• Sarah O'Kelley

Offbeat Pairings: Wine & Chili?



As a certified wine nerd I am always thinking of the best wine for the meal -- even when the meal is a dish that might seem more appropriate for another beverage. Take for example chili...sure this is a tangy, sometimes spicy dish that works great with beer. And it is often served at occasions that are very beer-centric (sporting events, outdoor festivals, etc.) But as a wine lover I can’t help but crave wine to go with my chili!

As luck would have it, we are having our last bit of “cold” weather down South so what better time to test my pairing prowess!


When pairing with a full flavored dish like chili, I most definitely want to stick with the light and fruitier spectrum of wines. And for a traditional tomato based chili I feel like red wine is a must (as whites and even rosés would be drowned out by all that flavor). (Now if you are going non-traditional and making a white chili then white wine would be perfect. But that’s another story for another day!)


I mentioned lighter reds wines for our chili pairing, and by light I mean lower in tannin and alcohol. (Tannin is the component in wine that dries your mouth out and makes your teeth feel like they are wearing sweaters!) Spice can accentuate both tannin and alcohol to an unpleasant degree!


So when I think of reds that tend to have silky tannins and moderate alcohol, two grapes jump to mind: Pinot Noir and Gamay. Probably no big surprise to all you wine nerds but a great lesson if you are new to this pairing game! For my most recent home chili extravaganza I brought home three wines: Foillard Beaujolais Village, Kelley Fox Pinot Noir, and Arnot Roberts Gamay. So Gamay from the Beaujolais region, Pinot Noir from Oregon, and Gamay from northern California. All boast bright red fruit flavors and a touch of baking spice, and all are extremely drinkable. By extremely drinkable I mean that these are wines that don’t even really need a meal. They could just as easily be enjoyed on the porch with a good friend.


But with chili these wines sing! Serve them with just the slightest chill, and they wash down every savory bite of chili with their pleasant fruitiness. Watch out...both chili and wine will disappear quickly.



My Fabulous Chili


There are SO many iterations of chili. I choose to borrow from a few cultures and make my own version that is well seasoned but not too spicy. I prefer to use ground pork rather than beef as I feel it gives more depth of flavor. (But ground beef can be easily substituted.)


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds ground pork

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

8 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 dark beers, such as stout or porter (12 ounce cans)

2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, crushed

2 cups chicken stock

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1 ounce unsweetened (baking) chocolate

1 bundle of fresh thyme (about 20 pieces tied together with kitchen twine)

2 bay leaves

2 15-ounce cans pinto or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Chopped green onions, for garnish

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Sour Cream, for garnish

Grated cheddar cheese, for garnish


Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the pork and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and garlic and stir to incorporate. Add tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, and red pepper flake and stir to combine. Add the beer, stir, and cook until foam subsides, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, sugar, and chocolate; stir to combine. Add the bundle of thyme and bay leaves. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about one hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the beans and stir to combine. Serve with the green onions, cilantro, sour cream, and grated cheese alongside for garnish. Cornbread makes a nice accompaniment as well.


Yield: about 2 to 3 quarts; 6 to 8 servings (double this recipe for a party!)

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