Chile’s vast diversity of wine varietals and styles offer a perfect choice for every style of cooking. We’ve provided some basic tips on food and wine pairing along with some suggestions to get you started. Now go choose your dish, pour a glass of Chilean wine, and enjoy your meal!
Food & Wine Pairing
The basics of food and wine pairing are simple. Look for elements in each that complement the other. Here are some guidelines to help get you started.
Check out that body!
Start with the body, or weight, of the wine. One must stand up to the other. Just as that big bruiser of a red wine would overpower your lemon-scented fillet of sole, a delicate white would be lost alongside that perfectly grilled T-bone.
While most of us loved Grandma’s home cooking, we also look forward to trying new cuisines from around the world. Finding the right wine is not difficult if we remember to match the weight of the dish with that of the wine and try to pair the dominant flavor of the dish with the characteristics of the wine.
While Mexican cuisine is very broad and varied, certain flavor elements reappear over and over, such as chilies and corn. Both are complemented nicely by soft and fruity red wines that go light on the tannins, such as Carménère, whose peppery nature sidles up to all that big mariachi flavor and has you singing rancheros in no time.
Controlling the heat
Love spicy food? Be sure to choose a wine that is high in acidity, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. If the chef got too heavy-handed with the chilies, a lower acidity wine, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, will help bring that fire under control.
Grilling seems to be a universal favorite, and in Chile it is raised to an art form. Whether you’re firing up the gas grill on a quick weeknight dinner or going all out for a weekend event, you’ll find just the right Chilean wine to go with whatever you’ve got coming off the grill.
If it’s burgers on the grill, go easy on the budget. The wine should match the style of the food. When you’re serving up low-key, family-friendly food, look for a crowd-pleasing red varietal to go with it. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is always a hit, as is Carménère.
Grilling steaks tonight? Splurge a bit; you deserve it! Go for a red with more body and some oak aging. Cabernet Sauvignon is the natural choice here. The tannins in the wine and the fat in the meat will be holding hands and making plans in no time, letting you get on with enjoying your meal.
Barbecued chicken can’t be beat, especially with a light red wine to go with it. A fruity Merlot or Syrah will be a welcome choice, or choose a Carménère
to pick up on the smoky notes in the bits of charred skin.
Patagonian Spit Roasted Lamb or Goat? Pull out the stops and celebrate. You don’t stand by an open fire for hours on end every day, so claim your just rewards; look for a big flavored red such as an oaked Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. If this is not regular fare in your neck of the woods, be sure to try it next time you’re in Chile!
Gifts from the Sea
Chile’s long coastline makes it a wonderland for seafood lovers. Whether you’re looking for fresh and light or full bodied and grilled, Chile has the fish—and the wine—you’re looking for!
Ceviche on your mind? Lemon-marinated chunks of fresh white fish seasoned with chilies, parsley, and a bit of onion call for the youngest, crispest Sauvignon Blanc you can find, preferably from a cool-climate maritime region such as Casablanca or San Antonio. If your ceviche is salmon-based, try and unoaked Chardonnay, and if it has a touch of ginger, look for a white blend that includes a bit of Riesling to complement the spice.
Oysters on the half shell? Go ahead, you know what to do—reach for a Brut or Extra Brut Sparkling Wine. For a less traditional option, look for a very dry and mineral-edged Chardonnay, such as those from Limarí or a coastal region.
A nice thick slice of lightly seared fresh tuna paired with Pinot Noir is a match made in heaven.
Grilled congrio (kingclip) or other full-bodied fish can go white or red, as you wish. Choose a white with body, such as Chardonnay
, Viognier, or a White Blend. Pinot Noir is a good in-between option, of course, but if you want something heartier, try a light to medium-bodied Merlot
Home Cooking & Comfort Foods
In the mood for a hearty beef stew? This is comfort food guaranteed to warm the soul and chase away the winter doldrums needs the companionship of an equally hearty-yet-friendly wine. You’ll want a full-bodied and flavorful red, and a lightly-oaked Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Blend is just what the doctor ordered.
Everyone loves roast chicken, especially with a comforting glass of lightly oaked Chardonnay or a fruity red such as Mer
. If you’ve basted it with lots of herbs, go for a Carménère or Syrah, which just loves rosemary.
Pastel de choclo a Chilean favorite, this rich and satisfying dish begins with a highly seasoned, lightly spicy, saucy meat base and is topped with a somewhat sweet corn topping. In fact, Chileans often sprinkle sugar on top. While Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be the national favorite for this dish, Carménère works even better. Its dark berry fruit complements the sweetness of the corn, while its soft tannins and spicy black pepper edge play off the meat mixture for a delightful combination. Merlot and Syrah will also make nice complements.
Spice is Nice
It’s not just the spice we need to know about, but the body of the food too. If your spicy dish is based on seafood or raw elements, look for a crisp white such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or a light Rosé, any of which could use a touch of sweetness. If you’re faced with a steaming bowl of hearty Chili con Carne, you’ll want a wine that will stand up to the body, but without a ton of tannins that will velcro the chilies to your tongue. Carménère is a good choice here for its soft texture and natural spiciness that will pair beautifully with the flavors in the dish. The same goes for Syrah. Or try a medium-bodied fruity Merlot with a little oak to lend that chocolaty sensation that will cozy up to the chilies and tomatoes and warm you to your toes!
Something in common
We also look for flavor affinities. Pair that zesty, citrusy white wine with a green salad or fresh seafood, and pour an oaky red to match the smoky notes in a grilled steak.
A light dry sparkling wine is a sure-bet with sushi. The bubbles get friendly with the fish and wasabi and turns sushi night into a special night. Don’t want to break out the flutes tonight? Try a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity Riesling, or nicely chilled Rosé.
Thai means light texture combined with full flavor. Lots of fish, shellfish, and chicken with lusciously exotic flavors such as rich and creamy coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir lime, basil, and plenty of hot chilies. First things first: Stay away from tannins! The tannins in many red wines will clash with all those big flavors, turn very bitter, and accentuate the heat. What you need is a light bodied wine with good acidity and hopefully just a slightly sweet edge. Good choices are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sparkling wine. If you are sensitive to spicy heat, try an unoaked Chardonnay or Viognier; they have less acidity and more body, which will help tone down that spice. Chilled Rosé can also be a good choice, and if you insist on going full red, try a nicely chilled Pinot Noir
Contrasts are another interesting pairing option. The sweetish sensation in a fruity red wine will complement the saltiness of a salami pizza or the spiciness of a bowl of chili.
So rich in sweet spices and savory sensations, this fascinating cuisine puts special demands on its liquid partners. The wine must be light and refreshing yet have enough personality to stand on its own two feet without overshadowing the star of the show. We want to avoid the pushy tannins in red wine that will stomp all over the delicate balance of the dishes, and no wimpy white will do. Riesling is the perfect choice at the Indian table, as its fresh acidity, light touch of sweetness, and its own spicy character complement the wine, refresh the palate, and make your taste buds beg for more.
Don’t forget Dessert
Don’t get fooled by fruity aromas, what you’re looking for is sweetness. The wine should always be sweeter than the food, so regardless of how delicious that Riesling or Gewürztraminer may smell, if it’s a dry wine, it won’t work with dessert. Why punish yourself? Bring your meal to a memorable finish with a Late Harvest still wine or a Demi-Sec Sparkler!