Comfort Food and Wine Pairing

Wine and food pairing is easy when you're talking restaurant-level food, but what about the stuff we eat every day?
Tom Jarvis · Monday, 28-Feb-2022
Wine matching doesn't have to involve haute cuisine – comfort food can go with wine, too.
© iStock | Wine matching doesn't have to involve haute cuisine – comfort food can go with wine, too.

Pushed for cooking time or perhaps you just fancy some simple food? Still keen to open a bottle of something nice?

It can be quite difficult to match wines to the simpler dishes you are likely to prepare at home, rather than some fancy dining experience. Comfort food rarely comes with a suitable wine match, but prompted by my Valentine’s Day supper this year, I've come up with a handful of tasty options.

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Champagne and fish and chips: everyday luxury

This was our combination of choice for the evening of February 14. We went to the drier, more citrussy end of the spectrum with a JL Vergnon Murmure Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs. The flavors combined well with the fish, the acidity contrasts the batter, while the yeasty aromas harmonize with it. I'd caution against going too hard with the salt and vinegar, however. And the various permutations of side dishes for fish and chips can cause problems.

Our side of coleslaw (not something for an English fish and chips purist) was too sweet, to the point I had wondered if the Champagne was corked (my cleverer Valentine disagreed). A quick mouthful of a little left over Albarino to wash away the sugar, then sticking to the main event, made all the difference.

The drier styles of Champagne seem like they should be perfect for seafood and fish. But I’d go for a Brut with five or more grams per liter sugar in the dosage, if I wanted to play it safe. Blanc de Blancs or Chardonnay-dominant cuvées would still be my preference.

Prosecco is a more than acceptable substitute. Moreover, a more commonly available Extra Dry version (actually less dry than a Brut) may well cope better with sauces and side dishes than most Champagnes.

Oaky whites and grilled cheese

A great option for Netflix marathons, and other informal nights in. This pairing is also my recommendation for people who choose to avoid oaky Chardonnay (often after trying it without food,) but have a bottle on the shelf to use up. 

Cheeses such as cheddar, edam, and gruyere are the safest best. The fruit flavors of the wine are analogous to quince jam, and the vanillins in the oak dovetail with the fats and nutty savory flavors of the cheese to give a lovely aftertaste.  

Blue cheeses are a little more hit and miss, perhaps more due to salt levels than bacterial differences. I find that Stilton pairs well with an oaked Chardonnay, as will many of the creamier blues. 

Tandoori and Riesling: the squeeze of lemon

One of my food and wine pairing mantras is "if you could squeeze a lemon over it, go for a citrussy wine". This is how I arrived at matching Riesling with Tandoori spices, and it’s a winner.

I would tend to go for at least an off-dry version to cope with any heat. You might get away with a drier Riesling if you have deli chicken with a mild dusting of spice, rather than the full-on Indian restaurant experience.

In one London tasting with the Mosel superstar Dirk Richter of Max Ferd. Richter, I risked a diplomatic incident trying this out. After we had tasted through the range, we finished the evening by going back to the introductory Zeppelin cuvée, and matching it to tandoori chicken and vegetables.

Herr Richter was skeptical, but a good sport. I have convinced myself that he did not hate the combination.

Sangiovese and mushrooms: a classic combo

I think the earthy, savory nature of mushrooms goes particularly well with Sangiovese. Add an edge by finishing them in the pan with a slug of red wine vinegar.

A good Chianti or Brunello is often served with mushroom risotto, with the wine’s acidity cutting through the cream. Meat eaters can make that the side and go full send Tuscan with Bistecca Fiorentina, or go for pork chops instead.

(Ham and) mushroom pizza is another good bet, with relatively benign savory flavors. I'd go for more obviously fruity, softer red if spicier toppings are added, or for a mixed vegetable pizza that contains more tomato, capsicum or even tough-to-match artichoke.

There a plenty of types of fungi to try that should work well with Chianti; porcini are an obvious choice, although some of the Asian staples can be less successful, according to my palate at least.

Fungi are also friendly partners to mature bottles of red. The wine writer Michael Broadbent often referred to consuming fine old Bordeaux wines with mushrooms on toast.

Sweet with dessert: wine as the sauce

One can easily imagine how luscious caramel-laden Moscatel Sherry or Rutherglen Muscat will combine well with vanilla ice cream. Jazz it up with some fresh fruit or conserves to make a trio of vanilla, zingy fruit and caramel. Or save the effort and go for rapberry ripple.

If using chocolate I would tend to go for a less sweet version. I would avoid caramel sauce as it is more likely to compete with the wine rather than complement it.

If you can spare a few minutes beforehand, try an upscale variation on an everyday Spanish classic, which uses more everyday Moscatel wines. Get a fistful of raisins and soak them overnight in a small amount of your sticky. Pour the marinated fruit over your ice cream, and serve with a glass of the wine.

Many other vanilla desserts are analogous to ice cream. A classic baked cheesecake is also a great option. Again you could jazz it up with berries, or some apple sauce.

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