Cheers to Chili: Wine Pairings for Big-Game Foods

Pair great Super Bowl food with wine, not beer.
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Party Food

Party Food

Table of salsa, guacamole, bean dip, and corn chips. Party setting with good wine and champagne.

©Jill Chen

Jill Chen

Beer and football go together like Clydesdales and puppies, but what is the right drink if you prefer stemware to steins?

Bryan Jones, executive chef of St. Francis Winery in Sonoma, spends a lot of time thinking about wine-and-food pairings. Jones runs the winery’s dining program, which means that he essentially is the opposite of a sommelier, cooking up just the right dish to pair with the estate’s classic California wines, like peppery Zinfandel (It’s meatloaf with a tomato-garlic-chile ketchup, if you were curious).

So we picked his brain to figure out what he’d serve at a Super Bowl party.

First up, the dips. “I think a Chardonnay is going to be a great pairing with your seven-layer dip or guacamole, as long as it’s not too spicy,” Jones surmised. “It’s a good wine to sip for a while, too.”

When it comes to richer, spicier mains, Jones recommends red, particularly in a potluck situation. “There’s a lot of spicy food in a classic football spread: chili, buffalo wings, pulled pork. Anything with smoke and layers of deep, rich smokiness and heat will be an equal pairing for pepperiness that’s inherent in Zin. You have spice from crushed red pepper, fennel that’s latent in a Zinfandel. It won’t overpower your dishes, or your dishes won’t overpower the wine.“

And what about if you go regional? Stay the course. Jones said Chardonnay will hold up equally well if you go for souper bowls of New England clam chowder, with a rich and creamy oakiness and latent acidity to match, but not overpower the cream-based soup. As for Pike Place Market cioppino, Zinfandel should work. “Jammy, slightly spiced old-vine Zinfandel that’s softer than a standard Zin would be a nice pairing with the spiced soup and seafood,” he said.

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