to the clam chowder mentioned above, French onion soup can have a strong flavor and powerful texture. Contrast those qualities with a fresh, dry white like a white Côtes du Rhône from France. The vast majority of Côtes du Rhône is red, but you can find white versions blended from a variety of grapes, including Grenache Blanc. These wines will be dry and medium bodied, with citrus and apple flavors offset by notes of tropical fruit.
Lentil Soup – Monastrell
There’s a great diversity of lentil soups in the world, many of which are improvised from various vegetables and seasonings. Many of these soups feature strongly flavored spices like cumin and curry powder. The Monastrell grape from Spain shares some of these exotic flavors and will provide an interesting backdrop for the tastes of the soup. Monastrell, known as Mourvèdre in France, ranges from medium to full bodied with dark fruit flavors and a spicy finish.
Beef Stew – Napa Valley Merlot
An iconic winter dish, there are few meals more warming and savory than a hot bowl of beef stew. Try it with a bottle of Merlot from Napa Valley. The deep, mellow flavors of the stew will meld with the soft richness of the wine, and both will improve. Each of these dishes is well known and loved – their combination is like the meeting of old friends.