Ask a Sommelier: What to Drink With Chili

Expert advice on the best drinks to pair with the best chili ever. Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Fall is chill-in-the-air season, football season, jumping-in-piles-of-leaves season, and the season when we start craving belly-warming, slow-cooked food. That means we're eating a lot of chili these days, particularly the Food Lab's awesome 'Best Chili Ever'.

But what's the best wine to drink with the best chili ever? (And some cornbread on the side?) We asked 13 sommeliers for their drink-pairing advice. Here's what they had to say.

Cara Patricia of Hakkasan San Francisco.

"I'd most likely reach for GSM blends (that's Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) with moderate alcohol. I'm thinking about Vina Robles 'Red4' from Paso Robles, or Henschke 'Henry's Seven' from Eden Valley, Australia. We want generous fruit to work alongside the chilies, some tannin to work with the meat and fat, and a full enough body to carry the wine on the palate."—Cara Patricia (Hakkasan San Francisco)

"To pair chili and cornbread you need a wine with a lot of texture whether it's white, red, or pink. Texture isn't just about tannin, but just general mouthfeel of the wine. If I am in the mood for white wine, I look to Alsace. Wines from this region in France, whether dry or sweet, have a certain intensity to them that I love. I naturally tend to gravitate to white, but when I am choosing a red, I want something without too much tannin or alcohol which would clash with the peppers in the chili. I would go with a Cotes-du-Rhone, a Grenache based blend from the southern Rhone, or a Pinot Noir from Sonoma. That being said, I think this dish definitely cries out for beer, perhaps a saison or IPA."—Stacey Gibson (Olympic Provisions)

"I would totally go with still rosé, especially Vin Gris. 2012 Château Grand Traverse Pinot Noir Vin Gris from Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan comes to mind. I can't say if a wine pairing for chili would be better than a beer. It's just different. This is an example of a food pairing that is more than just matching up the flavors of wine and food together. I think the context of how this chili will be served and enjoyed plays a important part to the pairing. For instance, if you're serving the chili with few of your buds watching Sunday sport events on TV, a beer probably would work out much better for the atmosphere. But if you're planning a relaxing Monday night home-cooked dinner with someone you want to impress before lounging on the couch watching a movie, a bottle of Vin Gris would be much more appropriate."—Arthur Hon (Sepia)

Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate in NYC.

"Wine wise: the always classic but always brilliant off dry riesling from Mosel or Rheingau in Germany, with the sugar playing the middle man between flavors and spices. Or more robust, an Alsatian Pinot Gris with a touch of age and a touch of RS. If you want to go red, a juicy, low tannin (very very important), almost softly sweet grenache, maybe made with some carbonic maceration...from the Rhone, or California or some crazy guys in Australia. For beer with chili, I really like to do a Trappist ale, like Orval—something is happening with the acid level and the rich texture and the dish, cutting its intensity. But my all time favorite pairing is with a sweet cider, like Eric Bordelet Sidre Doux—bubbles, sugar, tannins, so soft and intense. It tames the chili and it is delicious with the cornbread."—Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate)

"I think a number of different wines could really work with chili and cornbread, but my go-to would be classic Rioja (Tempranillo) aged in American oak barrels (like Muga 2008 Rioja Riserva). The savory sweet spice from American oak and tart cherry fruit would be perfect."—Carlin Karr (Frasca)

"Beer is my first recommendation—sommeliers tend to drink a fair amount of beer. If I go for wine I like a fuller and textured rosé (such as a Tavel from the Rhone) or a lighter red served slightly chilled, such as Beaujolais. Or a wine I really like is Poignee de Raisins from Domaine Gramenon, a juicy, fruity and very drinkable wine from the Southern Rhone, again served slightly chilled. I think that serving these wines slightly chilled (52-54 Fahrenheit) is important—it is more refreshing."—Michaël Engelmann MS (Rockpool Bar-Grill, Sydney)

Patrick Cappiello of Pearl & Ash in NYC.

"Beer is best! Mexican beer preferably. Modelo Especial is my favorite!"—Patrick Cappiello (Pearl & Ash)

"I think it's probably a good idea to first consider the fact that tomatoes are in the dish. For me this pretty much narrows it to Spain and the bottom half of Italy, places where tomatoes figure in regularly in the cuisine. The fact that there is aggressive spice makes me wary of Tuscany, so I'm leaning instead toward something with a fair bit of fruit extract. Salice Salentino? Sure. A rich style of Sicilian Catarratto white? Maybe so. Rustic, inexpensive Garnacha or Monastrell, served in a low tumbler? Yeah, I could get into that."—Steven Grubbs (Empire State South)

"Well, Miller High-life calls itself the Champagne of beers and although that may be a stretch, they've got the idea right when it comes to pairing with food. Yes, this southern boy prefers Champagne with his chili! Those brilliant bubbles and toasty flavors are both natural byproducts of fermentation and tame the heat as well as any frosty mug of beer. For added comfort, look for an "Extra Dry" Champagne which is actually a slightly sweeter style than Brut. I prefer Piper Heidsieck Extra Dry."—Richard Bill (Domain NYC)

"Chili in general, and especially this recipe, is a hearty meal and reminds me of cold weather. Beer is good with chili but the carbonation tends to pump up the spices and heat. So if you're into that kind of thing it works but if not, then let's talk wine. Two wines come to mind for me when I think chili, one local and one not so local. The local wine is classic Californian Zinfandel with its mixture of berried fruits, hints of spice, and generally fruit forward character make it a great match for chili and especially with corn bread. The not local option is a red blend from France's Rhone Valley. Chili is big melting pot of spices and flavors and this idea is echoed in the Rhone wine as it is a blend of different grapes. Wines labeled Cotes du Rhone present great value and tend to be easy drinking reds with a lot of complexity to them for the price."—Joshua Orr (Marina Kitchen)

Jill Zimorski of Hotel Jerome in Aspen.

"Fail safe pairing is something with a little sweetness to tame that fire. Also, I'm seeing a lot of tomatoes and vinegar in the recipe, which means it needs something high in acid to stand up to it. I'd probably default to some lightly sweet (Kabinett or Spatlese) German Riesling. St. Urbanshof, Robert Weil, or Leitz are some of my go-to producers. I make a chili with similar ingredients (vegetarian with black beans, tomatoes, corn and it's got a little chocolate in it too and is pretty spicy) and I opened some older Carmenere (I was studying Chile, making chili, so though I should drink Chilean). Sometimes you want a red wine with something hearty like that. The Carmenere was great, but I think that any red that is not too tannic or alcoholic or oaky will work. An earthy Dolcetto or Barbera, Argentinean Bonarda...even a restrained (emphasis on restrained) Zinfandel."—Jill Zimorski (Hotel Jerome)

"No wine is better than beer for chili and cornbread!"—Kelli White (Press)

"I like my chili spicy so for me it would be Chenin Blanc from Vouvray with a hint of residual sugar. But 9 out of 10 times I'm drinking a pilsner."—Kyle Ridington (Piora)

"For a wine, I would recommend a full bodied red like a Taurasi or a a juicy Syrah from California. With that much meaty protein and spice you would need a wine that would be able to hold its own. Though as a beer guy, I feel like there are just as many, if not more, fantastic beer pairings in this case."—Daniel Beedle (Betony)